For about five years now, I've walked my dog every morning and picked up litter along the way. Rather than share my New Year's resolutions, I thought a far more original list would be the 10 most interesting reactions I get in response to my little hobby.
1. The Nina, Pinta, and the Santa Maria According to legend, Native Americans did not perceive Columbus' three ships for several days, because it corresponded to nothing they had ever seen before. In my immigrant-heavy Hollywood neighborhood, I believe I witness the same syndrome. It just doesn't compute to those who have never even thought to question the normalcy of littering -- they literally don't seem to notice.
2. Who, Me? This I get from the litterers themselves. They look up, down, anywhere but at me. At least they know enough to feel guilty. Although I really don't think they litter less as a result, I consider it a small victory that they won't do it in front of me.
3. Ignore Him and He'll Go Away. Whether it's because they feel reproached or because they feel uncomfortable looking at a stranger doing something they perceive as humiliating, I get this a lot. They stare past me so intently it can't be accidental.
4. Where's the Orange Vest? The assumption is that I'm doing some kind of community service. This reaction comes with a furrowed brow -- my regular clothes and the dog don't quite fit in with a nudge from the judge.
5. What Kind of Dog Is That? This is very often preceded by: "Can I ask you something?" Every time I fall for it, ready to expound on the satisfaction of cleaning up my small corner of the world as a daily practice. Instead, they pretend to want to know the breed of my canine companion. So I answer politely: "He's a pointer/mix." It's almost as if they aren't sure I know that I'm actually picking up garbage, and want to alert me indirectly and discreetly.
6. Is the City Paying You? I only got this once, from an 80-year-old Armenian man. He just couldn't imagine that anyone would clean up after him and his styrofoam coffee cups voluntarily. (Oh yes, I eventually caught him in the act and shamed him right there on Harvard and Loma Linda.)
7. Do You Use That To Catch Snakes? I got this question once in the hills of Griffith Park, in reference to my E-Z reacher. I laughed -- until I actually encountered a rattlesnake but a week later. At which time I let out a panicked screech of terror.
8. I Pick Up Trash Too. I'm glad to hear it, but it would sure be nice to actually see it with my own eyes. My friend Wayne did clean up illegal dumps in the desert near Palm Springs, and that required hauling away old stoves in the back of his pick-up. That impressed the hell out of me.
9. Thank You for Doing That. I am happy to report I get this about twice a week. Every time it makes my day.
10. You Inspire Me. By far, the best reaction ever, from a nurse in scrubs headed to work. What three words could possibly be nicer to hear?