letters from earth

Citizen Duty
Wednesday, February 24, 2006. 11:46:42 PM

Morning— late for work and frustrated in so many other ways I shouldn’t be, and a car stops ahead of me at the red light on Hampton & Fyler. She rolls the window down on her old, early-last-decade Mazda Somethingerother. The window only opens far enough to expel a large-size Taco Bell® plastic bag full of trash.

Watching this, already short-fused and appalled, I pulled the parking break on my 4Runner, opened the door and slipped off the seatbelt in one motion, picked up the bag, walked to her window, and knocked sternly. I got back a weary, timid look.

taco bell plastic bag
“You dropped this!” I demanded. Quick to anger, she frowned—her tired-of-working-too-many-hours eyes steamed at me. She wasn’t taking the bait by rolling the window back down like other people have before….

In the past, when confronting people with their recently-pitched trash, they’ve replied, innocently enough, “Oh, I guess I dropped that,” even though their embarrassment quickly turns to anger. I’ve had women call me “peace-hippy” and “fucking asshole” in the same breath; I’ve had guys threaten to smash my face; and of course, there’s always the standard middle finger, here and there.

But not her. She just stared up at me, asking "why" with her eyes.

Since she wouldn’t open up, I placed the bag on her windshield and walked back to my car. I hear her yell at me— I turned around to face her, a car and a half-length away. “You don’t know me. You don’t know me!” she screamed.
I wanted to say, “I know you’re a litterer,” but I stood there in the street, people around me gazing at the situation; a car window rolls down half way, someone seemingly near intervention. I was flooded with realization that I was just one step away from “I’m Woodsy the Owl and I give a Hoot, so don’t pollute, lady!”

The cliché in my head did not re-enforce my efforts, so I just got back into my car.

She's right— I didn’t know her. And out of all the hard knocks she’s living with in life, in her rusty old car  from seventeen-something years ago, I just made it worse for her already shitty-ass day. She drove at the green light with everything the car had, exhaust billowing. And the plastic bag of taco bell wrappers and sauce packs and soda cups and cigarette butts spewed out. The bag slid gently off her windshield, and floated square onto Hampton like a bad American Beauty rip-off scene, where tens of morning commuters were waiting at their red, dully watching the scenario unfold.

As much as I want to think that taking action against such blatant disrespect to the Earth was a good thing, and as much as I imagine the people I’ve confronted now think differently because of my interventions, I’m overwhelmed with its overall feeble effort. Considering all the starvation, genocide and war going on, is that really a worthy action?

She could have knocked on my window at the red light one morning and similarly accused me: “You eat more than your share of food! You hardly give to charities! You drive that gas-guzzling truck! How dare you!”

She’s right. And this world's gotta long, long way to go.

Best regards,




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