August 15, 2005

I am certain that somewhere in Skaneateles lives a future U.S. Secretary of the Interior. It is presently a post that calls for a “the world is my wastebasket” mentality, and I see it all around me when walking my dog in Austin Park. Besides collecting his little art works, I also pick up litter, averaging about five pieces of trash per walk. I am easily into the hundreds this summer alone.

I am not angling for a merit badge. My motives are selfish. One, I live across the street from the park, and given the choice of looking out onto a green park or a dump, will always choose the green park. Two, if I leave the litter, the lawn mower hits it with an instant “loaves and fishes” effect, turning one Styrofoam cup into a dozen white shards. And three, my dog is very low to the ground and liable to eat whatever comes across his path. So I collect litter.

Candy wrappers are popular, leading me to believe that many children are not concerned with the next person to come along, much less future generations. The little plastic sleeves that cover the straws of juice boxes are frequent finds, as are the tops off snack bags and empty frozen slurpie pop sleeves. But I don’t give children all the credit. After the Antique Show, I did a big business in blue wrist bands, and I didn’t see many children among the antiques. Likewise, after the Syracuse Symphony concert, there were a number of hard candy wrappers left behind by those who didn’t wish to cough during an adagio passage. Halls and Robitussin (cherry) lozenges seem to be popular with someone going to church, as is Trident sugarless gum, and the cellophane tops off cigarette packages are discarded by at least one parishioner who enjoys a fresh pack after Mass. Newports, by the way, are the cigarette of choice in Austin Park. I draw the line at harvesting cigarette butts; they make your fingers stink and there are too many to pick up.

Of course there are water bottles, soda bottles, cans for energy drinks and every variety of beer container, probably left behind by those who cannot enter the house and say, “Mom, does this go in recycling?” The record for discovery of distasteful litter goes to my wife, who found a snow-sodden pair of boy’s underpants after a thaw.

You might think that all these items were “accidentally” dropped, but in seven years, I have yet to find money in the park. Not a dollar, not a dime. Some things do not go astray in Skaneateles. But I do find financial documents, most recently a Key Bank withdrawal slip for $300 (Savings balance: $6,794.64) and a P&C cash register receipt that recorded the sale of Pillsbury Waffle Stix, four yogurts (Cherry, Low Fat Blueberry, Key Lime Pie and Low Fat Peach) and a six-pack of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Sounds like the breakfast of champions to me.

May 16, 2007

I am still picking up after people in the park where Gus walks. Probably about 40 pieces in the past three weeks. An empty 32-ounce Gatorade bottle is my largest find, but for volume, you can’t beat candy wrappers. Someday, someone who grew up here will be the president of an energy company, and he will have to decide between installing clean air technology at a coal plant or further goosing shareholder profit. Surely you need some kind of moral foundation to make such a decision, and that man will reach way back, recall littering in Austin Park and say, “Hey, I’ve been using the earth for a wastebasket since I was a boy. Let’s go for bigger bucks!” I take heart that we are turning out the business leaders of tomorrow.

The Ludens cough drop person is still soothing his or her throat before services at St. Mary’s. Other finds included a red Coke cap worth three reward points at, and two typed labels. The first reads, “One of my most favorite foods is lasagna.” Okay. The second label, however, is more disturbing: “I do not enjoy visiting Dr. Wilson.” Who is Dr. Wilson? A palsied dentist? A proctologist who readies his instruments in a sterile chiller? Or is it someone with a doctorate in political science? A boring in-law? I’ve been doing a lot of genealogical research lately, and I wonder if Dr. Wilson is related to Mr. Wilson who lived next door to Dennis the Menace, or perhaps to Woodrow Wilson.

I also wonder where people think their litter goes. Do they imagine it turns to dirt and feeds the grass? Do they think the Village has a crew with green cards in their overalls who gratefully groom our parks every morning? Do they think their stuff blows to Lafayette, where it goes unnoticed? Or maybe it’s like the litterer has a little stroke, their eyes roll back, a cloud of forgetfulness passes over them, hands open, fingers tremble, let go, and then, a moment later, consciousness returns as they walk on, unburdened.


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