Friday, January 11, 2008

The Litterati

I'm a trash man.

About every time I take a stroll with Hviezda, the Irish Setter with the Slovak name, I pick up some trash. I don't mind it, really, so long as some foreign substance doesn't run down my arm or a pathogen worms itself into my body. Mostly I pick up glass bottles of soda and beer or plastic bottles of water, take them home, and deposit them in our blue recycling bin.

Call it my modest execution of civic duty – other than paying property taxes.

Don't get me wrong: We live in a pretty clean town. Well, parts of it anyway. The area around the waterfront is generally clean. One block away, the downtown district of mostly mom n' pop businesses is litter-free. And the common, a quintessential New England urban, rectangular schemata framed by churches, the old town hall and schools, is mostly rid of trash. That's good, because that's where the tourists – and we do get them in the summer – tend to go.

But venture away from visitor central, and you'll see garbage. Our working-class neighborhood is a good example. It's an assembly of streets with mostly neat, well-tended homes. Lots of Portuguese descendants live around here, and they're pretty meticulous about the appearance of their homes and their yards. A favored landscaping touch is to plop a statuette of the Virgin Mary and Christ child on a mat of pink granite-looking stones. It's not exactly natural, but it's a display that just may punch their ticket to heaven.

We opted for the natural look. It's not the Garden of Eden, but it looks pretty nice.

Anyway, the public areas don't get the same treatment as the private ones. I know this, because I pick up all sorts of stuff on my street. Cigarette packs (Marlboro Reds appear the smoke of choice), loose paper, envelopes, small car parts. Today, I picked up a Wendy's meal. There it was, in the middle of the street. I know exactly what this litterbug had for dinner. Classic hamburger, fries and a Coke. The remains were still in the bag. I also picked up a flattened Bud Light can. And some wadded paper. I wanted to pick up a pink slipper, but it was lodged under the right front tire of a pickup truck. I've given up trying to pick up cigarette butts.

I just don't understand what possesses people to jettison their trash on the streets. Do they think there's some trash fairy to pick it all up? Do they not understand it gets washed into storm sewers and gushed into our waterways, the places where we fish for food, draw water to drink and swim? Do they not understand it gets stuck in bushes and hedges, clotted against fences, wrapped around trees? I just don't get it.

I remember standing on the sidewalk in New York City and watching trash swirl in circles, as if the pieces of garbage were playing a very speedy version of duck-duck-goose. I know littering is an issue that plays out everywhere.

I just don't understand why it has to happen.


Leeann said...

hey Rich,

I was laughing aloud at the pink slipper pick-up attempt.

You are destined straight for heaven, boy!

Hugs from this bad idea bear,

Eric said...

That is pure class. It is so easy to just pass on by and do nothing. I have been slowly training myself to pitch in when passing by garbage but admit it requires forming the habit.

...I'd trade in all the non-smoking laws if they could replace them with a 1 year jail sentence for anyone caught littering their cigarette butts.