Nonfiction Memoirs:
September, 2013: This story began fifteen minutes ago when I opened an email from a friend who described the drubbing he had given his eight-year-old son over littering in and out of the house.
   However, this story began when I was a child, many decades past on a warm spring day in the mid-1960s. On that day, I saw trash in a new light.
   Back then, after school, my friends and I regularly stopped at the corner drug store to buy candy. After we had made our purchases, we talked and nibbled as we strolled on the worn, buckled sidewalks.
   Every day, I opened my candy and nonchalantly dropped the wrapper on the ground. I had a vague notion that this was not a good idea, but at the time, no kid I knew was particularly eco-friendly or planet-focused. Our focus was on the latest broadcast of Bonanza or The Flintstones. We never paused to think about whether we had left a negative footprint on the sadly scarred earth. As each day passed, wrappers from Three Musketeers, Necco Wafers, and Bazooka Bubblegum drifted in a fluttering line behind us.
   I now recall it as a trail of shame.
   On that fateful day, I peeled off the wrapper to a Sugar Daddy bar, but before jettisoning it—I stopped. A thought had gripped me. I recalled the Keep America Beautiful public service announcement that had played between cartoons every weekday afternoon. The ad exclaimed: "STOP LITTERING!"
   I guess, at first, that blaring message was too subtle for my cartoon-addled brain. But, it was at that moment of recall that the message worked. I realized, the ad was right, and that dropping one's miscellaneous waste was a bad, bad thing.
   I slowed my pace, and the wrapper dangled precipitously from my fingers. I paused at the curb and looked down. Beyond the tips of my Ked's sneakers, the oil-stained gutter held a gunk-fest of cigarette buts, crushed aluminum cans, and a variety of paper and plastic detritus clumped into a gruesome mass. For the first time, I saw that trash on the ground was ugly.
   It was wrong.
   It made no sense.
   From that day on, I decided, as I stuffed the wrapper in my pocket, that I would no longer litter. However, I am pretty sure I forgot to empty my pockets when I got home, and that my lucky mother later found it when she did the laundry.
   Well, at least I stuck to littering my clothes' pockets instead of littering the streets.
   However, during this period, confusing messages about trash were bountiful because people had odd ideas about the beneficial and benign qualities of trash.
   For example, some adults I knew stated that they had read in the local newspaper that when boating on the water, one should pop holes in the bottom of empty beer and soda cans so they could sink. That way, the cans would form a thick, aluminum carpet, and thereby, create an artificial reef. This "reef" would provide metal homes for small crabs and other creatures that crawled across the water's floor. And too, mussels and oysters could anchor their sticky pads to them.
   Well, to be fair, this information may not have come from newspapers, but instead it originated as some screwy urban or suburban myth that misguided adults perpetuated. For some reason, many of them held onto the belief that this type of trash dumping helped the environment.
   During this decade, Earth Day was still a glimmer in Eddie Arnold's eye. However, by 1971 when that event finally debuted, a popular public service ad had already gained a lot of attention. It was the famous anti-littering campaign played on TV and placed in magazine ads that featured Iron Eyes Cody with a glycerin-laden tear in his eye as he looked across America at the vast fields of piled high refuse.
   It was not until much later that the truth about Mr. Cody came out. He was not a Native American; instead, he was an Italian-American actor.
   In effect, we were served yet another litter-related falsehood. But, at least the lie about Mr. Cody's heritage was not as disturbing as the hollow can one, because due that anti-litter ad had a powerful, emotional effect on the public, and it generated a lot of anti-littering buzz in the zeitgeist. As a result, many people began to change their littering habits.
   So, today, when my friend posted me about his son's littering, I thought about my early childhood epiphany. But then, another epiphany struck . . . I looked down at my trash can in my office, and I thought: We belligerently remain delusional about our litter.
   It is heartening that many people now realize that litter is bad. However, too many of us kid ourselves that when we do not see litter in the street, we assume that our planet is clean or cleaner. And that is a lie because, even though, a lot of trash does not get discarded in the streets as often, all collected trash winds up in growing and glutted landfills. These out of sight, out of mind locations pollute groundwater, soil, and more.
   Upon reflection, I have to inquire: How much cleaner is the earth now than it was when I almost dropped one more candy wrapper on the sidewalk?
   I wrote my friend: "We have seen the trash, and it is us."
Author: R.j. hOylE
Copyright: 2013
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