Remorseful Ex-Slob Does His Penance

On my daily walks, I do penance for one of the sins of my misspent youth. I pick up roadside litter.

Who tosses out roadside litter?

I did. Shame on me.

In 1950s, the legal drinking age in Pennsylvania was 21. In New York state, just 22 miles away from my hometown of Warren, that drinking age was 18 — legally. Practically speaking, you got served if the bartender could see your eyes peering over the top of the bar in at least two watering holes within yards of the state line.

Our return trips were marked by scenery-ruining flings of empty beer bottles, cigarette butts, cigarette packages and other sundries.

I am not proud of having been drunk or slovenly. Being blotto was worse. We risked our lives and the lives of other people on those roads. But being slobs was, well, slovenly. I am ashamed that I did that.

So these days, I usually carry a plastic grocery bag on neighborhood walks. Paper bags would be more environmentally friendly. But paper bags rip at the handles. Paper bags get soaked through and then rip at the bottom, redepositing picked-up litter onto berms.

So I acknowledge the sad irony of using plastic bags to rid roadsides of other plastic. I rationalize by noting that my brought-along bag is properly deposited into a trashcan at home.

My youthful littering lasted until my own children were old enough to chide me for what I was doing. They shamed me into pinching the glowing coals off the ends of my cigarette butts, flicking the embers outdoors, then stuffing the stubs and smelly wet tobacco into my pockets, nicotinizing my cars’ interiors and my clothing as well.

I missed those small triangular “wing” windowettes that jutted from the fronts of older cars’ windows, wafting fresh air inward and allowing ash flicking outward — only to rewaft in, sometimes with disastrous burn-the-kid results, if a child in the back seat had opened a rear window as well.

My children’s scolding helped me to stop being a litterbug. My wife’s support enabled me to finally quit smoking 15 years ago. I rarely litter, and then only accidentally.

I walk nearly every day, weather permitting, at home in Pennsylvania and for two winter months in Florida. At home, my walks used to be well away from the berms. That is safer for the dogs and cats that accompany me. But until last year, retrieving litter was a sometimes thing.

Then I got inspiration from “The Butler of Brookville.” Health issues keep Tom Butler from working full-time. But he does keep my hometown’s Main Street and environs pretty much litter-free. Thanks, Tom.

Down South, I walked along paved streets, usually alone, without chores to do or contemplate. Despite the 70s temperatures, that did get boring.

“I could do what Tom, does; I could pick up litter,” I thought. The coronavirus lockdown stopped breaking up my walks by going into stores so I had even less to accomplish besides just walking.

I also have a “grabber” in the bed of my pickup truck. It is a metal pick-up stick with a rubber-tipped claw end, clamped by squeezing the handle. It comes in handy for retrieving items that have slid toward the front of that bed. It is also a dandy hands-free litter grabber.

Well, why not? I started to pick up litter every day, rather than once a week or so as I had done at home. I hope to continue to do so.

Up in Pennsylvania, beer cans predominate. Down in the Florida Panhandle, single-shot “mini” bottles for tequila or vodka are more numerous than beer or soft drink cans or bottles.

Cigarette butts and packs are common enough, along with icky used versions of latex unmentionables. The coronavirus lockdown has led to an increase in clamshell-type white plastic foam food containers and plastic tableware from restaurant take-out meals. On average, I fill one bag per in-town mile. One surprise, for me, was finding scratched-off lottery tickets.

Not all litter is from litterbugs. Mother Nature has her own ideas about neatness. Swirling winds at the wrong time bedevil trash collectors and upend garbage cans, scattering contents. Cars hit trees, fence posts or poles, scattering glass and shiny metal bits.

Using a pick-up stick might keep the novel coronavirus at a distance. It also lessens the moanings and groanings that I emit if I must repeatedly bend at the waist.

Many of our sins, youthful or not, cannot be undone. All we can do is live with the responsibility. A few wrongs, however, can be mitigated if we move past tut-tutting at “the younger generation” and set the example for what we might like to see them accomplish.


Denny Bonavita is a former editor at newspapers in DuBois and Warren. He lives near Brookville. Email: denny2319@windstream.net.


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