He’s up every morning at the crack of dawn and out, trekking from dumpster to dumpster on the cracked streets of central El Paso, until the sun comes down. He pushes a makeshift cart in front of him, ever searching for soda and beer cans, taking a single break around noon for lunch.
Luis Macias Lamas didn’t tell me his age.
He recited the date of his birth like a DMV employee reading regulations out-loud.
“El día 21 del sexto mes del año 1927. Hay agale cuentas,”
“The 21st day of the sixth month of the year 1927. You do the math,” he said.
I asked again to make sure I heard right.
A calculator will tell you he’s 83 years old.
Next month will crank that number up one more notch and maybe bring along another wrinkle.
“Hay que hacer la lucha para el centavo,”
“You’ve gotta fight for every penny,” he said about collecting cans.
Although he was born in California, el Señor Lamas was raised in Jalisco, Mexico. He returned to the United States in 1962 and worked for an El Paso cement company. He crushed rocks.
Lamas worked until retirement age and now receives his earned Social Security checks. He’s not done with life just yet though.
“Si me quedo allí viendo la televisión, más pronto me muero. No me quiero morir,”
“If I stay there watching television I’ll die sooner. I don’t want to die,” el Señor Luis said.
He knows where all the dumpers in Central El Paso are and walks from one to another always pushing his rattling little cart full of all sorts of tools and knick knacks.
One tool is a magnet used to test whether his findings are metal or not. The most important tool in his arsenal is a pole, about as tall as he, used to pick out cans from the bottom of dumpsters. A long screw sticks out at the end which he uses to hook into a can’s spout and fish them out.
He didn’t have time to show me how it works more than once.
His short stature has him stand on a crate to look over the tops of these sordid treasure chests. As I followed him around, he found a computer monitor lodged under some trash. He pulled a hand saw out of a pouch in his cart and sawed off the extension cord. He explained that under the rubber covering was aluminum, and so he collected it too.
El Señor Lamas had 10 children with three different women in his day. Seven males and three females. One he buried just last week. He’s not sure of the cause of death and didn’t think to meddle in finding out. El Señor Lamas’s own plot of land in the cemetery is paid for and that’s plenty for him to think about in terms of death.
With the looming summer days that have grafted “The Sun City” with its name rearing closer and closer, Luis Macias Lamas trudges harder still, his trusty cart in the lead.