Respect yourself, respect yourself. If you don’t respect yourself, ain’t nobody gonna give a good cahoot. —The Staple Singers.
When it’s Carnival time, the wealthy movers and shakers of our town forget their suits and ties for the day and dress in glittering silken costumes that are at once ridiculous and beautiful. They allow themselves to share fun and good times with those whose path they may never cross otherwise. They participate in an event that has made our city world-famous, proud and delightfully strange. And as our visitors take in the splendor of floats, marching bands and flaming torches lighting the way, they stand ankle deep in debris—debris that will turn into a gray sludge by morning time and the smell of urine will be quite distinct.
But we do not limit our love of takin’ it to the streets to Mardi Gras.
The brass bands can be heard long before the second line comes into view. They herald the soon-to-be-seen spectacle of dancing, strutting, sashaying, buck-jumping folks as they parade the streets of our beloved city. The color of the suits and flashy umbrellas are outdone only by the joy that beckons you to shimmy your hips, clap, and sing. You swell with pride that only in our fine city does such an event occur and with regularity. Then the beauty, beat, and energy drift down the street and out of view. All that’s left in its wake is trash. There will be blocks and blocks of trash.
Our city has a dirty little habit—a proclivity for filth. Yes, filth is a pretty ugly word to attribute to a city possessing such a wealth of history, culture, and beauty. We have been blessed with an abundance of lush flora and waterways, a climate that encourages its prolific growth and some long-ago city fathers who saw fit to carve out and set aside copious swaths of land for parks, neutral grounds, and green spaces just for the sake of having nature compliment the architecture and the people of New Orleans. And what do we do? We friggin trash it—daily!
New Orleans ranks as one of the dirtiest cities in America and litter is one of the reasons. Eradicating litter is the one thing that does not require money, an election, City Council action, great strength or effort—it simply requires giving a damn and refraining from dropping stuff on the ground. Simple. No excuses.
Litter begets more litter. It sends a strong and negative message that the littered area is up for grabs in terms of crime, illegal dumping, graffiti, and rodents. It is a fact that one broken window invites more vandalism and litter sends a signal that it is okay to add more trash. Chaos thrives upon chaos.
There are so many crimes, big and small, harmful and harmless that are hard to avoid, difficult to resist—yet—I will never understand why something (littering) so easy to pass on is not. In fact, it is not even avoidance—it is not even passive—it is an outright physical assault on one’s community, environment, and own personal standing among friends and neighbors. No pleasure or monetary gain comes from throwing that paper receipt from the bank or store on the ground. No gain for you if you toss that empty bottle or to-go box on the street. You would never do this to your home or car. Do you really want your other children to see you sling little Johnnie’s dirty diaper out the car door? Do you really want your children to grow up to be pigs?
Why do folks not want cigarette butts smushed out on their living room floors? Why do people not leave used condoms, McDonald’s wrappers, Coke cans, used tissues, candy wrappers, banana peels, apple cores, crawfish shells, chicken bones, beer cans, swept-up leaves, broken pens, junk mail, cigar stubs, used motor oil bottles, plastic bags, and plastic water bottles to pile up in front of their television, kitchen table, or on the floorboard of their car? Why? Because it is nasty. Yet it doesn’t bug them to see it and add to it in our streets, parks, driveways, parking lots, river, bayous, lake … Where is the disconnect? Why are they blind to it? Is it some deliberate cry for attention? An “F-you to the Man”? A sense of hopelessness? Laziness? Research conducted by Keep America Beautiful shows that 81% of litter is intentional.
Still, I refuse to believe that folks can’t change. Maybe it has to become personal to them. Perhaps when their beloved pet dog burns its paw on a carelessly tossed red-hot cigarette butt they will answer the Get a Clue Phone. Or maybe money speaks their language: littering cost Louisiana taxpayers 40 million dollars annually. To refrain from trashing costs zero. Maybe toxic things can trigger a re-think on litter. Degraded litter CANNOT be recycled and the resulting sludge is generally a health hazard. The litter that makes it into waterways breaks down into toxic elements that damage and destroy marine life and contaminates our seafood. Flooding should scare everyone living here—yet you allow our storm drains to clog with litter. Dislike rats? Yet you feed them with your discarded food and beer. Want more flies? Just continue to leave Fido’s crap on the sidewalk (pooper-scoop, you rude mother******). If you can carry that cold drink to the counter to buy it and lift it to your lips to drink it, then you can can it. Haul it in, haul it out. If you’re strong enough to peel and shuck ‘em, then clean ‘em up.
Come on New Orleans, let’s change our image. And while eliminating this unsanitary, ugly, and destructive habit, we can save money and our self-respect.