For the past several months, on Sundays, we’ve walked around our neighborhood picking up trash. Just a few blocks down to the traffic light and back, and we end in our own backyard, for the stray plastic bags and chocolate wrappers that have accumulated during the week, blown in from open trash cans or up from the highway.
It usually takes us about an hour and the ritual of it reminds me a bit of going to church as a child. If left to my own devices, I would probably not do it, but the habit of it is now stronger than my apathy, and once I have started, I take an odd pleasure in it.
Across the street from our house, there is a stretch of land that slopes down to the highway. When we moved here more than a decade ago, it was rumored that the city was planning for a small park. Now, we find empty soda cans and beer bottles, cardboard softened by rain, discarded take-out containers, plastic bags. A few houses down from ours there is a transition home for men in recovery. And a block further there is a liquor store. A mechanic on the corner. The rest is houses – rambling old Victorians, their ornate facades now faded and sagging. They have all been subdivided long ago into multiple apartments. We don’t know our neighbors. No one seems to stay for very long.
We pick up bottle caps and broken plastic. One week, more than a dozen compact discs were scattered in the street, their cracked surfaces shimmering when the light hit. But mostly, we find bottles – the small ones. The ninety-nine-cent “nips.” Fireball cinnamon whisky, my son reads aloud. There are enough that we maintain a separate count for these – the way we kept a “lizard count” when we were in the desert.
On our way back, we often see the men from the recovery home gathered in their yard. Sometimes, someone will nod or wave in greeting. Otherwise, the mornings are quiet except for the cars zipping through.
Sometimes I think we should widen our route – start going down side-streets, or maybe out to Division Street, the main road that leads to the stadium. But in the end, I suppose I am unwilling to give more of my morning. I want to come back inside, read for a while. Or finish the laundry. Or plan the week’s meals.
When we return from errands on late Sunday afternoons, our efforts are usually still visible, the streets and sidewalks noticeably free of debris. “Looks pretty good,” one of us will inevitably say as we pull into the driveway. Then we unload the car and take our bags inside.