The reason people who litter are called litterbugs is because they bug me. Okay, maybe that’s not the reason. But they do bug me. Litter ends up in waterways. It makes road ditches and parks look like an episode of Hoarders. And it attracts critters no one wants hanging around, like flies, rats and bad-tempered walkers—like me.
For reasons I can’t explain, I feel compelled to pick up litter when I see it. It’s odd really, because I don’t always feel the need to pick it up in my own home. Early one morning, I cleaned up what remained of someone’s supper off a picnic table at the park. Then I picked up a gum wrapper, a beer can, a Styrofoam cup and a five-foot long grocery receipt. But when I noticed that someone had hauled in a beat-up recliner and left it at the baseball field, I couldn’t take it anymore. I’d had it with picking up other people’s trash. And not just because I couldn’t lift the recliner.
I was out for a walk. This was supposed to be my happy time and it was being spoiled by other people’s bad manners, so I quit. Just like that. I walked by a fast food bag without slowing down. I hurried past an aluminum can and a half-empty plastic bottle. I was in no mood to consider it half full.
But then, I spotted an empty plastic grocery bag. I couldn’t help myself. I picked it up and filled it with trash by the time I got home.
I’ve got to come clean here, so to speak. I’ve littered a few times myself. But I swear, it was an accident and I’ve always gone to great lengths to pick up after myself. I once chased an empty tin can all the way down the hill by my house, and I live on a big hill.
One time I littered during a girl’s day out with a friend. My fingernails were still wet with polish after my first and only manicure. I pushed the door of the salon open with my hip and walked across the parking lot with my hands up and my fingers splayed. I looked like I was being robbed. As I gingerly opened the door, a gust of wind swept a paper off the floorboards and out the door of my friend’s car. I thought it might be something important, like the deed to her house, so I chased it across the parking lot and retrieved it from behind the wheel of a parked car. Then I surveyed the damage: Two scraped nails and a tread mark up my arm—and all to save a furniture store flyer. My friend said that, while she appreciated the effort, she normally doesn’t keep the deed to her house on her floorboards.
Another time, I wasn’t so successful. As I got out of my car, a gust of wind blew a paper off my dashboard, onto the parking lot, and under my car. I closed the door, and set my purse, briefcase, and giant jug of iced tea on the ground while I reached under my car for the paper. That’s when I realized that my car was still running, and that at some point, I’d apparently locked my doors. Uh-oh. Fortunately, I keep a spare key in my purse. As I reached for the key, I knocked over my drink, and a puddle formed under me and my belongings. Now my knees were muddy. My briefcase was wet. My iced tea was gone. My car was running with the doors locked. And the paper that had started it all was airborne on its way to somebody else’s parking lot. It’s okay though. I probably picked it up the next time I was in the neighborhood.
(Dorothy Rosby is the author of the humor book I Used to Think I Was Not That Bad and Then I Got to Know Me Better. Contact [email protected] or see www.dorothyrosby.com.)
Litterbugs, the business of picking up after yourself