Litter De-Bugging

May 13, 2008 at 10:24 pm 13 comments

Last Saturday, I was walking along 108 Street, down in the commercial district (the so-called Russian area). Suddenly…no, not suddenly…more like, to my growing horror, a parked car across the street had its driver’s door open and was loudly spewing some kind of hip-hop music so that we, across the street, could not hear each other over the crap-racket. 108th is pretty wide down in this area, enough to pretend it’s two lanes in each direction, if this gives you an idea of how loud the music was.

Even though I was with my family—my-guy plus two kids—my sense of civic outrage got the best of me.

“Wait here,” I commanded my-guy, and I ran across the street (yes, I looked both ways before I crossed). Just as I reached the car, I saw that the driver, a young woman—late teens, early twenties—was bending over onto the floor of the car and removing napkins, straws, and empty cups and depositing them into, natch, the street.

“Excuse me!” I screamed pretty loudly. No response from her or her gal pal. How could there be, with the music so loud? Again, “Excuse me!!” and this time they heard. The driver lowered the music right away, which immediately made Forest Hills an inhabitable neighborhood once more.

“Thank you,” I said, now infuriated by her two forms of pollution, “Can you please keep your music down? It’s inconsiderate to blast it. And what’s your plan for all that garbage you’ve piled into the street?”

No “sorry.” Just: “I’m going to throw it out,” said with no small amount of disdain. Silly her. I can out-disdain anyone, and by now my blood pressure must have been approaching strokeville.

“How? By throwing it on the street? Who do you think is going to clean it? And are you aware that it’s illegal to do that?”

She and her friend looked at each other and laughed, the way vapid young women clutching mochas from Dunkin’ Donuts often do. I made as if I were about to move on, but then I turned around and planted myself a car’s length away, arms folded across my chest, waiting and glaring at them, daring them not to follow through. I know—I am so high school.

The two acted like I wasn’t there, and made no move to clean up their crap pile. So I walked back over and said, “If you don’t remove your trash, I’m going to call a cop.” I had seen a traffic officer at that spot a few minutes earlier. The girl looked at me like I was her mother and spat back, “I said I would do it.” Still, it wasn’t clear to me that she would, so I closed the conversation with, “I don’t believe you for a minute. I’m going to get a cop.”

That scared her but good and she did what she should have done from the start. I crossed back over to my family, my son looking semi-mortified. He asked, “Mommy, why do you care so much? I mean, why make such a big deal?”

Teachable moment or what?

“Because we live here too, and everyone who lives here has to be considerate. That goes for keeping this place clean. If everyone just threw their trash on the ground, what do you think this place would look like?” He thought about it for a few seconds. “Pretty bad, Mommy.” Pretty self-evident, even to an eight-year-old. “And that goes for the planet too. We all have to do what we can to make it better here. If we ignore what is going on around is, it’s as if we did it too.”

Then, as if the parenting-book stars were aligning on my behalf, we now came face to face with the aforementioned cop.

“Excuse me,” I said to him, “I’m explaining to my son why it’s a very bad idea to litter. Isn’t it illegal?”

“It sure is, MIss.”

“And is it also illegal to blast your music above a certain decibel level?”

“Yes again, Miss. That’s disturbing the peace.”

Now my son looked humbled, even a bit awed. How deeply this sunk into his psyche, I can’t say. But if I don’t try to sear some of this in there, then he may very well age into a young man who thinks nothing of blasting his music and leaving his trash wherever it suits him.

Image Queens Tribune

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Entry filed under: Forest Hills.

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13 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Jane  |  May 14, 2008 at 8:40 am

    What a great story! If you were my mom, I would be rolling my eyes and wanting to go hide, but since I AM a mom, I am so proud you did that. First, those girls need some manners and common sense, and second, your son got a great lesson.

    Reply
  • 2. MM  |  May 14, 2008 at 9:13 am

    Wow good for you. I know how bad this idiots on 108th street can be. If they were doubled parked in the middle of the street that would have been even better!

    Reply
  • 3. Noemi  |  May 14, 2008 at 12:24 pm

    Did you actually do that? I am so impressed! You rock!

    Reply
  • 4. karbeth  |  May 14, 2008 at 12:55 pm

    Maybe I rock in the sense of teetering toward desperation. I am so frightened by what I see, the way many young people behave as if there are no consequences for their actions. At that moment, I was driven to provide some consequences.

    Reply
  • 5. Anon  |  May 18, 2008 at 4:32 pm

    What you actually taught your son was that it is OK to get into unnecessary confrontations with people on the street. It would have been much better for you to just report the girls to the police and leave it at that. Screaming at people in the street is not going to solve anything and may even get you into a violent confrontation that you don’t expect. This is NYC and if your son has learned that the appropriate response to situations he doesn’t like is to scream and fight with people, he’s going to have a very difficult life once he becomes an adult if he is still living in NYC.

    Reply
  • 6. karbeth  |  May 18, 2008 at 5:29 pm

    “Anon,”

    You might be right. I vacillate between teaching my kids to just do their own thing and feeling despair that the world is as it is because most people just sit silently by. Seems like those who are willing or able to ignore those around them just do whatever they feel like doing. The rest of us, who try to consider the consequences of our actions vis-a-vis other people and the world, are left to cry about it. So what is the right answer? Pursuing what we believe in silently or being as vocal about it as those who are callous about their actions? It’s a really hard question, and I appreciate your input.

    I don’t think my son has learned this is the only response, by the way. I believe he is learning a range of responses, and that is something we discussed after the incident.

    Reply
  • 7. Anon  |  May 18, 2008 at 6:53 pm

    Karbeth, thanks for your response and for considering my point of view. I’m glad to see that you have thought about the range of responses to this situation. With respect, my opinion is that your response is never the right response because you are sinking to the level of the people that you screamed at. I think it is not only inappropriate, but could get you into some dangerous encounters that you will end up regretting. Maybe these girls were not a threat to you. But if you get in the habit of behaving this way, you may eventually run into someone who will fight back.

    Reply
  • 8. karbeth  |  May 18, 2008 at 8:17 pm

    In general, I’m pretty careful about situations into which I insert myself, for all the reasons you mention. This one struck me as kids gone wild because parents have dropped the ball (long ago). But I’m curious: if you view this as one in which it was inappropriate and dangerous to get involved, are there any situations for which you would step forward?

    As a corollary, a day or so later, a very old woman was chewing me out because my bag accidentally hit her when I passed her on the sidewalk. Her anger immediately dissipated because I apologized and was holding the door for her; then she was laughing because she saw that I was agreeing with her rather than calling her an “old bag,” which is what she says most people say back to her when she points out rudeness.

    Reply
  • 9. janny226  |  May 20, 2008 at 7:29 am

    Thank you so much for doing what you did. I am in the same situation, trying to balance my actions with doing the right thing, when drivers constantly honk at my son’s school bus. I can’t imagine how people can be so inconsiderate to one another. And is it just me, and I hate to say it since I live here too, but is it worse in Queens?

    Reply
  • 10. karbeth  |  May 20, 2008 at 11:47 am

    I think it’s worse any place where there are myriad ethnic and/or socio-economic populations. With that, there’s less of a sense that we’re all in this together. This may be a downside to Queens, being now known as the mecca of diversity.

    Reply
  • 11. David M. Quintana  |  May 25, 2008 at 9:49 pm

    I think you did the right thing, if more of us took a proactive position in situations like this maybe there wouldn’t be so many anti-social louts blaring loud music and littering our streets…The City belongs to all of us and I would advocate for more citizens to take an interest in what goes on in our neighborhoods, rather than look the other way…I actually believe there are more of us who give a crap than those who don’t and by standing up to these evil people we can empower more righteous people to see the light and do the right thing…which will lead to making NYC a better place and brighten the future for our kids…

    Reply
  • 12. Who Don't Lie Pizza  |  May 26, 2008 at 4:24 pm

    The “Russian Hills” area of 108th Street is a sh1thole. I wouldn’t go near there… might as well call that neighborhood “South Corona.”

    Reply
  • 13. karbeth  |  May 27, 2008 at 9:27 pm

    I happen to like Corona and am glad that my neighborhood is within walking distance to that and other neighborhoods that offer such a different look at life. I used to feel the same about 108th street, but it’s really gone to pot in the last few years. Corona may not be as picture-perfect as Forest Hills, but there are some spots that show pride of neighborhood–I don’t see this on that 108 St strip.

    Reply

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