At this stage of life, it is best to acknowledge, yea, celebrate one's idiosyncrasies. As my friends and family know, I cannot resist picking up trash from the sidewalks and streets as I am taking a walk. But not all trash. I focus on recyclable containers -- bottles and cans -- which I collect and put in the city's green recycling bins.
Here, for example, is a veritable kitchen sink of such items, collected in only a single one-mile walk on the way back from the grocery store. It is an anthropologist's dream: Small liquor bottles and beer cans tossed out by teenage or college drivers; water and sport drink bottles left behind by health and exercise fanatics; and so on.
My collection habit may arise from working for Michael S. Dukakis when he was governor of Massachusetts. MSD is an inveterate trash collector. See this story from 2003 by David Abel. The pertinent quote: "I mean, look at this crap!" he growls, finally snaring the offensive refuse. "It's appalling, disgraceful. There's just no excuse for it."
I had always felt the same way, and Michael, in essence, gave me permission to ply my craft.
At BIDMC, I was assiduous about picking up trash in the hallways, but this habit had another purpose. The Boston Globe's Douglas Starr noted this in an article back in 2003:
"I subscribe to the Disney theory of cleanliness," Levy explains. "If you leave one scrap of paper on the floor, it quickly becomes two."
This paper-scrap business has become a thing at the hospital, a bit of in-house schtick. . . . One day he and chief operating officer Dr. Michael Epstein were walking down the hall when both of them spotted litter on the floor. Epstein looked at him and said, "Mine or yours?"
But back to my mentor, Governor Dukakis. When he left state government in 1991, I found the perfect going-away present for him, an authentic trash pick-up stick, with a firm plastic grasp and a very sharp point. Here is a duplicate, one I kept for myself. But try as I might, I cannot yet bring myself to start spearing paper waste. Maybe, he if has worn out his stick over the last 20 years of cleaning up Brookline, I'll recycle mine and send it over to the Governor.