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Tale of the Trash tells all

September 24, 1998

Tim RowlandScientists say you can tell a lot about a county by examining its rubbish.

For example, people who excavate landfills (and folks worry that this nation has a shortage of professions) say the richer the community, the more of the asparagus stalk they snap off and throw away.

I wonder about this, since I never see a lot of people paying with an Independence Card who are buying asparagus in the first place. Usually the closest they get to a green vegetable is lime Jello.

But scientists swear it's true. They also say the meat-shortage scare of the '70s was a hoax. They know, because when they drill down in the landfill to 1973 levels they hit a significant layer of store-wrapped steak and pork chops tossed there by hoarders who couldn't use all that they bought.

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It was with this in mind that I decided to participate in Councilman Wally McClure's Operation Pride and Groom, the Saturday sweep-up of city streets and stoops. I set things straight with Wally right off. I said "Look councilman, I'll help out with the cleanup - but no singing."

Learning about Hagerstown's garbage, I reasoned, would be a good way to learn about Hagerstonians themselves. And the first thing I learned is that, based on the number of cigarettes smoked, it's a wonder we're not all dead.

As far as I'm concerned, Johns Hopkins can stop all those research projects about why Hagerstown has such high rates of cancer and heart disease. The answers are right there on the streets.

If I picked up one filter, I picked up a hundred million. For the record, Marlboro is the most popular brand, although I did see some products that I didn't even know they made anymore, like Doral.

At first our team was charitable, saying that picking up cigarettes would be a good Boy Scout project. A half-hour later we started thinking that a penny deposit on each cigarette butt might be a just incentive. By the end of the project we were of the mind that heart attacks were too good for the people loading up the sidewalks with this rubbish.

We learned other things, too: Coke is the preferred soft drink, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups the most popular candy (followed by Starbursts) and vodka the most popular liquor. Any bar that would serve a Reese's Cooler (vodka, cola and peanut butter served with a chocolate-stuffed olive) would own this town.

While picking stuff up along one of Hagerstown's main drags, I came across a couple of rather impaired human beings I deemed disposable and started to put them in my sack before Wally stopped me and said the paperwork would make it more trouble than it was worth.

Outside of that, the day went pretty well, although I think Councilman McClure purposely cloaked the City Hall clock tower in canvas so we couldn't see when it was time to quit.

For anyone who's interested, the group will be back on the job at 2 p.m. Saturday in the mid-town parking lot. I personally will be in Canada that day, but it is just a coincidence - had I known my services would be needed to swab the streets I would have scheduled a vacation at some other time. Honest.

I know the Pride and Groom program has come under some criticism, because it lets property owners off the hook for the cleanliness of their establishments. But I think it says something that council members (Councilman Al Boyer was there, too, and Mayor Bob Bruchey performed a drive-by dedication) would pay more than lip service to the appearance of downtown.

Now if we could just do something about the name. Pride and Groom? Unfortunately, no one approved of my suggestion of Dump and Dumper.

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