Wednesday, March 16, 2005


As the snow melts at the river, the first thing to emerge is the trash. There was so dishearteningly much of it today that I could hardly stand it. Once I noticed it, I could not block it out. It was like the moment when the muzak in the store breaks through one's defenses: it's all over -- there's nothing to do but flee. I thought of the April river clean-up and felt daunted. How will we ever clean up this mess ?

I peered over the footbridge into the cove. The water had receeded a little and the riverbottom junkfield was more apparant. Tires, shopping carts, a bicycle, metal and plastic crates, athletic shoes, plastic bags and other unidentifiable detritus, some submerged, some breaking the surface. And the water, today, had a subtle sheen. A vague iridescent scintillation. At first I thought it was ocular. But the breeze brought the answer to my nose: oil. From the culvert behind the trestle bridge.

Then, in the woods, in the muck, the bottles: booze, springwater, juice, soda -- every species of drink more than doubly represented, from nip to jug-sized. Plus coffee cups and lids, cardboard, plastic, styrofoam. And snack bags, lunch containers, sweets packets. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst !

That's for righteousness, asshole !

Earlier today I'd found myself in the cookie aisle of the grocery. Stacked packets of cookies rose from the floor to above my head. Cookies of innumerable sorts in bright plastic wrappers. I was suddenly seized by a sort of horror. Why are there so many types of cookie's ? Who eats all these cookies ? All these bad cookies ? And why ? I've eaten my share of cookies. I have nothing against cookies, per se. But, goddamn it, why are there so many motherfucking cookies ?

It's capitalism. The free market. Freeance, peeance, as our Dear Leader once said. Business ! That which our President loves even more than Jesus. The American dream. Yeah, right. Two or three megalithic multinational corporations produce most of the cookies from a handful of basic recipes, tasteless cookies more varied in their packaging than their actual cookie-ness, then hype them incessantly to kids on TV, who eat far too many of them and begin their voyage down the road to diabetes, hypertension and heart disease. So that big Pharma can sell them Lipitor and Glucophage (gotta love that name -- sugar eater). Hype them incessantly to kids in deviously clever ways that high-priced PhD psychologist marketing consultants have devised. Because that's free speech, free enterprise and the American way.

As I picked my way through dead knotweed and strewn beverage containers, it struck me that this was a scene of desecration. Of violation. This is a sin against the earth, I thought, my heart growing heavier with each step. This is a state of sin. Of disgrace. The river used as a sewer. The woods as a trash bin. What could I read in the spoor ? Despair, I suppose. Which, of course, is hopelessness. Utter demoralization. The ongoing legacy, for some of us, of the Bush administration.

I thought of someone getting drunk by the river. Getting relief from pain with a cocktail of alcohol and the sound of the waterfall. Booze and white noise, to drown sorrow. What sorrow ? Unemployment, immigration problems, housing woes, domestic strife, illness, no insurance, bill collectors, addiction -- it's not hard to speculate. A packet of oreos does help take the edge off: lard and sugar from tongue straight to the endorphin centers of the brain. Better than Valium. (Am I allowed to say that ? Is there some drug disparagement law I've violating ?) Almost as good as xanax, possibly the most diabolically named drug in the pharmacopaeia. Try writing it. Go ahead. Notice how easily it flows across the paper ? The prescription practically writes itself. And it's such a cute little palindrome, to boot ! Not to mention those potent, scientific, punchy pair of x's. And it's easy to spell, too ! Not like that pesky penicillin (is that a double n or a double L ? Is it -in or -en ?) Christ ! It makes me wanna pop one even as we speak !

Al-praz-o-lam. Shazaam.

Then I saw the beer truck pulling up to the package store. Its rear door was open and I could see the towering stacks of cases. Food, booze, TV: cheap diversions from despair. Crowd control. Throw in religion and you have the perfect -- what's the opposite of storm ?

I was finding it hard to get all totally pissed off and self-righteous at the guy who chucks the empty pint into the thicket. A little bit, maybe, but in the criminal underworld of litter he's just a street thug. Mr. Big is elsewhere. Not Waltham. Belmont, maybe. Washington, certainly. And he's got a whole staff to clean up after him. And his messes are, trust me, way bigger than a few bottles on the river bank. What about the affluent jogger who chucks her Poland Springs empty into the viburnum ? Or the office worker who flings his styrofoam lunch container into the witch hazel ? They're harder to forgive.

Desecration. Violation. I thought of how meager this little patch of riverbank wilderness is. Almost pathetic, really. Taking close-ups through a macro lens obscures the big picture. This is what's left after Mr Big and his boys buy up the prime real estate for their factories and their office parks and their McMansions and their waterfront summer homes. This is what's left after they drill the ANWR. A little strip of green where the lumpen proletariat can drink away (jog away, photograph away) their hopelessness. The crumbs. The leftovers.

I am not unaware of my complicity in this disgrace. I drive a car. I buy overly-packaged food. My sins of omission are worse.

How will we ever clean up the mess ? One bottle at a time ?

Of course.

But then what ?

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