Monday, August 30, 2004

Petty criminal

Yesterday I volunteered to clean up the park near my place. A morning spent picking up garbage and filling plastic bags provided by the park service. I thought that it could be fun and instructive: the opportunity to explore the park in places out of the reach of the public. Sometimes, one just has to admit being wrong. Soooo wrong.
The park ranger doesn't show up so the organizer cancels the plan to enter the river. We will have to stay on the river's banks.
After the brief introduction, we all go our merry ways. Bending, picking, throwing, bending, picking, throwing. I concentrate around picnic tables. The ground is covered with bottles' caps and cigarettes' butts. Beer and coke. They are dug into the ground. Hard to get out. It's the beginning of the day. I am full of energy and enthusiasm.
After one full garbage bag, I'm ready to move on to something more fun. I team up with one of the guy there and we go exploring and cleaning the river's bank. It's smelly and I'm not sure it's all mud.
We encounter a large group of people, painting the river from all different spots. It's the monthly meeting of the area landscape painters. Mostly old people, using the same colors to draw the river and the small waterfall there. Twenty persons looking at the same spot and giving back their own version of the facts. Where, then, are the facts?
We leave the painters ("Thank you for cleaning up the trail!" - "Thank you for painting!") and get back to work on the trail and around another set of picnic tables. A family is there. Three kids playing video games, their back to the river, the parents trying to convince them that this is fun. I am picking up the garbage right next to their table. They look at me as if I were their personal servant. This is the moment the other volunteer chooses to tell me "They must think that we have had a hell of a lot of speeding tickets". He is laughing thinking about it. I don't understand. "What do you mean?". "Well, normally this kind of work is assigned to petty criminals. Speeding tickets, DUI. You know, community service." Well. No I didn't know. Vaguely taken aback, wondering why I am upset to be mistaken for a petty criminal. It does not happen that often.


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