Everything and Nothing: A cure for the Sunday Afternoon Blues
By Aïda Rogers
For many years I’ve been afflicted by the Sunday Afternoon Blues, which means that for almost as many years I’ve known how to get rid of them: I get out of the house and do something. Anything.
When I felt the old dread descending a few Sundays ago I had my plan ready. I put on my gloves, grabbed a garbage bag and marched out into the paralyzing serenity. I’d been noticing trash along the road and decided to do something about it.
First came the empty cigarette pack and then the empty Jack Daniels bottle. Across the street, proof of Chick-Fil-A’s popularity and a $100 gift card with, I was irked later to learn, a zero balance. Feeling like an athlete warming up, I kept walking. And as always happens, the more I looked, the more I saw. There along Pinckney Street in McClellanville, a postcard town if ever there was one, people had tossed their expendables. Beer cans. Soda bottles. Paper bags. Plastic bags. Bags with wet stuff in them.
But somehow I felt protected from the yuck, probably because I became so focused on getting rid of it. Sunday Afternoon Blues can’t be sustained when discoveries are made, discoveries like that secret public art project of 27 empty Michelob Ultra cans nestled in straw at the bottom of a thicket. Two cans of Truly Berry Punch hung from branches above. It was a study in silver and purple that I relished returning to green.
Thinking the reasons people litter was based on a complex formula of education and economics, I was surprised to learn this problem is simple and fixable. People litter, studies have found, because there aren’t enough public trash bins and recycling stations. Maybe that’s what was going on one day in the deep green of Sumter National Forest. Driving to Union, I came upon a very low-to-the-ground car ahead of me. It bumped along, four or five heads visible inside. Suddenly the car stopped, a door opened, and a bag of trash was put out. Too startled to do anything – I really should have picked it up – I kept going after the car turned off. I know now that those were people in trouble. They might have been living in that car. Their worries were self-survival, not earth survival.
And so the litter goes on. It goes on roads, in creeks, in woods; it flies from the back of trucks to scatter God knows what God knows where. Picking up three bags of it made me feel better – even good – but that was probably the biggest benefit of the man-earth-trash equation. I’m not optimistic litter will disappear. Money would have to be spent, particularly in communities with little of that necessity.
Then again, I can’t forget something else I saw once. A man in a wheelchair was wrestling litter from some bushes by the sidewalk. He was working hard to fix something someone else messed up.
There’s probably a metaphor here, something about brothers’ keepers. But I’m holding on to what I saw when I started out on my mission. It was a bluebird, something I rarely see, and which I followed. I’ve decided to take that as a sign. I can do my little bit.
Aïda Rogers writes from an old house in Columbia and a new porch in McClellanville. Her three-volume anthology series, State of the Heart: South Carolina Writers on the Places They Love, includes stories by 108 Palmetto State writers.
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