Littered with Beauty: a Postscript

I have to say that I was so bothered by the contrail of crap that I saw along Long Lots and Hulls Farm Road yesterday (previous post) that I woke up with an itch to do something about it.

There’s something to be said for taking pictures of trash: by seeing it and then documenting it, you feel an obligation to retrieve it. Or you wind up feeling a little like a schmo.

So I put on my iPod shuffle, donned some work gloves,  grabbed a few cinch-sacks, and headed out to a thawed and beautiful midwinter morning. And set out to pick up crap, humming to myself:

Baa, baa, black street,
Have you any trash?
Yes, sir, yes, sir,
Three bags’ stash;
One for the master,
And one for the dame,
And one for the little boy
Who lives down the lane.

 I blew my earlier prediction—this was indeed a three-bagger. Easily could have gone to four.

Through it, a few observations:

1) If you set out to pick up roadside garbage, you’ll need more than one bag. And a vehicle (with your hazards on and a trunk liner for oozing revoltingness) to go back and pick up the filled bags, because trust me, you won’t be able to schlep them home. 

2) Un-retrieved, sodden newspapers—still in their delivery plastic—weigh as much as a cinderblock. You’d do better to leave them and concentrate on the superabundance of lighter trash.

3) Closed Gatorade bottles that appear to hold urine sometimes merely hold discarded tobacco “snus” and a turbid pint of someone else’s mucous.

4) Don’t bother with cigarette butts. They’re tough to pick up off the ground with work gloves; there are literally a bazillion of them; and if you set out to achieve a pure state of trashlessness, you will be physically and emotionally doomed. Either that or you’ll have to surrender your life to becoming a reverse Johnny Appleseed, and dedicate yourself to litter-picking.

5) People find inventive ways to dispose of their automotive urine. I picked up a neatly-knotted bag filled with someone’s pee. So you’ll want to wear gloves. Or just use some of the blue surgical ones that you find on the curbside along the way!

6) Bend with your knees—the bag you’re carrying will become heavy in minutes. And be sure to wear something that will prevent you from revealing plumber’s butt to passing neighbors and other motorists.

7) If there was a 5-cent deposit on those little plastic airplane liquor bottles, you could get rich scouring the byways of Fairfield County—they’re easy to pick up, kinda cute, super light, and plentiful.

8) Occasionally, as you walk in front of other people’s houses wearing a baseball hat and carrying a heavy, plastic bag at 7:15 on s Sunday morning, you begin to think that you might appear like you’re up to no good. I wondered what would happen if a police car happened to observe me.

I attempted two things to project normalcy, sanity, and civic-mindedness: I wore a Staples baseball hat; and I tried to pick up garbage in the most obvious, method-acting way. Sort of, ‘Hey, Neighbor! Just picking up some cans from your front lawn here so the neighborhood looks a little crisper—no small animals in this bag here! We’re all good! Not a burglar! Enjoy the Sunday talk shows!’

9) One troubling theme: there seemed to be a direct correlation between the height and elaborateness of a home’s wall or fence, the size of the property fronting the street, and the amount of roadside trash. You could intuit a few things from this. First, these homeowners may not actually ever see the trash. They drive into their driveways, close their gates with a remote, and that’s that. Maybe they’re older. Maybe they never really walk or run or bike on the roads by their home (which would be a shame—think of all the Yo!Kids Smoothie containers they’re missing).

A second possibility is that they may not choose to see the trash. Everything that’s on their side of the wall may be pristine, but on the road-side of their walls? Someone else’s problem.

A third possibility is that they do see it, they are aware of it, and they’re just as disgusted by it, but they still don’t do anything about it. If that’s the case, I’d humbly suggest that the next time they pay someone to plant paper-whites or blow their leaves, they ask for a 7-minute garbage-scrub, too. I’m not planning on doing this for a living. 

10) Finally, I haven’t said a word about who’s responsible for this mess in the first place. I have no idea who actually litters, and I’m actually not that interested in trying to understand—or reprimand—them. Their actions are so beyond comprehension that I’d rather not obsess about them. It’s obviously mindless, selfish, antisocial behavior. I’m not going to bother to write my senator to introduce a cigarette butt bill. I’m not going to get angry and go on a misanthropic internet tear. The anonymous commenters on sites world-web-wide have got that covered.

There’s zero satisfaction or progress in that. But there’s a ton when you decide to just pick stuff up.

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