"My wife is always trying to get rid of me. The other day she told me to put the garbage out. I said to her I already did. She told me to go and keep an eye on it."
— Rodney Dangerfield
One recent morning, I set out to prettify the roadways around our little house in the country … and to ponder other people's trash.
My thoughts about people who litter our roads aren't pretty. But I realize I was snarling about the same pieces of rubbish, day after day, wasting good energy.
Newspaper readers are not litterers; I know that. So I'm confident I can write this, assured I am not offending anyone.
Why get worked up over trash? There's not THAT much. Just a few beer cans hiding in the weeds, a Walmart sack snagged on the barbed wire, a Whataburger wrapper and fries at the edge of the blacktop, a fried pie sleeve in the ditch, a wine bottle in the puddle, a Smirnoff Ice bottle under the fence, and … I don't really know what that is.
Actually there's quite a bit.
It isn't a garbage dump. In fact, it's a pretty stretch of road. But it's my road. I drive it. I walk it. I like it. But I see that beer can every day. I step over the Whataburger wrapper and marvel that the Walmart sack is still clinging after all these months.
It's easy to make value judgments about each piece and imagine who enabled it to be there. That dog food sack blew out of the back of someone's pickup truck. That household garbage, pizza box and shredded trash bag comes from the house on the hill. You know the one… trash cans overflowing, sacks on the ground, set out a day too early, an easy target for dogs and coyotes.
Who drinks all this Sutter Home? The small plastic bottles, individual servings, started appearing over the winter. Someone sneaking a drink on the way home, ashamed to bring it inside, this guy is only fooling himself his habit is secret.
The Bud Lites and Busch cans, shiny, new and clustered, weren't there last week. Most likely tossed by kids, parked in the shadows, near the creek under the tall bridge.
But that Red Bull can has been hanging on the edge of the ditch for months. And what's with all the large Dasani water bottles and 32-ounce Powerade containers? I guess their former owners thought more of their bodies than their roadsides.
Approach with care that white foam cup from the restaurant closed half a decade ago … or prepare to chase down the scraps.
Asphalt shingles, nails protruding… those fell from the roofer's trailer, bounced loose by that stretch of rutted county road where potholes resist patching.
The county hauled away the old mattress soon after it appeared near the stop sign. But the flea-infested recliner and carpet rolls I pulled from the center of the road near the church? Those didn't disappear soon enough.
Maybe I ponder on trash too much.
When does other people's trash become yours?
What's the tipping point at which you have walked past the same beer can so many times that you own it?
It's certainly one thing to take a firm stand against littering. It's easy to say I would never toss a Coke can, red solo cup or McDonald's takeout sack into the ditch, dump an ashtray at the red light or let the neighborhood dogs scatter my household garbage.
But when do you own other people's trash. When does it become your problem? And when do you stop debating ownership and simply pick it up?
The answer for me was: When it becomes too familiar.
On my first foray with a household trash bag, I picked up litter from my neighborhood, around the corner and across the Loop 49 bridge, then down the county road to a spot just short of Hayden's creek. My bag full to bursting, rain falling, I almost made it back before the bag split. I returned with my truck to finish the job.
The second time out, I started where that yellow Dollar General sack waved from the cedar tree and filled two garbage bags before I reached the top of the hill – that spot where I turn on my three-mile walk.
And the yellow Dollar General sack? I was out of household garbage bags, so I recycled it – along with a half dozen others snagged in the weeds. They all got a second life as trash bags.
Even in the rain, I enjoyed my efforts … once I stopped worrying about who put it there.
But, there's another mile to police up before the ticks come out and the copperheads wake up. So I'll see you on the road.
After all, trash, I own you!
I know where you live, and I'm coming for you!
Dave Berry is editor of the Tyler Morning Telegraph. On April 2, his column will move to our Wednesday edition to anchor the front page of the Tyler Paper's new "My Generation" section. We'll tell you more about that next week. Thanks for reading.