on the side: trashed

thoughts on what we leave lying out

The other day, while doing laundry, I caught myself scraping dryer lint into a recycling bin. You can’t recycle dryer lint, of course. It’s not recyclable. It’s as absurd as recycling the dust that sticks to the skin of a belly button.

I know that. Yet, I almost recycled it. Since there was no trash bin in the laundry room, I was tricked into thinking that the recycle bin—the only bin in the vicinity—must have been the proper one for my dryer lint.

The bin was full of other students’ dryer lint. So I assume that many like me, out of inattentiveness, had made the same mistake. They probably hadn’t even noticed afterwards.

I am no environmental enthusiast, but I usually take care to recycle my recyclable trash and put the rest in a trash bin. Sometimes, though, I’m careless.

I’ve wondered if that carelessness says something about me, or if the average Brown student is also careless about where he or she puts his or her trash. In the student lounge of Minden, where I live, there is usually a lot of trash lying about.

Today, for instance, I see in the room two newspapers, four ripped-off edges of notebook paper, an empty Ziploc bag, the red wrapper from a pair of chopsticks, an empty bottle of Coke Zero, small bits of miscellaneous paper, an empty bag for Gushers, an empty Febreze container, an empty flavored water bottle, a half-empty cup from Subway, and an empty sushi box; these things are lying on the floor, left on a chair, half-hidden in a corner, or baldly set, as if to make a statement, on the main table.

If someone wanted to, they could, I suppose, dispose of all this trash easily enough. The Minden trash room is about twelve feet from the lounge, through a swipe-access door. There are five blue recycling bins in the trash room, along two of the walls, and eleven gray trash bins, along the two other walls. I noticed today that someone had left a Canon printer on the floor here, in the far corner.

My impulse on seeing a thing as nice as a printer left out is to immediately carry the thing to my room and plug it in. If it worked, I would have fetched myself a free printer. I didn’t do this, but if I had, I would have made the woman who raised me proud.

She was my grandmother, and she was, you might say, a cheap person. Thrifty. Attentive. I remember her telling me once, as we sat on the couch in her apartment, that she’d never had a day of rest in her life. I said she should rest more. She told me that for people who had learned to “do hard work” (she wasn’t employed, I guess she meant housework), “resting is a distraction.” Sitting down, her eyes were always noticing things: little pieces of trash that needed picking up, dust that needed wiping, a pair of socks a child had left under the couch that needed to be put away.

I, the granddaughter, had always been criticized for being the opposite—lazy, dirty, appallingly careless. I left trash—candy wrappers, used tissues, orange peels—everywhere. She was forever picking up after me.

I’m older now, but I still have bad habits. I often forget to line my trash cans with bags. It has always seemed too basic. But now, when I look, the bottom of my trash cans are sticky with a sort of reddish sap, an ooze that seems, somehow, to keep record of all of the filth that’s ever come out of me.

But I do use trash bags when my parents are visiting. Those days, I clean the room up and down, taking every scrap off the floor and looking it over before throwing everything out in the end. I want my parents to understand that I take care of myself just fine, thank you very much. But my mom always finds something maddeningly simple to stick me with—the sink is too dirty, she said the last time. Clean your sink.

I objected that it was not dirty—it wasn’t!—and she went to CVS, bought rubber gloves, walked back to Minden and cleaned my sink for me. The rubber gloves are still today hanging in the bathroom. I haven’t thought of any use for them.

For me, the bottom line with this whole business is this: Cleanliness just isn’t that important. I like being clean, but I also like my classwork, and my friends, and lively thinking, and learning to read literature—all of these things I value just a tad more than I value cleaning. I will do it, but I don’t like picking up bits of trash. It’s boring.

To my grandmother, though, and my parents, I guess, and to many people living outside Brown, or outside of Providence, or outside of this prosperous country, this simple value statement of mine must make no sense. They might even think it dangerous, though I can’t at the moment imagine how.

A night not long ago, I was in the bathroom on my hall, and I noticed something that struck me as strange. To the right of the sinks, as if a slice of the wall had been removed, there was a tiny gap. I looked down the gap and had to laugh. It was too small and narrow of a gap to put much in, but someone had squeezed into it, made their way to the back wall, and placed a tiny black flowerpot on the floor there. Over time, a person must have noticed the flowerpot, because it was full of balled-up paper towels. They lay in a heap on the floor beside it. But I don’t think this “trash can,” if I can call it that, will be emptied for a long time. The janitors may not have even noticed it was there.