“The good Lord willing, I’m doing just fine!”

By Catherine Mendenhall-Baugh

I met him about four years ago. He told me his name was “Marlin, just like the fish!” He was going through the dumpster in the apartment complex where I live. He did this to give himself some extra money. In Oregon we have the “Oregon Bottle Bill.” This is a container deposit law that requires cans, bottles and other containers of carbonated soft drinks, beer and water sold, to be returnable with a refund value. Essentially each can and bottle if returned can retrieve ten cents per item. The point behind this bill is to reduce litter and increase container recycling.

This bill certainly has made a huge impact in Oregon in doing exactly that, it also creates a rise in interest among the homeless and other misfortunate souls to locate bottles or cans for the purpose of obtaining a few extra cents a day. They are counting on people who don’t return their cans and bottles to throw them in dumpsters. Thus, people like Marlin will go “dumpster diving” for their extra money.

The good news I discovered from Marlin is that he is not totally homeless now, which isn’t to say he always had a home in the past. He says he rents a room and works at the library two days a week. He gets full health coverage since his job is with the city and takes a lot of pride in this choice he has made. He makes minimum wage at the library but has to dumpster dive to help “pay the rest of his bills.”

One time I saw him on the road carrying a large bag of cans and bottles. We were experiencing some particularly bad weather so I offered to drive him to the bottle drop redemption place next to the large grocery store. This is when I learned about his job. He is always cheerful.

“Hello there Miss Cathy” is the greeting I receive from him. He is always laughing or smiling. He seems focused on remaining positive. I will ask him how he is doing and he answers, “The good Lord willing, I’m doing just fine.”

Marlin is a large black man – over six feet tall. He appears to be in his late 50s. His clothes are usually torn in various places but he doesn’t seem to mind. I see him a few times a week. I will give him bags of cans that I get from family and friends to help him out. One time I offered him money and he said, “No, no Miss Cathy. You need your money. The good Lord willing, I’m doing fine!”

All in all, he probably walks ten miles a day making his dumpster rounds in Hillsboro Oregon (A suburb of Portland) and examines up to 75 to 100 dumpsters every day. By my calculations, he may earn up to three dollars a day through his collection efforts.

At the complex where I live, there is a group of neighbors who smoke. They are not allowed to smoke inside the apartments so they stand by the trees or the dumpster to smoke. They will talk to Marlin. Sometimes they will gather there when I get home from work. I enjoy listening to their bantering while I park my car. Marlin doesn’t smoke but he appreciates their company. I know he likes being included.

We took up a collection to buy Marlin a new pair of shoes. I gave him some baked goods to put in his back pack along with the shoes. He was a little embarrassed but was very gracious and thanked me for them. I noticed the other day he was wearing them, so I assumed his other shoes probably gave out.

Last summer I had a birthday party for my grandson, Brandon. We have a pool where I live which makes me the popular Grandma. I bought several cases of soda and ordered several pizza’s for Brandon and his friends. I mentioned the party to Marlin and asked him to stop by around 5 pm because I would most certainly have a large collection of cans for him.

Marlin showed up at exactly 5 p.m. The party was winding down with my grandson happily showing off his numerous Lego toys and proudly counting his cash totaling $60 in gift money.

After seeing Marlin and my grandson standing next to each other, my first thought was that it would have take Marlin at least a month to earn that same amount of money from his dumpsters. He was very kind and wished Brandon a happy birthday. Marlin was just thrilled to get three full bags of cans. I offered to drive him to the recycling center again; his reaction was very grateful. “That would be so kind of you Miss Cathy. I don’t want to take you away from your party. The good Lord willing, I’ll be okay.” He said. “No problem Marlin, those bags are pretty full, I’ll be happy to run you down there with your cans.”

He finally agreed. While driving there, he proceeded to tell me what a wonderful Grandmother I was since Brandon seemed so happy surrounded by his friends and family. “If only we could all start over from childhood and appreciate Gods wonderful gifts to us.” He commented.

Such a simple statement which spoke volumes and made me wonder, how did Marlin get to the point in his life where dumpster diving was a means he used to help “pay the bills.” I wonder if he has family somewhere. I suspect there’s a story there.  I don’t ask him, but I do like to say a prayer for him now and then.

Marlin seems happy that I remember his quest for cans. He seems appreciative that I greet him whenever we meet and ask how he’s doing. What strikes me the most is that somewhere he has discovered faith along the way. Whatever happened to him, he is grateful to the “Good Lord” for where he is now.

There are so many people who have so little. What would Jesus think of the inequalities of people’s circumstances? Jesus would likely do what he did in His day. He would help the blind man see, help the lame walk and teach His message over and over again. You know the one where he says “A new command I give you, love one another as I have loved you.  So you must love one another” (John 13:34).

I think Jesus would want us to find ways to help each other as much as we can. I would love to be able to help Marlin more but he seems grateful that I am his friend; “The good Lord willing, I’ll be just fine!”

rsz_1cathyCatherine Mendenhall-Baugh (Cathy) completed her education at the University of Nebraska majoring in Special Education and minoring in English Literature and now works in the insurance industry. A mother and a grandmother, Cathy grew up in a large Catholic family and has spent the last 30 years as a caregiver for her husband, Jack. A writer for Tuscany Press, she is also working on several longer writing projects.
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