One man's trash is Lucky Day's treasure.
The mere thought of going for a walk with his father around their neighborhood to pick up trash puts a big smile on the 9-year-old's face and gives him the giggles.
The boy's obsession with all things garbage landed him an award from Huntington Beach on July 21 for keeping streets, parks and beaches clean.
The City Council chamber was filled that night with mobile-home park owners and others ready to debate rent control. However, differences were put aside for several minutes during the meeting to applaud the youngster for his efforts.
Rainbow Environmental Services, a local waste-management company, gave Lucky a gift: a belt with the words "Lucky Day is a Huntington Beach environmental champion" on the buckle.
Lucky — sporting a black dress shirt, striped tie and freshly trimmed mohawk haircut with blue and fuchsia tips — was awestruck by the gift and had his father put the belt around him.
"It makes my heart really glad to see a little boy like this, who has issues in daily living, making the best of his situation," said Sue Gordon, spokeswoman for Rainbow.
'He just fell in love with it'
In a typical week, Lucky — armed with his bucket and toy grabber — and his father, J.D. Day, will take several dozen walks around their neighborhood. On occasion, they will venture to Los Angeles and points farther south to pick up trash.
The boy will find the occasional miniature liquor bottle, socks and other discards. The dad's job is to keep him safe and out of Dumpsters used by medical practices. What Lucky lacks in bulk collected he more than makes up for with sheer determination and enthusiam. Because he is autistic, he seems more fascinated by the motions of picking up trash than the actual societal benefit of it.
In fact, the Day family says it is a way to help Lucky deal with his developmental disorders.
Lucky was born six weeks premature and was later diagnosed with moderate to severe autism, severe attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and oppositional defiant disorder, a condition in which a child argues, throws fits or knowingly does something he or she is not supposed to, according to Trip Day, Lucky's mother.
"Normally, we get such a negative response that our kid picks up trash," she said. "It's trash, and people don't like trash. And if they see somebody picking up trash, they assume it's a trash digger. Some people think we're making him do it, but he just fell in love with it."
Trash is no fleeting fascination
Take a step into Lucky's room and it's immediately evident that he loves everything associated with trash. Lined up on the carpeted floor are about 30 garbage trucks of various sizes. On a wall hangs a high-visibility jacket and a replica Rainbow employees uniform.
His window curtains are the highlight of the room, created by his mother to look like a Rainbow trash bin.
Every child goes through phases, and Lucky is no exception. However, his obsessions are different from a typical child's.
He is currently fascinated with McDonald's, not for its Happy Meals but for its menus.
"It's all about the menu sign in the drive-through and what little promotions or specials they have on there," said J.D. Day. "He likes to get pictures of those, and he knows [the menu] switches from breakfast to lunch, and that's a big thing in itself. You camp out and you wait for this person to come out and switch the sign and you film them."
Previous hobbies included collecting "Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?" children's books, adhesive note pads and flags.
Trip Day said Lucky was "in heaven" during the Fourth of July celebration this month, when seemingly everyone had a flag in hand. But the following day, his obsession with flags vanished, just like many of his other fascinations, she said.
Lucky's love of garbage, on the other hand, has continued to grow since he picked up the hobby when he was 4.
Though he was nonverbal until he was 5, he was able to use the family computer and search for "Rainbow Environmental Disposal" on a web browser before he learned how to speak, said Trip Day, who stays at home as Lucky's caretaker.
"We kept waiting for [his obsession with] trash to go away like that, but it's just evolved rather than disappear," she said. "So I'm pretty sure this is his thing. We're five years deep in this, and it's stronger than ever."
Providing a 'purpose'
The Friday after Lucky received his award from the city, he and his father geared up for one of their many trash walks around the neighborhood.
J.D. Day, a 38-year-old tattoo artist who works at Port City Tattoo in Long Beach, said he and his son will go on about 20 walks a day, picking up trash and placing their findings in garbage bins along their route.
"It's more about having something to dump in the Dumpster rather than cleaning up," Day said as he watched his son prop open a bin lid with a toy grabber and empty his blue Lowe's bucket filled with a leaf and a sock he found along the way.
Day also accompanies his son to McDonald's and on their 7-mile weekend trash walks from Beach Boulevard and Pacific Coast Highway to Harbor House Café in Sunset Beach.
"There's times where I may be wishing for a different situation or that I can do things with him that normal dads and sons do," Day said. "But at the same time, I realize and I remind myself that we are actually closer than a lot of dads and sons, even though we can't do all those normal things."
He said he doesn't mind walking hours in the sun picking up trash or visiting multiple McDonald's in one day as long as Lucky is with him and enjoying himself.
"Every single day for the rest of my life will be revolving around what I could do best for him," Day said. "It can be overwhelming sometimes, but I truly love him so much that I don't have a problem with it, and in some ways, it gives me a true purpose in life that I can't deviate from."