Tuesday, November 27, 2007


The poverty culture encompasses more than homelessness. The “working poor” is a term usually used to describe the poor that have places to live and they sustain their lives via means deemed undignified by the middle class.

I once wrote on the many friends I had who lived like moles – people who lived off some government pay and holed themselves up in low-income apartments all day while nursing addictions.

Since moving into our current house five years ago, I’ve learned of another subcategory within the working poor: the jawas.

Jawas sustain themselves with the waste and excess of the middle class. They often drive old pickups (or cars with trailers) down residential alleys collecting scrap metal for resale. It’s not a huge income, and I forget the current price per pound for scrap metal, but a full pickup load of metal and old appliances can easily net around $50.

Hell...if I had a pickup, I'd be a part-time jawa too.

Other common valuables are carpet padding, pallets, broken lawn equipment and anything that looks good enough to sell in a garage sale or flea market.

The Tiger has found multiple lawn mowers in the alleys. Sometimes they only need a $2 spark plug to get them running.

As far as I know, it’s not illegal to take things in the alley next to garbage dumpsters. So jawas are not stealing. Once something is lying in the alley, it’s fair game (I think). Most home owners leave unwanted items in the alley on purpose, just for the jawas. Otherwise, the garbage man will eventually get it. In some ways, this act seems kin to the old testament teaching of leaving the edges of the crops for the poor to collect. I don’t know.

When I’m home in the afternoons, it’s common to see two or three different sets of jawas driving by a couple times a month. I recognize some of them from the old izzy group ministry food pantry days.

Recently, my friend Jack and I were fixing up a rental house. We made two huge piles of crap in the backyard of stuff that needed to be hauled off: one to the dump, the other to the metal recycling. We figured there was more than enough for dump fees, some beer, and maybe a lunch or two. But some jawa guy drove up and asked if he could have it.

It was probably better for this guy to have it than for us to drink on the job anyway.


g13 said...

the jawas...that's an excellent analogy.

mike said...

i used to gather stuff from jobs when we demo them. people throw out the dumbest stuff just so they can buy the most expensive thing that does the same as the cheaper older one they have. i would sell them at the flea market.

mmm, drinking on the job. i was working a 12 hour day last week and the home owner got me a case of BL. not my fav, but after 12 hours that stuff went down nice.

Agent B said...


You are probably in one of the lines of work that witnesses the highest level of waste in the US.

With the odd/handy-man jobs I've done in the last 3 years, I'm amazed at what people get rid of and what they replace it with.

I do the same as you, except that flea market part...how the hell do you think I fix up and furnish my own house?

mike said...

the city of santa cruz is making folks do a lot more recycling for sure so there will be less waist in building. a certain amount of all construction (depending on sq ft etc) has to be recycled mat.

it kind of pisses me off when i take out an old vanity that is just fine just to put in a $500 or $800 one that does the same thing but because they saw it on TLC and extreme home wreckover they need it.

i have a friend who remodeled most of his house with mat. taken out of other houses. it looks sick. i did some of the work and it was really cool, a bit more work, but it looks great.

but in the end i can't be too critical, these consumerist schmucks pay my bills so as long as they are willing to pay for it i will build it.

Lainie Petersen said...

We have plenty of Jawas here in Chicago. Actually, the city is always harassing them (like ticketing their trucks if they have any junk in the back), but as far as I am concerned, they are offering a public service.

What I don't like are the Jawas that pick through our trash and leave stuff scattered all over the alley. It has gotten so bad that my husband has taken to dumping the cat litter box over our trash to discourage this. He doesn't like doing this, but leaving trash scattered all over the place is unacceptable.

The other problem is that there are some Jawas that are theives: They have been known to make off with siding and drain spouts. Not nice.

JesusFreak said...

The Sunset Arbor Townhomes are a pretty sweet spot to pick up junk. There are couches, dressers, recliners, all kinds of stuff ripe for the picking waiting by the dumpsters. For some reason, the garbage truck guys never take that stuff when it is pretty obvious that they're there to be thrown away. At least I don't know very many people who like to hang out and sit on a couch by dumpsters.

For real.