Butts and Bins

March 26th, 2009 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

smoldering cigarette ashI used to smoke cigarettes. While I haven’t had one in 30 years, as a newspaper reporter and magazine writer, I smoke a lot of them — 40 or more a day.

That came to mind today as my wife and I drove home. The garbage guys has been by and as usual, they flung the plastic can in our parking space in front of the house.

We’ve long gotten over having to move the gigantic recycling bin and one or more trash cans to leave or return. What struck me was what commodities the cans they are to the guys in the big trucks.

trash canOf course, the can go willy-nilly. They are the cigarette butts of the trash folk.

I remember when most people smoked and how easy it was to be casual with the butts, the matches, the packages. If I knew a smoker, I would say to pick up the crap, but that kind of littering was so common.

As a smoker of non-filter cigarettes (Camels), I got to feel a little irrational superiority. I grew up in a home where any littering was unacceptable, no single gum wrapper and no butt even in a storm drain. There were street trash bins or your pocket for that. My mother even carried a silent butler, a little lidded case for her butts.

I took a peculiar if small pride in field stripping my used Camel butts. Wadding and rolling the paper in to a ball made for an easily disposable dot. Moreover, if it ended up on the grass, it biodegraded and dissolved quickly. The little bit of tobacco itself actually was fine for grass and soil, adding tiny nutrients and no bad chemicals. Mostly though, I made sure they were dead and put them in an ashtray or trash can. When my car ashtrays were full, their contents went into garbage and never on the street.

I kept company with various women, all of whom smoked filter cigarettes. I’d insist that they not flick the butts out a window or onto the street. I must have been a pest.

In terms of crimes against the environment and public health, I was not the worst sinner. However, in retrospect, all smokers, which was the majority of American society, were guilty enough. We didn’t know from second-hand smoke then, but oh, the mess.

So today, seeing the can again sprawled in the parking space, I can project into the pickup guy. It was just another can of hundreds that day. It was just a lid to fling left and the can to toss kind of toward the curb. They were the butts of his morning.

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