Girl after Swine

We are a nation of pigs. Having just returned from the post-Labor Day beach, I can reach no other conclusion.

Will Rogers State Beach, the jewel of Pacific Palisades, California, looked like a garbage scow. Never, ever, ever – not growing up at the Jersey Shore, not in twenty years combing Southern California beaches – have I seen a public beach so callously trashed. From jetty to jetty, water’s edge to parking lot, the sand was strewn with brightly-colored rubbish. Bearing witness were legions of tall, covered trashcans. Empty ones.

Amidst the wreckage sat an elderly couple sipping cocktails. Perched on their sand chairs, surrounded by garbage, they looked like an ad for an anti-litter campaign. “Have you ever seen such a mess?” I greeted them. “Well,” said the so-proper woman, “it was a three-day weekend.”

I don’t care if it was a thousand-day weekend. When did it re-become okay to toss our trash around?

“They don’t know any better,” explained her husband. Really? Do we really need a PhD to grasp the plainly visible fact that trash left on the beach gets blown into the sea, or washed out to sea, and that trash left anywhere near the sea is a very bad idea?

I spied a large, plastic sand pail with a broken handle. Apparently that made it disposable. I picked it up and filled it with the bottles, juice boxes, and fast food wrappers poised for take-off on the next wave.

A young girl watched closely. She asked if I worked for the city. I said no, but I lived in the city, and I hated it when people trashed it. She, no taller than a barely-used trashcan, nodded.

On my third bucketful of rubbish, a fortyish woman grabbed a plastic bag and joined in. “Remember ‘Keep America Beautiful?’” she said. In the 1960’s, Lady Bird Johnson’s campaign to de-litter our highways was a rousing success. In 2007, according to Caltrans, L.A. County freeway trash is up 30 percent.

“Keep America Beautiful” has been out-shouted by “Keep America Afraid – Very Afraid.” Which explains why perfectly nice people see not-so-nice people toss their trash into the street or the ocean, yet say nothing: we may be appalled, but we’re afraid to say Boo.

This past July 5, Will Rogers State Beach was covered in red, white, and blue trash. On my way to a swim, I picked it up. “I’m with you!” a weathered lifeguard yelled. “It just kills me when people throw their crap around.”

“What do you say to them?” I yelled back. This would be good. The beach was Brawny Bob’s turf. Moral high ground, big biceps: he had to have a “Toss it in the Can” message no one could refuse. But Mr. Muscles looked suddenly squeamish. “I, uh, I don’t say anything. It’s, uh, not my place.”

But it is his place, and it’s our place too. We live here. Yet when I ask litter-haters how they confront litter-makers, they uniformly protest, “Oh, I can’t do that. I don’t want to start anything.” Or, as my mother used to warn, “Don’t say anything! Somebody might get mad.”

Well, somebody is mad, and that somebody is me. Littering is disgusting and rude and completely unnecessary. Asking someone to stop it is not only reasonable, it’s civilized.

What in the world are we so afraid of? We might, what, hurt the feelings of a self-centered boor who’s trashing our beach, our city, our planet? And yes, litter is as urgent an issue as global warming, because it’s the same issue. Hummer drivers and laissez-faire litterers will keep guzzling and littering until we stand up and announce that it’s really pissing us off. Like we did with dog owners who didn’t scoop the poop – and now they do. Like we did with smokers who clouded our airspace – and now they don’t. Peer pressure compels us to be crazy consumers. It can also compel us to be sane disposers.

As the sun went down, I saw that young girl pack the remains of her family picnic and personally escort it to the nearest trashcan. As she lifted the lid and dropped it inside, she looked very proud of herself. This wasn’t the magic hour I’d had in mind, but it was a very nice moment.

Donna Chapin is an ambivalent advertising writer and a committed environmental activist. She can be reached at: Read other articles by Donna, or visit Donna's website.

6 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. JBPM said on September 26th, 2007 at 9:03am #

    “We might, what, hurt the feelings of a self-centered boor who’s trashing our beach, our city, our planet?”

    Self-centered. Boorish. Trash. And those are the GOOD qualities of the average American!

    I’ve tried for a decade to wrap my brain around the claim (made by Noam Chomsky) that people are basically good but that they have been systematically hoodwinked into buying into a way of life that is detrimental to them. I’ve realized that I can’t believe it anymore.

    Americans on the whole are willfully ignorant, which means that they actively search out the sources of propaganda that will reinforce their self-centered, boorish, trashy, small-minded view of the world.

    The author is right: it doesn’t take a PhD in ecology to figure out that throwing trash on the ground probably isn’t the nicest, prettiest way to dispose of it. It also doesn’t take a PhD in political science to grok that “free speech” means the freedom of speech for your opponents and those whose views you revile, but most Americans seem oblivious to this fact. That’s why we get “free speech zones,” college student taserings, etc. It doesn’t take a PhD in government to figure out that the folks in the White House are LIARS.

    All it takes is for people to begin seeing things clearly and thinking about those things clearly. That, however, means seeing ourselves as something other than God’s gift to the planet (something most Americans are loath to do) and having the gumption to stand up and say so.

    Sadly, I think the only thing that will wake Americans up is having our asses completely and utterly kicked by the rest of the planet. It seems to have worked wonders for the Germans.

  2. Marikken said on September 27th, 2007 at 3:47pm #

    It’s not that bad everywhere. I go hiking in the Rocky Mountains a lot and it is very rare to see litter on the trails. Not all Americans are pigs.

  3. mutterhals said on September 28th, 2007 at 9:38am #

    I live in Pittsburgh and the litter is deplorable. It’s everywhere. I once saw a man casually toss a paper dinner plate and fork out of his car window. The number one complaint non-Pittsburghers give regarding this city is the filth. You’d think that would be impetus enough to clean it up.

  4. David Gaines said on September 29th, 2007 at 11:57pm #

    It is a peer pressure issue, no doubt about that. This is a good wake-up call, but it needs to be in Parade magazine and Reader’s Digest, not just Dissident Voice. Hell, I’ll settle for The Progressive magazine and the Christian Science Monitor…….

    It’s also a laziness issue. People will do what is convenient, particularly when they know there’s no downside to it or that no one will reproach them for it. One time when I was in Brazil with a friend, I watched this old woman walk up to him and berate him in Portuguese because (I am not making this up) his shoes were dirty. I was warned by travel guides I read prior to the trip that this sort of thing occurs all the time in Brazilian cities, but I didn’t believe it. I think we need some old ladies in THIS country wagging fingers and kicking ass.

  5. ralpho said on October 8th, 2007 at 2:01pm #

    The author is right,We are all room-mates and live in the same house, wether we like it or not! And most of us don’t want to live in a dirty,sloppy, unhealthy house ,So as long as we HAVE to live together…THROW OUT YOUR GARBAGE YOU PIGS! DON’T LEAVE IT AROUND OUR HOUSE!

  6. Paul said on October 23rd, 2007 at 12:51am #

    I don’t see what the big deal is. I litter all the time and when I go back the rain has washed the litter away. Here is a video about littering.

    Pcrossfarmington @ yahoo . com is my email if you want to tell me what you think of my littering