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Jeff Whitten: The freedom you find in a ditch
beer can

The large photo above this column is of an empty beer can I found a couple of days ago in the ditch in the right of way running in front of my wife’s house while weed-eating for hopefully the last time this summer.

Big deal, you say. It’s just garbage.

Sorry but nope, it’s FREEDOM. Says so right there on the can. Freedom. Let it ring.

My, my. “Oh say can you see, my beer can in flight, how proudly it sailed into the summertime night?”

Alas. I suspect it’s the kind of America The Once Beautiful we’d have – one buried in garbage – if there were no one to clean up behind those feeble-minded swine who think nothing of tossing their refuse out windows while they speed down the street on oversized wheels, yukking it up or listening to Bro Country. Freedom from sea to shining sea.

I know, you could say the donor of this particular empty can was drunk, and that’s why he flung it out. Or a she put it there, since women are about as bad as men these days when it comes to lowlife activity like trashing up the landscape. Or it flew out the back of a pickup.

Doesn’t matter. Drunk or sober, the ignorant are out there, ejecting their refuse onto the rest of us. Some are old, some are not so old. And beer cans are just the tip of the iceberg.

I know this because we live near a busy road, so I’m forever picking up trash in the ditches around my wife’s estate, and I doubt I’m alone in that. Anyone who goes anywhere these days is likely to see garbage on the way and find garbage upon arrival. Garbage ranging from dirty diapers or empty fast food wrappers to cigarette butts and used condoms.

It litters everything from parking lots to parks, and a lot in between. Used wet wipes, masks, the grape-flavored cigar wrappers favored by dope fiends, plastic bottles, tires, old batteries, losing lottery tickets – I did find a wadded up scratchoff ticket in the ditch worth $20, proof some of those who litter not only are ignorant, they’re stupid – plastic forks, plastic cups, magazines, plastic bags used to keep newspapers from getting soggy in the rain (sorry about that one, ain’t us), soggy free newspapers (again not us), and a lot more besides. Nowhere is spared by those raised by pigs to be pigs. Or those who became pigs despite the best efforts of those who turned them loose on the rest of us. Granted, anyone who’s seen my office is probably shaking their head about now, but that’s an office. It’s not an operating theater, or a kitchen or some upscale model home in some vanity magazine. Nope, it’s cluttered, and a bit crusty and stained and smelly in spots (like the editor hisself), but it’s a place of hard work and lots of mental scratching and suffering.

And more importantly, it’s contained, or mostly contained, to what’s left of the four or five square feet I occupy that isn’t occupied by a desk and monitors and servers and a printer and walls and desk and chair and that sort of thing. In short, I don’t go down the road tossing out used Kleenex or the fork I used to spear off brand Vienna sausages or the can they came in. I recycle, too.

Editor’s note: While the can may’ve sparked this rant, the truth is I got irate a week or so ago when I saw the beginnings of a social media post in my work junk folder from someone mad at a certain supermarket for not cleaning up around its store.

I didn’t read the entire message because I don’t like social media, not even our page. If it were up to me we wouldn’t even have one, but it is not up to me.

Anyhow, this particular post got me to thinking. Why is it the supermarket’s fault some of its customers are pigs? You can’t run around picking up after these people 24-7, or you wouldn’t get anything done. What about personal responsibility? What about leaving a place like you found it, or better than you found it?

I once had a summer job in college – the first time I was in college, not after the Army college – selling sunglasses on those metal $3 trailers on Myrtle Beach.

This was back in the 1980s, and I was not the beat up, mildewed, disheveled gimpy and grumpy elfish looking hack I am now.

Anyway, one of my jobs was to occasionally go out and police up the litter that got left there by people who should’ve known better but were probably from up north. And one day, while chasing around scraps of paper, an older man with a foreign accent and excellent English stopped to help me. He said something then that has stuck with me to this day.

Basically, trashing up your country is unpatriotic. It’s a lack of respect.

“People who throw trash out like this don’t respect this country,” he said, or words very much to that effect “They don’t respect or love America, which is a beautiful place. How could they, if they treat it like this?”

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