Monday, November 24, 2008

Getting Lucky


I pick up beer cans along the side of the road and automatically crush them like I used to crush them when I was a bartender. It conserved space in the trash. If you put hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of empties into the trash every night, squeezing an aluminum can in the middle so it resembled a bow tie, made a big difference space-wise. Every time I pick up a can, I squeeze, and it reminds me of that.

I wonder what the neighbors think when they see me out there in my red, white and blue Giants jacket picking up litter. I used to be afraid to wear that jacket down here. The Giants are a northern team. A New York team. No one likes them down here except for the transplants. And you want to get along. It’s bad enough that I am a Yankee. Should I throw it in their faces? But then the Giants won the Super Bowl. So I thought I had a right to wear it.

It appears I am on a winning streak lately. Everyone I wanted to win, did. That never happens. Usually, whoever I’m going for loses. Maybe it’s because I have a soft spot for the underdog. Or I’m automatically turned off the person everyone else is following because it reminds me of cheerleading cliques and Nazis, mindless followers whose blue-eyed blondness can’t disguise their ugliness. That’s why I picked Jimmy Johnson to be my favorite NASCAR driver. You have to have one of them if you live down here—a favorite NASCAR driver. While everyone else is Dale Jr. obsessed (there is even a book out called St. Dale) I decided to go for the guy who no one, at least around here, wanted. Plus he wears a cowboy hat and I love a guy in a cowboy hat. Kurt puts his on occasionally, like when…hey, but that’s another story.

Yeah, so, Obama, Jimmy Johnson, the Giants, the Phillies, David Cook the American Idol, Mark Warner and even Tom Perriello, the long shot running against the good old boy, won. So I thought for sure that I was going to strike it rich when I found an old lottery ticket while I was picking up trash. But then I came to my senses and realized the likelihood of this crumbled up ticket found next to a coffee-stained credit card offer from Discover, being anything other than worthless litter, was nil. It was just a scrap of paper that had blown out of the back of someone’s pickup truck on the way to the Dumpsters with all the other garbage no one secures but thinks won’t go anywhere when they are flying down these country roads at sixty miles per hour. What do they think when they get to the Dumpsters and walk around to the back and see half their trash is gone? Do they put two and two together when they see me out there in my Giants jacket picking up litter? What do the drunks think? We’ve got someone on this road who downs a six pack of Miller Lite on his way to and from work and tosses the cans out the window so the wife don’t see. Three on his way to work, three on his way home. I know what he’s up to. I know all the tricks. I used to be a bartender and people admit things to bartenders. We’re kind of like doctors and priests.

Anyway, I’m pretty sure I know which house the drinker lives in because of the location of the cans. I also know where the guy lives who spits his tobacco juice into an empty soda bottle and then throws it out the window when it’s full. He’s moved down the road a bit since he’s seen me out there. He used to throw them closer to 40, where the road curves and no one can see, near the empty white farmhouse. I’d find a full bottle of brown spit, like what you’d imagine is inside a septic tank, about every other week. Now he throws them out the window when he gets past Effie’s house. I don’t do that section as often as I do here, my house, to 40. Here to 40 I stop and pick up litter on a regular basis. I get it on my way out. I keep a wad of empty Wal-Mart bags underneath my truck seat and if I see something, I stop and get it. I clean the rest of the road four times a year. That is what I committed to when I adopted it. They put a big sign out there on each end, “Adopt A Highway, The Van Cleave Family” and supply me with orange signs, orange vests and plastic bags. Sometimes neighbors help.

It’s a great way to get to know your neighbors. Not only the ones who help. But the ones who leave behind their mark. Like dogs. Like the spitter. We’ve found a rug, tires, a cell phone (picture this—someone takes a fit because he can’t get service again, bangs the phone on the dashboard, looks at it like it’s suddenly going to work, and giving up on that, finally throws it out the window where it hits an old locust tree and falls to the ground, cracked), fertilizer sacks, Skoal containers and many cellophane bags that once contained pork rinds. I know. It’s classic—what you’d expect redneck litterers to be tossing out their windows. But it’s true.

Someone’s favorite restaurant is Chick-fil-A and I suspect she’s hiding her little fast food habit just like the boozer is hiding the empties. We picked up enough Chick-fil-A trash to fill a large Hefty bag alone and there are no Chick-fil-A fast food places in this area. I believe that indicates it’s coming from one person, and not the general traffic passing through. I imagine this is one big mama who is having two dinners every night but no one knows. She works in Roanoke, in an office, perhaps in the accounting department at the hospital, somewhere near the mall, and she picks up an order on the way home, shoves it in before she gets there, throws the trash out the window when no one is looking and starts the Hamburger Helper when she arrives. “I’m famished,” she says.



Oh, you can find all sorts of things out there that tell all sorts of stories. We even found the kitchen sink. Okay, it wasn’t actually the sink. It was the sink faucet. Whatever. Point being, there’s a lot of crap out there and everyone should go out and pick up the stuff in their neighborhood and then we will all be winners. Lottery tickets or not.

18 comments:

Marion said...

Did you watch the Seinfeld segment when his neighbor, the tall guy with the strange curly hair decided to adopt a portion of the highway? He pulled up all the signs on that section and brought them back to his apartment so he could clean them and repaint them. GROAN! You could only envision the collisions (yes, he included STOP signs)and other calamities...

But good for you, Debi.

Amy Tate said...

Debi! Now here's a good story! A guy adopts a highway and cleans it for weeks. Then one day, he discovers a body!!!! Type it up and bring it to the next critique meeting.

Cynda said...

You could flesh out a whole novel on the lives of the characters whose litter you pick up. I know poeple like that! Very funny!

CountryDew said...

What a great entry. And what a wonderful imagination you have. That last woman in particular is a story just waiting.

Debi Kelly Van Cleave said...

Hmm, it appears I better do some real writing, huh? Now you guys got me thinking!

I don't know how I missed that episode Marion because I love Seinfeld. And that would be me--cleaning the signs! Reminds me of when I was a kid and had the bright idea of gathering up my brother and sister and all our glass Christmas ornaments when our parents were out and washing them in soapy water in the kitchen sink. Never wash glass Christmas ornaments. Takes all the color off...

colleen said...

You can tell a lot about a person by their trash. Years ago I read a book a guy wrote about Bob Dylan based solely on his trash.

So does this mean you don't like the Red Sox?

gingerhillery@mac.com said...

Someone's trash is someone else's literary treasure!

hellosweetworld said...

Hey, cool blog! I can't wait to read more and thanks for stopping by mine the other day!

Amy Hanek said...

Not only are you doing a good thing to clean up the roads, but you're teaching Kelly. What a wonderful mama you are. I'm so proud of you!!

Claudia Condiff said...

Only a writer would look at trash with that kind of logic...
Love it!!!
Come over and analyze my road!!!!

Tanya said...

That was a great story! Ewwww on the tobaccy spit and I was totally lol'ing about the accounting mom with the hidden chick fil a addiction. Priceless!
I hate litters...great service you are doing!

June said...

I crush cans...only I don't use brute force :-) We have a can crusher on the wall in the mud room for it. It's a nifty little thing and I like the sound and sensation of it. Anyway...I truly admire your public service!

Love My Dog said...

Another great post! I don't even think we are allowed to pick up the litter on our highways here - you just pick up the cost of the city and or weekend work crew (read: those with a DUI) doing it. We used to have a neighbor whose kids 'never ate junk food' - well they did, they just tossed every last wrapper over the fence into our backyard. I think my Dad finally started throwing it back over the fence.

Ami said...

I love making up stories about people I see in the neighborhood or when I'm shopping at them mall. I'm not sure it ever occurred to me that our trash tells just as many stories as our possessions do.

Great post!

(Thanks for stopping by and commenting, by the way.)

Kate said...

Between your first line, and your subsequent references to chick-a-fil, I'm practically peeing my pants over here:)

Kate said...

ps-- you rock for being good stewards.

hellosweetworld said...

Just wanted to stop by and say hey! And have a good weekend!

Giulia said...

You are just toooooo noble a soul, Miss Debbie!