In the Spring 2012 issue of British Columbia Magazine we travel to Mayne Island (“Mayne attraction”). For more about this quirky, scenic community and its people, check out Stranger on a Strange Island: from Main Street to Mayne Island, by former Vancouverite Grant Buday (New Star Books, 2011). Here’s an excerpt about his adventures, used with permission.
I’d begun my recycling career by volunteering for two hours twice a month. In those carefree days I was a much jollier presence, and looked forward to my shift and all the characters. If moving to this quiet island had relaxed me, becoming a paid worker rekindled all the irritability that had smouldered on the inside. As an employee, I rediscovered my impatience. I found myself chastising people who treated the depot as a dump where they could leave their old shoes and failed macramé projects. In an utterly premeditated fashion people would dart from their cars and dump everything—old gumboots, Tilley hats, torn flip-flops, mouldering shower curtains—and drive off.
When caught, some apologize and depart, chastened but wiser, determined to be better citizens; others argue that a mouldering shower curtain is sure to be snapped up soon by someone who has recently installed a brand-new mouldering shower. Still others sneak back after hours and deposit their offending objects. Some take offense and hold grudges when you ask them not to bring in jars half full of mayonnaise, as if to reject their old mayonnaise is somehow to reject them.
Thus my reputation as a benign nonentity was ruined. Eden, in contrast, was not only baking at the farmer’s market but becoming personally popular. When one elderly woman discovered that Eden and I were married, she cried out:
“But you’re so nice and he’s so awful!”
The job did have compensations, such as the seven-minute commute. Though even that could be a matter of perspective. Once, getting wood with my neighbour Jake, he lamented that while the fir was fine, it was too bad it was so far away. I timed it. Fourteen minutes.
Frequently asked questions:
“Do I put newspaper in the box marked paper?”
“How about credit card bills?”
“But is it secure? I mean, do you put your credit card bills here or in the garbage?”
“My credit cards got cut up long ago.”
A few people come each day—sometimes two or three times each day—to scrutinize the swap shelves, captivated like crows by anything that shines, anything that might have some conceivable use, such as a left-handed golf club or an eight-track of the Irish Rovers featuring the unicorn song. For many, those were the glory days of recycling, a place to deposit the old and discover the new.
How disappointed the scavengers were when one day the swap shelves vanished. The absence opened a crevasse on an island sorely lacking in diversions. There was trauma. There was Swap Shelf Withdrawal Syndrome. These folks lobbied hard to bring them back, but there just wasn’t the space or the manpower to maintain or, more importantly, police the swap shelves. And policing was necessary because when someone is bent on leaving Gyproc or tires or seashell art they are immune to pleas or reason, they mean to leave it even if we don’t want it.