The work was not for everyone, he says. "You wake up early in the morning and spend a 10- to 14-hour shift in the blistering Tennessee heat, basically diverting as much waste from the landfill as possible."
Sounds clean and clinical: "diverting" waste. What that really meant, Lewis says, "was massive groups of people standing in a huge pile of compost. All the garbage bags have to be ripped open and checked for recyclables."
So, there you are, digging through globs of trash, picking out cans, for instance. "These kids are standing in a two-story mountain of, just, waste. It's really disgusting. Really hard work. A lot of kids can't handle it."
On the other hand, you're doing some really good work, Lewis says. "When you're working hard, it's one thing. But when you're working hard for a goal that benefits everyone on Earth ...
"It's nice to be able to support the community, but also to be able to handle the waste as I think most of the people there would like to see it handled."
He is now back in the Charleston area, pondering whether to step back onto the Clean Vibes heap. "I may hop on the bandwagon again next year," he says.
Meanwhile, he's considering his options, looking for a job, still musing whether to track back toward the military. He hopes to return to Marshall and pick up where he left off after leaving without a degree. "I'm thinking of taking biology. I certainly want to finish Japanese -- I'm really interested in Japanese culture."
He left Marshall the first time in a cloud of trauma, after a close friend committed suicide. "He was one my best friends from my earlier years," he says.
Devastated, he dropped out and had a "crazy couple of years." He doesn't want to go into the details, except to say a retreat at the Bhavana Society Buddhist retreat center in Hampshire County helped him clean up his act and find some equilibrium.
"I'd been meditating on and off before that. Then, I started really getting into the practice," he says.
He has a monk's shaved head, but not by choice or style. He was born with an autoimmune deficiency where his white blood cells attack his hair follicles, he says. "So, basically, I'm bald. Most people who shave their heads, you see the roots dotted across the scalp. Mine is just skin on scalp. So I have a super-shiny head."
As a twentysomething guy, in an era when many young men shave their heads, it's no big deal. But when he was a kid in St. Albans, it was a deal, and sometimes a big one when other kids taunted him.
"Kids are mean. So that might have made me a little less sociable at a young age. All through grade school I wore a wig. Some kids knew it. One day in middle school, I said, 'I can't take it anymore!' I took the wig off and shaved my head. My parents kind of looked at me and said, 'Are you sure?'"
He wonders today if, being a bald kid, he felt he needed to compensate with more bravado in his life choices. "I considered the police. Perhaps I thought I had to fill that sort of role because of the way I looked. I'm not really sure."
These days, what's up top -- or rather what's not -- is no longer an issue. The issue now is determining new directions in his life, of "finding a purpose," he says.
"I'm excited to go back to school. I can't wait. I haven't necessarily decided what I want to be when I grow up. But that puts me in a place where I can learn and grow."
Reach Douglas Imbrogno at doug...@cnpapers.com or 304-348-3017.