Brendan would pass by the Can Man every day on his way to school. And every afternoon as he walked home, Brendan would see the Can Man digging through the garbage bins behind the stores in West Hartford Center. On Sundays while Brendan walked in Fern Park with his family, he would observe the Can Man pushing his shopping cart brimming with aluminum cans down the paved sidewalk. While shopping with his mother at the supermarket on Farminton Avenue, Brendan would recognize the figure of the Can Man carrying large black plastic trash bags over his shoulders. The young boy could hear the sound of clanking metal escaping from the confines of the overstuffed bags. When he viewed the man pouring his contents into the shopping cart, Brendan felt that the sparkling colors were reflecting into his eyes. Shades of red, blue, orange, yellow, and green were visible in the afternoon sun.
One day Brendan gathered the courage to ask the Can Man why he spent his time collecting cans. \"What do you do with them all?\" he inquired of the older man. The Can Man smiled sadly at Brendan. \"Oh, I return some of them for the money,\" he said. \"Other ones I keep for my own purpose. My name is Dan, and I am a tin man. No deposits in the bank, no returns on my investments,\" he said mysteriously as he walked away, pushing his cart steadily down the sidewalk.
The next morning Brendan didn't go directly to school. He snuck over to the Center and secretly observed the Can Man placing his bags carefully into his cart. Brendan followed him as he struggled with the cart through the busy streets. Brendan followed him until he arrived at an isolated alley in Blue Back Square, on the outskirts of the Center. When Brendan peered into the alley he saw a very strange sight. The Can Man was living in a cardboard box. But it was no ordinary box. On its surface the Can Man had drawn windows, shutters, and a door. The box had the appearance of a house if not the substance.
Behind the cardboard house was an even stranger sight. The homeless man had constructed something with hundreds of cans. Brendan couldn't believe his eyes. It resembled the twin towers that had been destroyed in New York City! Brendan had seen pictures of the towers in magazines of his parents. The Can man had constructed a tribute!
Dan the Can Man noticed brendan for the first time and smiled sadly. Yes, I built these as a tribute to all the brave Americans who died that day. I guess that you could call me a street artist,\" he remarked. \"The sad thing is, the authorities will pull this down as they have done with all of my creations,\" he said with tears in his eyes.
\"Doesn't that make you mad when they destroy your creations?\" Brendan said in anger. He couldn't believe that people could be so cruel.
\"Well, my ideas are all recycled,\" the Can Man admitted. \"I am hardly an original,\" he said with downcast eyes.
Brendan hurried to school, leaving the homeless man with his art. He thought about Dan all day at school. The next day before he left for school, Brendan once again sought the Can Man in the parking lot of the Center. He couldn't find him, not that day nor for the next few days. Finally, he spotted Dan at Fern Park on a sunny Saturday morning. The Can Man was busy rummaging through a garbage bin. The older man was shirtless, wearing only a pair of dirty old jeans and torn-up sneakers. The homeless man was breathing heavily from his efforts; sweat was pouring off of him like a faucet.
Brendan approached him gingerly, but with determination. \"Hey, Dan,\" he said with shyness. \"I have an idea.\"
The Can Man climbed out of his bin. He gazed with wonder at Brendan, scratching his shaggy beard as he did.
\"Your small work of art made me think,\" Brendan said. \"Why not construct an even bigger tribute here in Fern Park? If everyone saw how respectful it was, they wouldn't dare tear it down,\" the young boy said with excitement.
The Can Man looked doubtful. \"Well...that sounds good,\" he said with reluctance. He scratched his hairy chin as he considered Brendan's proposal. \"But...I don't think that I could find enough cans to finish such a project,\" he said with sadness.
\"Let me worry about that,\" Brendan replied with excitement in his voice. \"Meet me here Monday in the afternoon,\" he ordered the older man. Brendan ran across the park, only stopping at the baseball field to take a drink at the water fountain.
On Monday, Brendan told his friends about the Can man and his tribute. Some of the children laughed at the thought of helping a homeless man, but most were enthusiastic about Brendan's plan. This plan involved all of the children pitching in to find enough cans to build a real tribute to the heroes of 9-11.
After school, the children searched all over West Hartford. They found them in bus stops at Bishop's Corner. They retrived them from the front of the little shops in Elmwood, where people would carlessly throw them. They found them everywhere.
The next day, the Can Man pushed his little shopping cart through the grassy soccer field on the hill of the park. He made his way past the swimming pool on his left, admiring the green pine trees on his right. They looked so beautiful to him as they contrasted against the rich blue sky. Suddenly, Dan was struck by a wonderous sight: Mountains of red, blue, green cans were stacked in large piles near the park's pond. The brilliance of the colors blinded the Can Man; he couldn't believe what he was seeing with his own eyes. The West Hartford schoolchildren had found thousands of cans and brought them here to Fern park for Dan to build his tribute.
Dan spotted brendan among a large group of children. The homeless man wiped a tear from his eye. \"Thank you, Brendan,\" he said with gratitude. \"Thank you everyone. I am going to build a special tribute with these cans; thank you for believing in me.\"
For the next week or so, Brendan didn't see the can man anywhere around West Hartford. He didn't see him behind the stores of the Center. He didn't see him pushing his cart down Farmington Avenue. He didn't see the Can man anywhere.
Finally, the day for Dan to reveal his art came. It was covered with dozens of black plastic bags. It was another sunny Saturday morning, and it seemed like everyone in West hartford was there. Brendan and his classmates were there, eager with anticipation.
As everyone waited with baited breath, the Can man pulled at the bags. The gathered crowd gasped as they looked in amazment at Dan's creation.
It was a larger version of the Twin Towers that Dan had created back in the Blue Back alley. The towers stood proud and tall. And they were constructed entirely from soda cans! The various colors dazzled in the sunlight. Strangers murmered their approval. No one could believe that a homeless bum like Dan could construct such a wonderful tribute.
Brendan and his classmates cheered. The mayor of West Hartford came forward and shook Dan's hand. But then, the unthinkable happened. A flock of birds flew over Dan's creation, then perched themselves upon it. There was a brief silence. Then came the sound of thousands of cans collapsing. There were loose aluminum cans everywhere.
No one knew what to say. Some of the children began to cry. Brendan placed a sympathetic hand upon Dan's shoulder. The Can Man shook his head with sadness. \"I told you, Brendan, my work is recycled,\" he said. Dan bent down and began to pick up the loose cans off the ground.
And then the strange thing happened. Other people began to pick up cans. Men, women, children; all of the townspeople chiiped in to help. In a short time, the metal cans were all bagged. And then something even stranger happened. With the money from the cans and donations from the town residents, Dan was able to rent his own little apartment, right near the Center. The people of West Hartford helped him get a job at the local supermarket, where he helped to process the recycled cans.
It would have been nice if this had been the end of the story. But Dan soon fell back into his old habits. Brendan would see him around town, happily collecting his aluminum cans and oushing his little cart down the street.
Brendan thought he would cry when he spotted Dan walking down Farmington Avenue. But he never did. Brendan realized that Dan really was a tin man. And this Can Man had helped him to grow up.
© Copyright 2016 Coolidge Templeton. All rights reserved.
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