In the novel Something Missing by Matthew Dicks the protagonist, Martin, is a thief.
He breaks into people’s houses and steals little things, items you wouldn’t even notice were missing unless you were the type of person who counted the eggs and soup spoons every morning.
Because his crimes go unnoticed, Martin is able to return to the same houses for years and comes to think of the families as his clients.
As he’s sneaking around their houses, he gathers clues on how they live and what they are like. He becomes intimate with their daily lives and thus develops a relationship, albeit a one-sided relationship, with them.
When I was reading the book, I wondered what someone would think about my life if they were to break in and examine my belongings.
Would they think me well-read because of my overstuffed bookcases, or judge me a bore because I read so much?
What would they think of the nesting dolls painted like Russian political figures that my grandmother gave me? Would they like the smell of my perfume? Notice that I don’t clean the hair out of my brush as often as I should?
Lately, I’ve started thinking about the people who pick up our recycling. Do they have the same sort of anonymous connection with their customers because they see their bottles and cardboard every other week?
Recyclables expose a lot about a person.
Going through my bins you’d learn that I read the paper every day, have cats, drink a lot of diet coke (and the occasional bottle of wine) and wear contact lenses.
That alone is more than I reveal to the average stranger.
You would also know when I have a party (not very often) and finish a box of cereal (more often).
Do the guys that pick up the recycling pay attention to those things? Do they think, “Mrs. Smith sure went through that bottle of shampoo quickly”? Or “Look at all the tissue boxes. Little Johnny must have a cold”?
Do they feel like they know us because they see what items we consume?
I’d like to think that they do. Not only would it relieve the tedium of what must be a boring job, but it’s kind of reassuring to think that my plastic and tin is being transported by a member of the family.
Even if I don’t know have a clue who they are.