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Cock of the Walk

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Think this will be a post about politics? Nope. This is about litter.

 

Is this only in New Mexico or is it happening everywhere? I’m referring to the rising volume of litter defacing streets and highways. At the same time, we live with the myth that taking care of it is somebody else’s job–maybe employees of the homeowner’s association, the city, county, state, or Federal Government–somebody, somewhere, anybody, just not us.  My younger sister taught me differently.

Twelve years ago, Kate began taking responsibility for daily collecting litter on a one-mile length of highway in the open country where she lives about 80 miles south of Santa Fe. It’s exercise, but it’s been interesting and rewarding in other ways as well.

Most of what she picks up is stored in her barn until she has enough to justify a run to the transfer station. A lot of it is just plain old trash–wrappers, cans, glass and plastic bottles–hefty evidence of the unhealthy consumption afoot. However, there are categories and findings of special interest, and she keeps a record that has been revealing.

 Bud Blights

Bud Blight

For example, she has discovered that Bud Light is by far the favorite brand of beer-drinking litterbugs, and she has nicknamed the evidence as “Bud Blight.” Maybe to discourage this behavior, Budweiser could do a sweet little half-time show with the Clydesdales pulling a trailer that a cute dog fills with cans picked up from the roadside. Think that would fly?

Some of the trash is kind of nasty. I’m talking used condoms, syringes, rotting food, and dirty diapers. One day there was evidence of what Kate suspected was an “adult tantrum.” A dirty diaper and soiled wipies were found next to a nice set of toddler’s pants and top. Kate washed the latter two items and gave them to a couple who had a toddler. She often cleans things like other clothing and discarded kitchen ware and finds a place to donate them or put them to use.

She has also found ways discreetly to return items like a cell phone and a driver’s license. “How do these things happen?” one wonders. There are mysteries surrounding items discarded on the highway, and at one location, there are stories aplenty.

This is an intersection that has a busy pull-off point. The school bus stops here, and it is also a place where workers rendezvous, sometimes leaving behind useful tools and supplies, like an unopened package of saw blades. There are sometimes abandoned construction materials there as well as road signs that are hefty work to haul off.

In addition, the corner is a staging place for police and emergency vehicles, including a rescue helicopter. Once Kate saw a body lying in the dirt there next to a police car. A man drove up, took a quick look, and hurried away–the coroner she presumed.

Romantic trysts–I guess that would be an appropriate description–also occur there.  In fact, the evidence through the volume of discarded condoms has inspired Kate to nickname it “Hanky Panky Corner.” One day, she found the photograph of the young grandson of a friend who lives about 16 miles away. Kate returned it to her friend, who seemed to know that her grandson frequented Hanky Panky Corner.

The most significant discovery occurred miles down the highway when Kate was patrolling with a man, a fellow member of the neighborhood watch organization that collects trash twice a year. As Kate circled a juniper on the side of the road, she discovered a giant, dirty dildo. “It’s what they call a ‘horse cock,'” she informed me when I arrived Friday to begin our Christmas baking marathon. I burst into delighted laughter, immediately knowing that I had to write about it. It was a virginal white after Kate’s cleaning, and I propped it up on her orchid pot for a formal portrait.

The Horse Cock

The Horse Cock

But what’s the story? What do you do with a thing like that? Did someone throw it out of a truck window in a fit of temper or accidentally drop it during a stroll? Was it promised to someone who failed to pick it up? Was it too small? Too big? Did it get muddy copulating with a gopher hole?

Whatever. Kate is giving it to her team member, and he is going to paint it gold and award it to the neighborhood watch leader, a good friend. Wish I could be there.

As I drive back and forth from Santa Fe to my sister’s country place, I see the big difference between her one-mile stretch of highway and the rest of the route through beautiful open country. Her length is pristine whereas elsewhere there is garbage all along the way. At certain times of the day, the sun makes the glass glitter like diamonds.

I’m sure Kate is seen as an eccentric, but people wave sometimes as they drive past; and every now and then they pull over and thank her. After she drops the unsalvageable off in her barn, she goes back to her home office and resumes her work as a brilliant software consultant. Go figure.

And I’ve followed in her footsteps, occasionally walking the main road leading into my new development. The amount of litter ebbs and flows, but it’s consistently heavy in alcohol content. I especially dislike those tiny liquor flasks, but there are big ones as well and sometimes even whole cartons of empty beer bottles. Once there was a full-sized Grey Goose vodka bottle, suggesting that even the affluent litter.

As I fill my bag, sometimes I feel like leveling a curse at the litterbugs. However, that quote from the Bible comes to mind: “As you sow, so shall you reap.” For the moment, I guess I’ll leave it at that.

 

6 Responses to “Cock of the Walk”

  1. Maggie

    Truly funny and at the same time sad…many of Kate’s tales remind of what my Dad finds on his walks. His strolls take him by an Albuquerque HS & his finds sound so similar to hers. When he finds someone’s personal belonging, he returns it to the school. Only once in about ten years has the owner contacted him to thank him.

  2. Les Fenter

    Well, I must apologetically add a note. We’ve been fortunate to travel the highways and byways of almost all our United States and Canada. Have never seen litter worse than New Mexico. What’s that? Well, Arkansas has a car on blocks in front of most houses and many of those homes have an old sofa on the front porch. But not litter!

  3. Les Fenter

    Hah!! In El Paso it was called Ascarate Lake for submarine races. Personally I never saw a submarine there. All I can say is be thankful to find condoms! Yes, it seems the most common beer cans are bud, bud lite. Rarely see quarts. This week I hope to finally find time to put up my “Lost and Found” sign near our neighborhood entry. I will gather litter and stack it under the sign with small letters suggesting “if you lost it, you can now pick it up”. 🙂 Ellen, was it the dildo that concerned you about me being offended? Shoot! one time we were getting a tour of our friends’ remodel and encountered one twice that size by the wife’s bed. Cool as she is/was, she made no attempt to hide it nor explain it. Was that offensive? uh, are you kidding? kind of uh, well, uh . . . suggestive. . . to a horny ol’ aggie. lol!

  4. Barbara McCarthy

    Picking up litter – not glass – is something my students and I always did as well as recycling – as you well know. The nice thing is that they continue to do it even after leaving my class for the upper grades. That makes me very proud!

  5. Robert

    There’s a design driven initiative aiming at changing the culture of littering on public lands see http://litternation.org/. Readers might find it interesting. They are holding a cleanup and geotagging day Sat Dec 3, 10 am at the Railyard Community Building (behind SITE) in Santa Fe. Bring a GPS enabled camera.