Along the river where I live, there is a little path where the Muffin Man and I like to walk in the early evening. As the sun gets low in the sky, it glitters on the river, flashing iridescent winks of light to mask the murky stew that slooshes by. It is a nice little path, a momentary and convenient respite from the concrete and brick. However, the path is dotted with reminders of human influence: debris left after nights of debauchery carried out by squatters and young students bent on rebelling against society’s oppressive expectations in the most stereotypical fashion.
Upon closer investigation of this sight, I felt depressed. I felt annoyed. I felt the way I felt when my brother would leave bits of hardened toothpaste in the sink that we shared through childhood. I would fastidiously rub those white splotches down the sink.
While my ostentatiously sanctimonious piety has diminished with age (feelings of moral and hygienic superiority can only get you so far), old habits die hard. The other day I slipped on some rubber gloves and filled up three full garbage bags of things from along the river.
I found: old beer cans/bottles, hard liquor bottles, candy wrappers, pieces of styrofoam and cardboard, unused condoms (uh oh?! Still can’t decide if I would have preferred finding used ones), women’s underwear (leaning towards used condoms now), a broken purse, pizza boxes, paper coffee cups, a golf ball, and more. LOTS of plastic bags. LOTS of cigarette butts. It was actually hard to pick out the cigarette butts; I realized that I was so used to seeing them that they had blended into the background of reality.
While I was out there a young man came and sat in the path to pluck quietly on his bass guitar. He spotted me and said, “Thanks for doing that. I’m sure you have better things to do.” An old man out for an afternoon walk inquired about my activities and applauded me with a quiet, “Good for you.”
I felt very uncomfortable. I wasn’t doing this to seek recognition. And I’m not writing this for that either. Sure a pat on the back is nice, but it struck me as nonsensical to commend something that so obviously needs to be done. When did we think we had a choice whether or not to care? When Bass Guitar said that I probably had better things to do, I thought of saying, “You mean things that would obviously benefit me.” And that seems to be the problem: we have forgotten that we are all connected, that your garbage is also my garbage, and that the rejected parts of us cannot be buried in the ground and ignored, because they do not go away.
“But I don’t litter,” the dear reader protests. Indeed, Dear Reader. But we are all interwoven into these strewn bits of refuse. I’m thinking that it is not a choice, but our duty to take care. I’m thinking that rejecting the parts of our character, our society, our possessions that we have deemed undesirable is an unhealthy practice. I’m thinking that the real art of living is becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable, and that means embracing the whole, not just the parts.
I don’t know how this translates really. Should we all quit our jobs and become “activists”? Should I wear hemp, and only hemp? In these moments I feel great camaraderie with Eliot’s J. Alfred Prufrock.
Once in a while things happen that send loud reverberations to disturb the timidity of my daily life’s rhythms. It is time to reset and rethink.
If comfort cannot be found in the moral and ethical sparrings of the mind, at least I can find it in my kitchen (as long as I don’t think too hard about it). There isn’t a dish more loving and reminiscent of Mother than buttered green peas. With the formation of mandibles there is no need to puree them, unless you want to get really nostalgic, in which case put on a bib and get someone to feed you in a high chair (good luck squeezing into one of those). I have yet to get my hands on some fresh green peas, but I hear they will BLOW YOUR MIND, so I wait quietly to pounce on some. In the meantime, I will be consoled by their commercial cousins, the frozen green pea, whom still possess a faint shadow of summer vitality, or so I convince myself.
Comforting green peas
A giant pat of butter (as much as you can bear, and then some more)
A couple large handfuls of frozen peas, washed of ice and drained
Heat butter gently. When it starts to lightly bubble, add the peas. Swirl gently until peas look warm and cuddly. Add a few generous shakes of salt and tumble into a bowl. Eat with a spoon, under a blanket. When the bag housing the peas in their icy coffin is empty, consider reusing to store other edible delights or as a garbage bag.