Sure, there are litterbugs all over the world. But I think the ones in New York City are the most egregiously callous. Not only have there been patient antilittering campaigns in the U.S. for decades, there are thousands of public trash cans in this city within a half-block’s reach. Every time you choose to say screw you to society and toss your refuse into the street, fueling our rampant rat problem, it’s like a punch in the stomach to all of us who take pride in our city.
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The closest I’ve come to being assaulted during decades of living here has been when I’ve called out litterers with a, “You’ve dropped something,” which makes the pinheads do a double take and either pick up their castaways (rarely) or graduate to verbal abuse. Although a smug comment is way less confrontational than “Pick that up, and put it in that garbage can right over there, asshole,” it does piss them off. Another protest method is picking up people’s litter while they watch you do it, but you’re still likely to be insulted afterward. Walking along Bleecker Street last year, I witnessed several McDonald’s bags catapulted from an open car window onto the sidewalk. I immediately threw the trash back through the car window. Four hulking women then emerged from the parked car and swung at me. Oh, how I ran.
As I continue to see litter strewn across my Lower East Side neighborhood, I try to sidestep the depression it invites with philosophy; somewhere along the line, these offenders were never taught basic rules of human decency, so now it’s my job as a parent—and a New Yorker—to pass the lesson on.