| Considerations for Independence Day celebrationsYes, I know you’re shocked. How dare I call America a garbage dump? Well, folks, let me just mention something that nobody wants to hear: Many people (that means many, many individuals out there reading this, even though I hope that it is not you) really believe that this country is their personal garbage can; that they are somehow more important than others in some ways and can take more leeway with the rules that other people must live by, even to ignoring the common sense admonition of doing unto others….
Many years ago, as I was walking along the sidewalk on my way to a store, a man walked right by me, tossed his gum wrapper on the street and kept on going. I picked it up, caught up with the man, and said: “Excuse me, sir. You dropped your gum wrapper. I’m sure you didn’t intend to deliberately make a garbage can out of the streets of America. I know you wouldn’t do that in your own home. Well, America is our home; please think of that when you’re ready to throw away your trash!”
He was somewhat startled, but thanked me for that reminder. He looked ashamed as he took his wrapper back and walked to the nearest trash can to make his deposit. I wondered, however, if the message really took root.
People at bus stops do it all the time, leaving their drink cup and their burger wrapper on the ground near the bench; but in their defense, sometimes there is no trash can there at the stop and no food is allowed on the bus. (What, pray tell, is a bus-rider to do?)
Unless someone chooses to pay no attention at all to the garbage dump that human beings have created out of this country — of the streets, the waterways, the streams and oceans that in turn wash their cast-off trash back up onto the former litter-free beaches, once so delightful to walk on barefoot and carefree — one can’t help but notice that all of America reflects back exactly what it has received from the hands of the lazy, ignorant and careless people who believe that THEIR trash won’t matter; who believe that the street or the beach is already dirty (what’s one more candy wrapper or one more cigarette butt?), and who believe that their little piece of trash can’t possibly matter; that it’s no big deal.
There is no such thing as doing something that does not matter. You may not know how it matters; or maybe you can’t imagine how it could matter, but it does. It’s easy enough to understand the “lazy” part of my comments. We’ve probably all seen those who were literally inches from a trash can and still chose to flick their cigarette butt into the gutter instead of taking that one step to the side to put it in the trash. We’ve all seen those who were too lazy to get up and walk over to the trash can and just let their sandwich wrapper stay on the park bench, or flutter to the ground. And they would always “reason” with you that it’s just a tiny thing, or the place was already dirty, or the street sweeper or park clean-up crew would take care of it, or something to that effect.
Thank goodness — so far, and at least in some places — there are those who have the job of cleaning up our left-behind messes. The “good” news is that THEY (those in the “clean-up” business) have a job, albeit a sad-to-say necessary job because of the pigginess (my apologies to our four-legged piggies) of some people; but if they (those in the clean-up business) do it right (in a caring way), we have at least a more or less clean street or park or beach or neighborhood. But what if they don’t care too much about doing it right or well; what if all they want is their paycheck. After all, they reason, it’ll be right back to the same mess next time around and they can catch it then, if they’re so inclined. And nobody takes them to task for being as lazy as those who left the mess there to be cleaned up in the first place. (What a far cry from the kind of street-sweeper that Martin Luther King envisioned!)
Ignorance, however, might be a little harder to explain. After all, if strewing America with beer cans, pop bottles, cigarette butts and half-eaten hot dogs doesn’t speak for itself, how will my words be able to explain what it is that is lacking in their gray matter?
Beauty — and in this case, of our country — has a value. Beauty matters. Beauty, once lost, is hard to regain. When it comes time for a vacation, no one chooses to go to the back alleys and mean streets of a city to see the kind of garbage there as compared to their own back yard. They prefer beauty.
Brochures tend to show off a place at its best: clear skies, sparkling waters, clean beaches; bright green foliage, ample plants, trees, flowers, and healthy-looking animals abounding on the natural uncluttered turf above which colorful and melodic songbirds sing and play.
But if one were educated as to the disappearing landscape of beauty — due solely to man’s ignorance, coupled with his uncaring laziness — perhaps that landscape could still be saved; perhaps it is not too late to care and take steps, be they ever so tiny steps and be it the smallest dose of caring.
Imagine, for example, that all the people who visited your home left behind, on the floor, their cast-off waste that belonged in the trash. One person might leave his half-full red and white cardboard box from his french fries; another might leave his empty cigarette pack; another, a crumpled-up newspaper; still another might leave a Big Slurp plastic drink cup that he “accidentally” kicked over with his foot on the way out; and any number of other people might leave their candy wrappers, coffee cups, half-eaten donuts, and discarded burgers — along with the wrappers they came in. And they were all left right there, in your house, on your furniture or your floor, for YOU to clean up — because they were too lazy to throw that waste away themselves. They didn’t even care about the extra work for you, being too ignorant to know that it would change the look of your home, the look of your neighborhood — since some people were even discarding more trash on the way to their car, strewing it over your lawn and on the pathway to the street — and your desire to ever have them visit you again. They were too ignorant to consider that maybe if everybody did what they did, that pretty soon ugliness would be the standard look of the neighborhood, and that would include everywhere they visited (including their own home), and beauty would be a thing of the past — gone forever thanks to their lazy, careless and ignorant ways.
So yes, we can thank the lazy, ignorant and careless people of the United States of America — Americans or visitors to this country — for creating the need for jobs that should never have needed to exist in the first place: to clean up after the pigginess of the people.
We can tell a lot about people by what they leave behind. And when the streets, beaches, and forests of America are strewn with their unwelcome litter, we know something about them that they don’t want us to know: that they are lazy, ignorant and uncaring people. Their trail of trash has turned America into their personal garbage dump.
If you can see yourself in this commentary, perhaps you’ll take it under advisement — as did the man who took his gum wrapper back — and do the right thing. We all want a beautiful America and a clean neighborhood.
And we’ll all appreciate you for caring!
Maramis Choufani is the Managing Editor of the Las Vegas Tribune. She writes a weekly column in this newspaper. To contact Maramis, email her firstname.lastname@example.org.