Imagine us not cities but organisms. Big complex organisms. We, individuals, are high functioning molecules, each a part of some vital organ in that big complex organism.
Highways are arteries and streets are capillaries. Various nerves move information sparking flashes of pain or joy. Brick and concrete, asphalt and steel—with their seasons of repair—provide the bone structure. Nutrition in—excreta out. Water in—water out.
Everyone, no matter how far from the heart, receives their share of life blood, it's only fair. It is only necessary to neglect any far-flung citizen to begin an infection that might afflict the body entire.
Now, to table a thought: what or how would a disease appear to be in this exercise of scale.
How would you greet a common cold if it got on at the next stop.
What if the expressway was reduced to one lane due to busted heeps, abandoned on the shoulders, making the artery impassable. Familiar? What outcome?
But what do we fear the most? What do we dread? Who is the wolf that knocks at the door? Who is the beast that may rise in the night?
Cancer. Big C. The Beast. A tumor and lingering Death. Sometimes the cures are worse than the problem. Sometimes for some of us, or those we love, this is how we die.
Back in molecular scale world;
When street corners are flooded and un-crossable because the rain sewers are clogged with trash.
When broken bottles cut my bike tires, or worse, my neighbor's dog's paws.
When I'm smacked in the face by a cheap plastic shopping bag flying in a whirlwind, while minding my own on Broadway.
When an almost emptied soda bottle rolls back and forth, end to end of a subway car with every stop or start. The floor now an ecstasy of purple sticky sugar water.
When a shopkeeper rolling up the gates is greeted by a summons for a littered sidewalk. A summons and litter she did not invite or deserve.
On and on. So much litter. So much trash. On and on.
That whirlwind, a breeze or a passing truck and all the bags and all the wrappers, all the sandwich papers and coffee cups find haven corners to congregate and be still.
These are not piles of snow that melteth in April showers. Not Autumn leaves of red and gold souping themselves again into soil.
It is garbage. Trash. Litter. Inexpensive single-use packaging utensils and containers. A lot of it is. Add to that cigarette butts and packs and cellophane wrappers.
Add newspapers, hand-outs and adverts.
Add things you might need, stop and study to identify. Things that have been there long enough and wet enough that you can't be sure what they ever were.
Just awful. Awful.
Add to that the great piles of righteously bagged and ordered garbage waiting to get picked up by municipal or private carters. Sanitation Soldiers.
Sometimes, due to overstuffing, or some sharp object, a can top or broken glass or even a plastic knife, a bag might rip open upon being heaved, spilling its innards on both sidewalk and street. If that was kitchen garbage, on a warm day, the complex stench could permeate for a block in all directions.
Add to this dumpsters—however dumpsters tend to be dry and well-contained—thus odorless. Additionally they are highly regulated by various authorities.
A greater reckoning of these infection sites could go on a bit, but I can stop here with one more little point of interest: dog excrement. In the observation and discussion of the garbage thing, I find this one a unique and particularly difficult issue. Movin'on.
Most of the copious garbage I see comes from quick and cheap food packaging. If I cited the brand names visible on so much of this garbage, I would get 20 cease and desist letters 10 minutes after posting this work.
YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE !!
I don't hold them responsible. Only ambivalent.
I wish I could explain or even understand myself, why our evolution directs us still, to ingest all the fat, salt, and sugar we can whenever we can. Explained or not, it is so. Thus it is "easy pickins" to market the products that provide these three demons in concentration.
Candy, chips, a universe of sugar waters, indestructible and likely indigestible baked goods (bads) and horrible chain brand sandwiches that nearly do not qualify as food at all. Currently, quite fashionable are big sugary coffee potions, which have special domed tops so to allow for very fashionable sugar 'n' fat swirly heads. Oo la la.
Last but not finally is all that toxic deep fried food singing fry oil and ketchup (sugar tomato sauce). These last hi-lights of American cuisine for a long time came in Styrofoam clam shell packaging which decorate streets, subway cars and tracks. As they do not Not NOT recycle, Jan 1 2019, NYC has made all take-out containers of that material, illegal. Packing peanuts as well. Sometimes government works.
The vehicle that makes all of this revolting cornucopia available always, 24/7, is packaging.
Packaging that can both vacuum seal or sustain carbonation.
Packaging that remains sort of inflated providing enough protection, so the chips don't get crushed.
Packaging that can support all kinds of coolie-o graphics and product identification. Only crotchety old people read the nutrition specs.
Packaging to keep hot stuff hot and cold stuff cold.
Packaging that will allow for warehousing or shipping for long periods of time.
Most of all that packaging has to be cheap.
Cheap (here we go again) to manufacture.
Cheap to apply at the factory level or the end user retail level.
Cheap enough not to occur a cost to the end buyer the way a slice of American cheese (?) does.
What happens to the packaging after the happy diner is done with it? "Who cares" or "That's somebody else's problem." Yes it is.
Why are folks eating in the subway, in their cars. Eating on the street, sometimes walking, sometimes standing. Eating while staring at their phones and forgetting the reason some of us say Grace.
Wanna know my favorite place to eat? My favorite restaurant? I'm happy to tell you. My House. My Home.
The dinner I prepared for the people I love most or they for me.
Here in this glowing ritual do we find the essential nutrient that will keep the great body entire healthy, nourished on all counts and able to repair and renew its self.
Those who would eat on the run whenever they are hungry, whenever change jingles in their pockets, or whenever all that very effective advertising has found an easy mark are the very same folks who, for whatever reason never learned, never enjoyed never knew that what mattered most was the unconditional love served in deep bowls at a dinner table.
If the meal with family, friends, and neighbors is not the objective that your steps take you to, then the trash you drop along the way will matter little.
Well didn't this all get rather preachy all of a sudden.
The individual, or the corporation, that litters without regard displays a lack of obligation, affection, or gratitude to the community in which they exist. Possibly all three. Those ideas are learned and established in and through the value of the family unit, the family organ, the essential structure that aggregates into the greater organism of community.
The trash cannot just be swept up. It will be back in a day. Just like that. Sanitation departments can't clean up this mess everyday—and it's not their job. Giving fines for this problem to buildings and businesses may punish the wrong parties.
Look pretty much anywhere in NYC and you can spot a garbage can. Use it. Simple.
However hard problems do not have simple solutions. Quick simple solutions happen even less.
The tumors of garbage we live with daily remind us of some pretty dreadful failings we refuse to acknowledge. They are our failings. Not his or hers or theirs. Our. We can fix it.
Sit down. Hold hands. Say Grace. Simple.
A quick account of a day I had.....
In mid January, on a cold cold weekday morning—weeks after breaking ground on this piece—I was traveling to work. On cold mornings as this, the subway becomes “Hotel MTA.” Vultures might think the smell that morning...intolerable. 3 guys were sleepin' an'a scratchin' at the far end of the car I got on. Taking a seat at the other end allowed this car breathable. All the cars were so inhabited. Near to my stop and the train almost empty, I looked up from my book to see one of the guys on hands and knees. I think it was the one who was wailing in his sleep. On second examination, he was crawling through the car collecting little piles of the trash one finds on subway cars – in a sense, sweeping with his hands – and then tossing the piles out the opened doors when the train stopped. He did this for a few stops and then I got off. I gave him a buck he did not ask for and I think he said thank you but remained on all fours.
Somehow, I feel, if I didn't allow this ballad a place in this piece, then the entire piece would be a hot pile of lying posturing bullshit.
Sit down Hold hands Say Grace Simple
With healthy mind and body We may proceed.