Flynn Gabriel bought 88 microwaves for three cents a pound. Total cost: $68. He will take them apart, strip them of resalable metals and separate the copper from the aluminum from the brass. He keeps the motors intact (they sell for 15 cents per pound) and will sell the carcasses back to the landfill for a half-cent a pound. He’ll gross about $300 for his work; less than ten dollars an hour after spending ten minutes stripping each microwave. His return is less if you factor in the cost of transporting and reselling the components. But Flynn doesn’t analyze it that way. It’s interesting work he can do on his own time and doesn’t require interacting with other people. Flynn’s not keen on working with others.
Flynn Gabriel has Asperger’s Syndrome. “My son get diagnosed with it, so I started investigating it on the Internet and I realized, ‘Hey, that’s me’. That’s why I like scrapping. I can do it by myself. The diagnosis doesn’t change anything. I’m still me.”
Flynn’s the oldest of seven children. He grew up in a poor family that never threw anything away. Now, Flynn has three jobs. Twice a week he delivers papers in the wee hours of the morning. He handles trash removal for three local motels. And he scraps. “I’ve worked since the day I graduated high school. I do what I want when I want.”
Flynn, his wife Savannah, and their daughter Aria live in a modest ranch a few blocks from the Nevada State Capital. The house is easy to find; their driveway and yard is cluttered with stuff. My initial reaction was chaos, but on closer inspection their mini-fridges, bicycle wheels and copper pipes are well ordered. “Our neighbors don’t complain because we keep things neat and give them anything they might like.”
Flynn and Savannah live in a post-consumption world. They don’t buy much, and never buy retail. “Ninety percent of what we have someone else was throwing away.” They find stuff others discard, fix it, and resell it on eBay, Craigslist or Facebook penny. During dinner, the doorbell rang and Savannah collected $25 from the top bidder in a Facebook auction for a printer Savannah had found, cleaned up, made operational, and sold.
Although Savannah has a paid job in a thrift store, the family lives beyond the world of banks. “We have our pawn pile; rings we’ve collected, our Wii, our projection system. Things we like but don’t need. They are our savings account. When we need money we pawn something. It doesn’t cost much. Say the pawnshop gives us $90 for the Wii. We have ninety days to retrieve it, for $120. If we don’t have that yet, we just pay the interest and they hold on to it.” In reality, pawning is a costly savings account. But traditional loans aren’t available to folks like Flynn.
Savannah and Flynn recently got healthcare for the first time through the Affordable Healthcare Act. Getting regular medical care is a new experience for them. Flynn’s in the process of getting his self-diagnosis of Asperger’s certified. “I’ve had four major auto wrecks, my body’s pretty shot. The diagnosis will come in handy if I need to go on disability.” Flynn’s 31.
“Savannah went to her first appointment. “The doctor just wrote ‘obese’ on her form without even talking to Savannah about it. Look at her, she’s a big girl but she’s active, she moves all the time.” Flynn was clearly hurt that this outsider slapped his wife with an offensive label.
The more time I spent with the Gabriel’s, the more I witnessed their binding love and support. The world is not forgiving to men who speak with Flynn’s clipped abruptness, or kind to women with Savannah’s heft. Yet, within their home, Flynn, Savannah and Aria share nothing but praise and patience for each other. I felt like I’d landed in The Enchanted Cottage, where blemishes the outside world is quick to condemn evaporate, allowing an individual’s true goodness to shine through. At first glance, it’s easy to dismiss Flynn and Savannah as junk collectors who don’t fit the model of an American family. Yet on reflection, their livelihood is more sustainable than many I’ve seen, and their mutual devotion is beautiful.
How will we live tomorrow?
“I will learn new things every day.” – Savannah
“I will live the same way I do today. Seriously, if I see someone who needs help, I am the first person to stop. One night I literally gave a guy my shirt. Once I sold a guy my shoes.” – Flynn