the cardboard-box man

i see him every few weeks, sometimes more. he drives a pale, metallic green american car from the 70s. his back is stooped with age, his face hidden behind coke-bottle glasses. he’s usually wearing a powder blue leisure suit, or the equivalent, something he’s probably worn for the last 30 years…
when i see him, he’s always moving slowly and deliberately, intent on his singular mission – cardboard-box recycling.

he must have the corner on the san francisco cardboard-box recycling market. or at least, that’s what i imagine. his car is packed to the rafters with flattened boxes of every shape, size and origin. they bulge from the trunk, obscure the windows, and pull the car to the ground. outside of a recycling plant, i’ve never seen such a menagerie of boxes, nor anyone so intent on collecting them.
the thing that struck me most when i saw him was not his profession, or his car, or his leisure suit, but the odd trajectories our lives take. ten years ago, i couldn’t have imagined being in the place i am now, doing what i do now (ok, yeah, i’m unemployed, but i mean before that). similarly, i’m sure he couldn’t have imagined being the cardboard-box man. if i had a time machine, took a snapshot of him today, went back to his childhood, and showed him a picture of his future, he would laugh and tell me i was nuts, that he wouldn’t end up that way.
it seems to me this is the nature of life. we imagine futures, project ourselves forward to successes and happiness (or failures and sadness), but in reality, the threads of time and chance tangle to hide the reality…
maybe some people wind up where they imagined, but how many don’t? look at yourself today – are you where you imagined you’d be?

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