The following is a guest column by Sumner neighborhood resident Heather Somohano.
Pretending not to notice, a Big Red chewing gum wrapper sifted through my fingers to the curb. Usually, I pick up my stuff. But I didn’t feel like it. Ok, it was mindless. I never thought of myself as a garbage spreader.
Banana Moon Pie box, Gold Bond athletes foot, brown knit mitten, Sutter Home wine, breath germ fighter, ink pen spring, and Pall Mall cigarettes slosh along the gutter where my wrapper tumbles among plenty of glass.
Walking through our neighborhood, you don’t feel good.
You plan to meet your lady at 87th and Prescott. You see her under the maple tree. Something jams. She starts to laugh as she points to the thing stuck on your flip flops. And now there’s no way that you can feel cool or awesome. Lifting your foot, you see a Wendy’s french fry container caught on your heel. I don’t have the most finesse either. I tend to clunk into bits of wire. Stumble. Get an interesting pattern of black oil on my faded Keds.
Periodically, I grumble to my husband how much I don’t like the garbage in the neighborhood. On a winter’s evening, I reluctantly went with him to a neighborhood meeting. He wanted to find out what was going on in the neighborhood. Committee signup sheets were being passed around. There was a dull ache in my stomach. I am not a natural joiner. You look like a doof if you don’t sign up for something. They were in great need of help. You couldn’t hide.
Someone said something about a litter patrol committee. Paused, well, are you going to be real? Or a whiner? I had my pen perched. I thought, “You don’t really have to do this. You can sign. Not go.”
Last Saturday morning of every month, litter patrol kicks butt. 10:00am to noon, it’s time to scoop the neighborhood. I sat slumped on the couch. I don’t want to get up. I thought, “We don’t want people to dump on our neighborhood. We are not nothing.” Simmering anger flowed into, “it does not have to be this way. We can change what is happening in the neighborhood.” In one rolling motion, I stood up from the couch.
For me to do anything, it has to be creative. While we pronged cups, we talked about Black Eyed Peas, Nirvana, Santana, Johnny Cash, Curtis Salgado, Ray Charles, and Led Zeppelin. Dave Matthews Band. I think that Ravelle put industry sounds to music. We ambled onto our families and how large the tomatoes will get this year.
Of course, we thought of fun names for litter patrol. We continued litter nabbing because it is instant change. Plus it’s easy. We looked behind us at the sidewalk free of glass, cups, debris. My bag gorged with a Henry Weinhard bottle which still had beer floating untouched. Disjointed bulges swelled from colorful cardboard garage sale sign, Dreyers java ice-cream carton, folded paper of map directions sketched in blue ink to Glisan, jigsaw puzzle piece depicting sun-bleached trees, and purple hair tie. As we moved, we batted around dreams for the neighborhood. A park, coffee shop…
As we covered blocks, we met people.
An old man pointed to a bolt in the gutter. A woman dropped her orange juice bottle into my bag.
A bicycle rider fanned quickly by calling, “Good!”
Silent, a mom and her daughter added a piece of paper to my hoard from a nearby gate.
A woman with a showy white poodle exclaimed, “Oh, boy! You’re picking up litter. I pick up litter too.”
I asked her, “Is there any garbage that you want to deposit?” As she handed me her grande frappuccino, she warned, “It still has some whip cream in the bottom.”
Later, while I picked up some flower pot shards, I saw that I had 2 blocks to go to N.E. 82nd. They are the most cluttered. A bunch of stuff sprawls through your mind. “How can we make this simpler? How can you eliminate trash? “Secured garbage cans. It is only a momentary solution.
The ultimate is thought. It is us or rats. It is fresh or stench. It is green or pollute. Green is the idea that really got me. How can you claim to be a green city, if you litter? Trash is more likely to be recycled if we put it in our own recycle bins.
When I reached N.E. 82, I asked a guy ”Do you got a favorite piece of garbage that you want to get rid of?”
“I don’t understand.” He answered surprised.
”My bag is heavy. I can only pick up a few more pieces of garbage. Which garbage do you want to get rid of most?” He bent over to a pair of large Big Gulp cups laying next to the telephone pole.
Getting s w a g g e r.