Thursday, September 8, 2016

Pull tab donations & "Last Baby Boomer"

I remain charmed by the many crayon keepsakes friends and readers have bestowed on me over the past three years. Each warms my heart.

But a friend gave me a surprising “Last Baby Boomer” related gift that tops them all.

Well, let’s say tabs them all.

The gift?

A little plastic baggy with about three hundred utterly useless aluminum can pull tabs.

They’re from Greg. He and his wife Norine reside in a church, but live in a bar.

He’s a very interesting guy. I’ve yet to have the pleasure of meeting Norine. I met Greg through Earl, the magnificent bartender at Nadine’s, the magnificent bar on Pittsburgh’s South Side.

Greg and Norine in 2007 bought the 116-year-old de-sanctified St. Casimir Lithuanian Catholic Church on Sarah St. (Post-Gazette featured them here) They’re in the process of selling it, but for nearly 10 years their home was the church choir loft.

How cool is that? We’ve only known each other for about six months and I’m the poorer for the delay. I’ve heard their Halloween parties were legendary. 

When I say he “lives” in Nadine’s, I mean it in a soulful sense. He’s a classic bar guy so we’re kindred spirits.

Ours is an interesting friendship. Before introducing him to me, Earl introduced him to my writing and Greg became a huge fan.

Greg told me he has trouble sleeping and spends his insomniac hours going back and methodically reading every one of my blog posts.

So he lays awake at night reading my blog while an hour away I’m laying awake wondering why the fuck I bother to write it.

The reason I bother is because it matters to guys like Greg and Earl.

And you!

So Greg and I met at Nadine’s last month. Spending any time with guys like Greg and Earl is its own reward, but Greg one-upped it by giving me three gifts. A card of encouragement, a $52 cash stipend — a buck a week — for blog payment and all those stupid useless pull tabs.

The latter matters the most.

It’s ironic because they in the grand scheme of things matter the least.

It wasn’t until Greg’s gift it dawned on me what a central role the pull tabs play in “Last Baby Boomer.”

One of the characters, Buddy Allman (based on an old college buddy) is convicted of misdemeanor recklessness and ordered to collect pull tabs because each one represents an additional minute on the kidney dialysis machine. 

Buddy accepts the task with gusto. Warehouses full of pull tabs ensue.

Of course, it’s all a load of crap.

That pull tabs play a magical role in any healing process is one of the most debunked yet enduring urban legends of the past 30 years, one that to this day bedevils recyclers and philanthropists like those working at places like the National Kidney Foundation.

This from

“There's nothing special about pull tabs which makes them exchangeable for time on a dialysis machine. These bits of metal are worth nothing more than the ordinary recycle value of the aluminum they contain. Though rumor claims pull tabs are especially valuable because they're made of 'pure aluminum,' they're actually formed from an aluminum alloy, just like the rest of the can.”

I have an indelible recollection of my first exposure to the fraud. It was 1985 at the Athens, Ohio, house where I was living with about 20 other Ohio University madmen.

I was dutifully placing each pull tab from my college beer consumption in the container. So I alone contributed about 30,000 pull tabs.

Per week!

I vividly remember my most sarcastic friend — he’s a character in the book, too — removing his tab and sneering, “Should I play God? Should I contribute to Tiny Tim’s precious longevity or send the poor bastard to his eternal doom?”

He then placed the tab between his thumb and middle finger and with a cackle and a snap sent it spinning out the window.

To hell with little Timmy.

I remember writing the book so many years ago and being fearful the collection myth was spent, that people had stopped collecting them for donations, a situational change that would have rendered this important plot line meaningless.

My fears were unfounded.

The myth thrives still.

The news saddened a friend of Greg’s who wondered just what the hell she was going to do with all those useless pull tabs.

“Give ‘em to me,” he said. “I know a guy who’ll appreciate ‘em.”

And appreciate ‘em, I do.

See, in the book the pull tabs wind up fulfilling the good-hearted intentions of all those misled donors, a case of taking something inherently fraudulent and redeeming it for something potentially beautiful.

Could be the story of my life.

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