Waiting at the intersection of Broadway and 96th, on the south-west corner, a perfectly anonymous man (he thinks) takes a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket. He flips it on one end and gently taps it, to pack the tobacco more tightly and therefore get an ever slightly longer lasting cigarette. He then opens up the pack and pulls the top of the foil lining from inside. Having done so, he proceeds to toss the seemingly useless piece of paper onto the sidewalk about one and a half feet from a trash can.

It’s Not Unusual…
Though this behavior might seem abhorrent and unusual, it happens on a regular basis. How else to account for the obscene amount of litter that one finds strewn along the city streets? When I was in college, I often wondered how gum somehow ended up on the sidewalk until one day when I saw the girl I was then dating let a piece of gum fall out of her mouth onto the sidewalk below without any thought to what would happen to it after leaving said mouth.

That same year, I saw a gentleman finish a bottle of soda and then drop it, as if there were a recycling bin eagerly awaiting its arrival. It was a memory that will surely be tied to shattered bottles on the sidewalk forevermore. Between the bottle dropper, the gum spitter, and the paper thrower, any one of these people could have chosen to find proper receptacles for their waste rather than pollute the landscape – but they chose not to do so.

A Weighty Issue
I have been wanting to write about weight gain nearly as long as I have been writing for Go Inside Magazine but have always resisted, fearing an attack from some sort of a lynch mob. The last four years has seen no slowing in the explosion (no pun intended) of the growth of the number of people in this country who are overweight in any sort of way, ranging from a few extra pounds to the extreme dangerous obesity. It brings to mind a scene of a man standing in the kitchen looking into the refrigerator. There are various condiments there, along with two dozen packets of soy sauce from a number of Chinese restaurants. He closes the refrigerator and calls out for his children, who come down the stairs with looks of anticipation on their faces. One of the three quietly asks, “Are we going to have dinner soon?” The father nods, and they gather into the family car, possibly to head off to Parts Unknown. Rather than doing this, however, they go to their favorite restaurant, where a statue of a clown sits on a bench, one hand waving to welcome all those who pass by. His smile is frozen, an all-knowing smile – he knows that all across the country, his fellow clown brethren are welcoming millions of Americans who are incapable or too impatient to make the effort to make themselves real, genuine, home cooked food.

So they sit, the family of four, the mother long having long ago left them for a considerably more intelligent, attractive, and cultured woman. One can almost imagine that the former maternal figure of the family would not have stood for such an outing, particularly since she was expelled from Julliard for wanting to take on acting roles of chefs. Fortunately, the restaurant school she subsequently went to didn’t seem to mind she always sang songs about the food that she was cooking. It was a better fit for her. The family of four has in front of them four portions of the typical meal for this restaurant – a double layered hamburger, a large portion of fried potato slivers, and enough of the soft drink of their choice that a tea-cup sized puppy would have no problem swimming laps in it. There are surely more calories involved in this one meal than the average human being should consume in one day, but this is not of concern to the family in question.

Breakdown in Education
At the drive-through window not too far away, the cashier is experiencing some difficulties. His cash register is malfunctioning, the calculator’s batteries are dead, and he is struggling to work through a basic multiplication problem. Later, he will express his frustration at the situation in a carefully worded e-mail that seems to be written in a strange alien language, but is in fact a variation of English. In his home growing up, television was the babysitter, and books were considered decorative, to be read only by the more scholarly – other people, in other words.

Root Cause
The basic cause of these three humongous problems can be summed up with three simple words: Sloth, apathy, and myopia.

Simply put, to remedy the problem would require effort, and a lack of effort is considerably easier than making an effort. In the case of the littering, it is a matter of effort to put trash in the proper receptacle and to recycle that which should be recycled. In the case of the fast food, what is necessary is to learn how to eat properly, and to make the effort to regularly exercise. People don’t just get in good shape by sitting around eating potato chips watching “the fights” on the television. Similarly, a lack of education in one’s youth is no excuse to avoid one as an adult. If one would be so inclined, one can go out to one of millions of adult education courses that are available.

People don’t generally care. A lot of people just don’t care that they’re making a mess that someone later will have to pick up. The concern is to get rid of the rubbish they have in their hand, regardless of where it will end up afterwards. A lot of people just don’t care at all that the food they are eating is not good for them, and that a lack of physical activity does not make matters any better with regards to this. Similarly, there are many people who are perfectly content relying on machines to do all of their mathematical computing, to tell them when they have misspelled every single word in a sentence, and quite frequently, they don’t mind using a substandard form of the language to communicate. I have a friend who teaches public school. He has on his wall a note that he sent to a student’s home one day when the child was tardy that had been sent back with a note from the parent that was in a language that only vaguely resembled English.

The person who throws the foil from a pack of cigarettes is not thinking about the fate of that foil one hour from that point, or what will become of it days later. He or she is chiefly concerned with accessing cigarettes. Of course, once the cigarette is smoked, the filter is disposed just as readily, with just as little regard to the fact that it makes the landscape hideous to the eyes and could cause untold environmental problems. The person who spits gum onto the sidewalk does not think of the millions of dollars that are spent removing gum from sidewalks any more than the person who takes a page from a library book and dog-ears it. People who damage books and other bound written works really bother me when they do so, but that is another article for another day.

If the person sitting with three sons at the fast food restaurant would be able to see the image of the sons, all one hundred pounds or more overweight watching classic ’50s sitcoms while loafing on the couch, one would perhaps think twice before feeding them so excessively. The problem that one shares with millions of Americans is not being mindful about what is going into one’s mouth, nor the mouths of a family. People regularly joke about how small the portions are in restaurants in Paris, but have you seen a gaggle of Parisians who were grossly obese? Most likely, you have not. People jump up and down and yell about how the problem with weight is related to a person’s genes – but of course, the fact that the person consumes over five thousand calories per day and doesn’t exercise at all is surely irrelevant. Just the same, people who actively avoid the pursuit of
education while in school and continue to avoid it to this day have nobody to blame but themselves for their lack of a good education. The last time I checked, public education was supposed to be available to every single citizen of the United States.

This article is not meant to be some desperate plea, a la the prophets who would warn Israel that their sins would lead to their destruction. I sincerely believe these three problems can readily be worked on and reduced in severity with time if people would only take a little time to perhaps self-analyze and see that their actions have significant repercussions. There are a lot of people who are in need of help but are too ashamed of themselves to seek it. Perhaps it is time to listen to the classic ad and really reach out and touch someone.