Thursday, November 30, 2006

Trash Talking

I suppose it is just one of those weird coincidences, a case of art foreshadowing life, but today in Senior Seminar we were discussing "Bartleby the Scrivener," whose response to the most reasonable demands of his long-suffering employer was "I prefer not to." The students in the class made note of the fact that Bartleby's response, while initially amusing and not wholly unsympathetic, very quickly became annoying. One of the students confessed that she soon got to the point where she "just wanted to grab him and shake him."

A little later in the day, I went over to help out at the table where a group of students were selling t-shirts to raise money to help the refugees who are victims of the genocidal conflicts in Darfur. By the time I got to the table, the entire allotment of t-shirts had been sold out; testimony to the good will and generosity of the students at Our Fair School. Not only did they sell out, they took orders for another 200+ t-shirts that will be special-ordered and delivered next week.

So I went back to my office, worked at my desk until around 4:00, and then left the building to walk out the Bingham Gate to my home across the street. At the gate, I paused, as I have been doing the last few weeks, to take a photograph, which you see reproduced above. It's a picture of trash, the trash left behind today, as it is nearly ever day, as the students who hang out in that area simply get up and leave their crap behind. You will notice a bottle of water, an Icee container, a Coke container, two bags of food, a handwritten page, and a sweatshirt ON the table. You will notice various elements of clothing on the bench seats and on the floor. You will notice the papers under the table. You will also notice not one but TWO trash containers within arm's reach of the table, there is a third just out of the picture to the right.

I have spoken several times to this group about trying to clean up after themselves. I have spoken to the deans and to Mr. Hata, our unofficial Dean of Discipline, about it. THEY have spoken to the students, and have made arrangements for the trash barrels to be placed where they can be conveniently ignored.

Do I sound perhaps just the teeniest bit edgy about this? Do I sound unreasonably upset? After I took this photo, I turned and went back to my office. On the way, I passed three boys who were sitting on a bench just outside my office. There was a considerable amount of trash on the ground around THEM as well, so I was going in the building for a moment and asked them if they would mind doing a quick cleanup while I was inside. Three blank stares.

I came back out and there were the three boys, there were the three blank stares, and there was the trash all over the ground. I had made my request, they apparently preferred not to accede to it. So I asked them for their ID cards, wrote down their names, delivered what I considered to be an admirably restrained oration on the general theme of respect and responsibility, why I should not have had to ask them in the first place, but since I HAD had to ask them I didn't appreciate their lack of cooperation, yada yada yada. More blank looks. One kid wanted to know "Are we in trouble?" I told him that if I had anything to do with it, they would be, and went on home, seething. My wife met me at the door and immediately asked if I had been in a fight.

Well, sort of. This is just one of those small issues that is frustrating precisely because it is so, well, small. How is it that students at a school who are so caring of one another and so goodhearted about donating money for a significant cause in a continent on the other side of the world can be so willfully obtuse about picking up garbage at their feet. Every day I walk IN the Bingham Gate and pick up cans and bottles and potato chip wrappers in the gateway that at least fifty or a hundred students have stepped over on their way in.

I appear to be the only one who cares about this. Perhaps the fact that I DO care is just further evidence of how out-of-touch I am with what passes for reality. I don't know. All I know is that it's discouraging, and that writing this entirely useless rant has served only the purpose of letting me get past it, at least for today. If you're still with me, dear reader, my apologies. I'll try to write about something that someone might actually care about tomorrow.

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