Pablo Mata, 41
He keeps Chicago’s fountains from becoming garbage basins.
Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fountain at Wabash Plaza on the Chicago Riverwalk
Catch anything good today? No, not really.
What do you typically fish out of the city’s fountains? Check it out [Opens the catch basket]: flower petals, cigarette butts, Gatorade bottles, garbage. The company I work for maintains about 25 fountains around the city. I’ve been doing this for a long time now, about ten years.
Do you get to pocket all the coins people throw in when they’re making wishes? No, there’s not really much money left in the fountains by the time I show up. The homeless people come in and they take all the change. They do my job for me, in a way.
Ever scoop out anything superscary, like a finger? No, no, nothing like that! [Laughs] The scariest things I find are used condoms and—what do you call what the woman uses?—oh, tampons.
I imagine the job is seasonal. You’re not skimming in February, right? Yes, only in the summertime. As soon as the weather gets cold, I go back to my country, Mexico. When I’m not in Chicago, I live in Guadalajara the rest of the year.
Whom do you go back to? A wife, kids? I had a wife in the United States. That was a long time ago. We divorced and now I have a new wife in Mexico. I have one child here with my ex-wife and one child with my new wife in Mexico. I miss them when I’m away during the summer, but I can make so much more money in the United States.