The Lighthouse

the lighthouse

11 March 2015

In which I was shocked. Shocked, I tell you!

I witnessed something shocking yesterday, and it is a sign of our times that what I witnessed did shock me.

I was driving the back roads yesterday afternoon, baby-drunk from having held sweet little Beauty in my arms for an hour when I noticed the car ahead of me weaving. (Editor's note: being baby-drunk is not an impairment to safe driving habits.)  Nothing too alarming, just a gentle - but consistent - swoop from one side of his lane to another, like a somnolent version of pong. It didn't concern me too much because he stayed inside his lines and he was good about coming to a complete stop at the stop signs, and he slowed to 50 when we went through the village.  That lawful attention to the speed limit is a clue, by the way. It would be a detail Hercule Poirot would tell his assembled audience as he unfolded the solving of the crime, but they wouldn't have paid attention to it, thinking it an unnecessary detail.  Pay attention, dear reader! It is a clue.

After a four-way stop, just as I cleared the intersection behind him, his window rolled down, and out went a cigarette butt. (I'm sorry, Reader, if you are a smoker, but smoking is a filthy habit. Gum up your lungs if you must, but please don't huddle in front of public doorways so the rest of us must pass through the miasma of smoke... and please don't toss your ends on the sidewalk!  It is garbage, so throw them in the garbage!) (Oops, sidetrack!)  The cigarette hitting the road was the moment when I gasped in shock - though a mild, almost-amused version of shock. And then I scolded him. He probably didn't hear me because we were in separate cars and all, but I couldn't help myself. I even shook my finger at him. My father would have been proud of me, as he was a champion finger-shaker.  And then, a beer can flew out of his window! A beer can! At four in the afternoon! Right out the window! The nerve, the gall, the brass of the guy, first of all to be drinking beer while driving, but most of all that he just opened his window and let the can fly, for all to see, like he didn't care who knew he was drinking and driving.  But more than that - he was littering and driving!

So there I put the pieces together: his gentle wandering within his lane, the oh-so-careful complete stops, and the close attention to the decreased speed zones. The man was drunk. Clearly he didn't know he was littering.

Get this: this morning I witnessed it again. Oh, not the drinking and driving, thank goodness as the sun had barely cleared the horizon. No, a man ahead of me pitched first a large bundle of crumpled fast food restaurant napkins and then a paper cup right out into the middle of a busy four-lane city street. I was not amused. No, this time I was angry. I considered taking a photo of his licence plate and sending it to the police with a detailed account of his crime. I thought about following him to his destination in order to berate him. Then I wondered if a loud honk of the horn would adequately communicate my utter disgust at his behaviour. By that point he'd pulled over into a left-turn lane, and as I drove up alongside him, I noticed the complete Pig-Penian state of his vehicle: pizza boxes on the rear window ledge, newspapers and other clutter on the dashboard piled so high I could barely see him. He probably didn't have anywhere to put the napkins and cup but the street. If he'd tried to add it to the landfill inside his car, the doors would have given way and everything would have exploded outward like a jack-in-the-box.

Canadians are no more or less human than humans found in other countries. Yet my belief, whether based on fact or the opinions of visitors from away, is that Canada is a fairly tidy country. In general our cities are clean and the country-side free of trash. We've been taught in our schools to "give a hoot, don't pollute!" and "don't be a litterbug", and to recycle everything, even the kitchen sink - to the point that it is now nearly the most heinous crime most of us will witness in our real lives (apart from watching tv, that is) so vile and unconscionable does it strike us.

This was brought home to me when I watched a season or two of Mad Men. As you know, it's about a man who stole another man's identity, lies, cheats, and works with lying, cheating, womanizers who spend their work day drinking scotch and smoking cigarettes. All of that I took in stride. Oh, Don, that philanderer, I'd think to myself, prepared to excuse his infidelity and explain away his lies.  But then in one episode he did something I just cannot forgive him for.  He took his family on a picnic to a lovely green park, and when they left, they left behind their garbage!  Right there in the open! He didn't even look for a garbage can!

I was shocked!  Shocked, I tell you. I gave up any hope of his redemption at that point.

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