Frank's Blog - Yes, Finally
Back to the Home Page
Back to the Table of Contents
Litter - 23 February, 2016

I can't say this about all of America because there is a lot of it I haven't seen, but I can definitely say it about the east coast.  Some of the people
who live here are pigs.

When you live a cruising lifestyle, in a lot of places, you don't have access to a car.  So, in order to get from place to place, you walk or you ride
the bus.  Both of these activities give you an opportunity to examine the world around you from a different perspective than if you are passing
through at 30, 45 or 60 miles an hour.  Walking speed means that you take a lot of time to walk a block.

When you take that time, you get a true appreciation of how much trash there is out there.  Paper bags, plastic bottles, worn articles of clothing -
and cigarette butts...Oh, Lordie, the cigarette butts.

I don't care if people smoke.  I really don't.  I grew up in a household of smokers.  Both my parents smoked.  My maternal grandmother, who lived
with us, smoked like a freight train.  I don't think I ever saw her without a cigarette going.  One of my brothers smokes - or used to, until health
concerns made him give it up.  My mother died of brain cancer, which erupted after the lung cancer spread throughout her body.  My mother
actually was treated for lung cancer, had it go into remission, was considered cancer-free and had the cancer come back and kill her.  During that
entire time, she smoked.  She even smoked while she was on oxygen.  

So, I get it.  Smoking is a tough habit to break and I also get that for some people, particularly at the bottom of the economic scale, there are
immediate benefits to smoking that outweigh the long-term costs.  

I really don't care if people smoke.  But why do they all have to throw the butts on the ground?  Everywhere I go, there are cigarette butts.  The
tobacco is gone, reclaimed by some industrious insect, I presume.  But the filter remains, as if to mark the tiny grave of each "dead soldier."  

We cannot go to the beaches in North Carolina or South Carolina and take off our shoes without being afraid of getting a cigarette butt stuck to our
foot.  We don't dare walk barefoot too close to the entrances, because that's where people throw the still smoldering butts and you can't imagine
the pain of stepping on a lit cigarette - or maybe you can, because you have.

We learn at a very early age that we don't shit in the street.  We understand that that is a waste product that we don't want cluttering up the
ground, for people to step in and drag home.  In fact, everywhere I go, I am told in no uncertain terms that I must "pick up" after my dogs (although,
in fairness to smokers, there is a good number of pet owners who ignore that one, as well).  If we understand that fecal matter is nasty and we don't
want it on the streets, why can we not do the same thing for trash?

I can't understand why, as a people, we can come up with something as amazing as a smartphone - but can't figure out how to give individuals
some incentive not to throw cigarette butts in the street.  I know a guy who smokes, but each time he finishes a cigarette, he stamps out the
burning coal and puts the butt in his pocket for disposal in a trash can at some convenient point.  When I asked him why he did it, he said it was
because he didn't want the cigarette butt to litter up the places where he worked and swam and lived.  How come he gets and so many others

Perhaps we have spent so much time demonizing the act of smoking that we have made people feel like they have no responsibility for the results.  
We have made huge strides in keeping America clean - we really have - but we just aren't there yet.  My old company commander in boot camp
used to say that one "aw shit" wipes out a whole herd of "atta boys."  It doesn't take a lot of cigarette butts - or paper fast food bags - or plastic
grocery bags - to make a place looked trashed.

I hear myself - I do.  I think "well, what have you done to improve things?"  I have done the one thing that I ask of everyone else.  I have not thrown
trash in the street.  No cigarette butts, no paper bags, no fast food wrappers.  I used to - when I was a kid - before the crying Indian made me
realize it was bad.

We could get the planet cleaned back up.  With a little effort, we could get all of the trash picked up and properly stowed in places where it could
be recycled or destroyed.  The only problem is that it won't do any good - until we stop messing it up to begin with.

What would it take?  Should there be a fine for littering?  There is, in most places I've been.  Perhaps there needs to be some sort of "pollution
police" - a crack squad of people who do nothing but investigate littering.  From what I see on television, it should not be too hard to trace all of
those cigarette butts back to the owners with DNA testing and it seems like the cost of that has come way down.  You can get it done by a company
on-line for $199.  Maybe a few weeks in jail for littering would get people's attention - although I doubt it.

Perhaps littering should be a capital crime.  I write that as a joke, but I don't know if it is.  

After all, if enough people throw trash in the streets and in the water and on the beaches - well, eventually, we'll all be dead from it.  Better them
than us.