Saturday, 3 November 2007

It's a dirty shame

The streets are awash with filth. That may be a bit strong, but it's what came to mind after I went to the mailbox this morning. Everywhere I went, there was trash -- empty crisp packets, discarded cigarette packs, stained fast-food cups, even a banana peel with a bit of squished banana still lying in wait inside like a yellow bomb ready to detonate under the feet of any unfortunate passerby.

The banana stays in my thoughts as it seemed the most dangerous item of the littered sidewalks, roads and waterways that are sadly a familiar sight here in Reading. As I hobbled (a term my husband uses to lovingly describe the way I walk as I still struggle to recuperate from a knee surgery that wasn't so successful) past it the first time, my hands were full with cane in the right and mail in the left. I noted other discarded items along the way, such as a half-full bottle of wine and a huge plastic ax that presumably recently was part of some Halloween costume.

Coming back, I almost didn't notice the banana among the yellow leaves scattered in my path. I've developed a terror or tripping or falling since my knee problems (and recent renewal of back problems) continue, and it startled me to think I might have slid on the peel. I don't catch myself well if I trip, and I don't move that easily. Falling is a scary thought when you know even a minor fall could undo months of progress. I thought of picking up the peel and carrying it to the next trash bin about a half block away, but bending hurts my back and knees and, honestly, the thought of how gooey and icky that peel might be and my lack of a tissue to wipe my hands all contributed to my leaving it lay. I'm ashamed of the admission; I should've picked it up anyway. I noted that other passerby (all who seemed to have no issues walking or moving freely) failed to pick it up, too, but that's no excuse on my part.

But I'll move beyond the banana-that-could've-been-picked-up issue-- my real concern and amazement is the quantity of trash and the carelessness with which some people seem to treat their daily environment here. I was taking another of my short walks last week (probably to the mailbox or to buy a paper, that's about as far as I can go on foot and still make it home for now). Three teenagers were walking along, talking and laughing. One finished up some candy and let its red foil wrapper flutter to the ground, seemingly without a thought, and kept walking. All in view of me, even. No sign of shame whatsoever. What the hell is wrong with people? Who wants to live in a trash can? But that's what a few thoughtless people are doing, turning the city where they live into one big trash bin for everyone. I keep telling myself to bring a plastic bag to pick up what I can, but as I rarely have a free hand for long when out and about, I never end up doing it.

It's a shame, as the city has so many pretty buildings and parks and the canal -- it could be lovely, and it is in some places. Don't look too hard though, or you'll see rubbish everywhere. I certainly hope it's not that everyone throws trash down without thinking, but enough people do to make a very noticeable difference. I guess it's all part of the anti-social behavior that's constantly mentioned as one of the ills the country is battling. Some people don't care about anyone else, or even what side effects they'll have to live with from their behavior. The effect of that can be seen everywhere.

If I weren't a young woman that gets around like a 90-year-old due to crappy genes and bad luck, I'd get a trash bag and go to work on some of it myself. But there's only so much that would accomplish, I suppose, and I'd probably tire of it as day after day the trash reappeared as if by some grimy magic. And the sad thing is, it shouldn't be necessary for me or anyone else to pick up so much rubbish. There is no lack of trash bins along the streets here; the only thing in short supply is whatever attitude would keep people from dropping trash in the first place, whether it be from a desire to not contribute to the filth or from shame at what others will think if they see the litterer in action. It's all a dirty shame.

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