Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Cataclysm in a Cheetos bag

A barnstorm tour of Texas on a soggy week in May deposited me at a treasured place: a particular tennis court, opposite a particular racquet-bearing friend.

It's where we had gathered weekly for years, the essence of effort being the sweat and not the score.

And so we perspired once more, though more from the mugginess than the athleticsm. History-making monsoons had left much of the state submerged. Once-destitute reservoirs cried rivers of joy.

That tennis court is in a wonderful place, a tree-lined park with a jogging path and a playground abutting a grade school. But that day something was annoying me. It was not my backhand.

It was a pile of trash.

Over in my corner of the court (my friend and I have never changed sides in our "matches" – too much exertion), a winter's worth of debris had assembled.

As a picture, it was a still-life of a throw-away society.

Styrofoam cups, plastic bottles, candy wrappers, soggy fast-food trappings. You know.

Amid it all was an expended eight-ounce Cheetos bag: trademark orange on the exterior, silver lining in the interior. I noted the little bag's positioning: yawning upward like a buttercup in the morning sun. I noted its durability. A Cheetos bag is junk-food package engineering at its finest.

I also noted the little reservoir of water in it. Three or four tablespoons of rain had collected over the preceding days.

That's just enough water for little mosquitoes to incubate and to grow big.

We've had a lot of serious topics to talk about lately. Zika is one.

A whole bunch of people are a whole bunch of scared about the Zika virus. I wonder if any of those people is the one responsible for the Cheetos bag he or she left to scoot along the ground, to settle against a fence and grow mosquitoes that might carry Zika, or West Nile, or heartworms that kill precious dogs and cats.

This puts trash in a new light, or ought to.

A lot of players contributed to that pile of trash. A lot of conscious decisions went into letting those items end up on the ground rather than where they wouldn't harm the planet or its inhabitants.

Litter doesn't just happen. Litter is something you've got to think through, like passing on the yellow line or shooting your gun in the air without regard for who might be in the projectile's path.

Like most states, Texas talks a good game about litter. "Don't Mess With Texas" is a world-class motto. Driving around the great state, though, one senses that it's just words.

Of course, let the state without similar eyesores cast the first stone.

Litter being a conscious act, each piece of trash has its own story. It's clear that a lot of the stories relate to secrets – the can of beer a driver doesn't want the wife or state trooper to see, the airline-portion bourbon that wasn't quite consumed when it went overboard.

What was the story about that empty Cheetos bag? Did the person who discarded it think for a second he might contribute to that global health care CNN might be discussing today? Nah. He or she just thought that disposing of it properly was too big a hassle.

Litter is a crime. But unlike many crimes where we feel helpless after it happens, you can do something. If you see it on the ground, pick it up. Make it your mission to keep your patch of planet clean.

Whatever its story, however that trash ended up there, the ball is in your court now.

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

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