Butt Patrol

Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: Macroinformation.org & Knatz.com / Teaching / Society / NoHier / Local Institutions /

Giving the public tours at Highlands Hammock State Park, what the park calls interpretation, for the season from October 1989 through April of 1990, I was designated OPS: some acronym for temporary full-time employment. As I’ve said: I didn’t want to be employed full-time, I already was employed 24-7 as a writer, philosopher, lover of life … Neither did I want to work for $5 per hour. But I certainly did want the public entrusted to my instruction on the environment, so I had to compromise in other areas. Thus, I accepted assignments other than the interpretations. I was happy to pull weeds, mow grass, patrol trails … clean the bathrooms: so long as I was asked to do the latter in moderation only. Six or seven months: I’d put up with a fair amount of scut.

I soon learned that the park exhibited behavior that reminded me of Ruskin’s characterization of capitalism: A hires B to do X at Y dollars, B hires C at some fraction of Y dollars to do the work. A ranger would be told to pull siezer weed from the South Canal berm. The ranger would be given Community Service workers to assist (CS workers: guys convicted of drunkenness, driving without a licence …). The ranger would sit in the truck, engine running, air conditioning on, while the CS workers pulled the weeds. As an OBS I was treated half like a CS worker. My solution to my dilemma was to work very hard at what I believed in — giving the tours, pulling the alien weeds, and sparing faint attention to the other chores. Asked to cut grass, I’d do it fast, and skip back to the South Canal where I’d pull seizer weed way past quitting time.

One morning I’m asked to assist “the Morning Gate.” That is, one ranger has a series of duties that day that ranged over much of the park, and that day I was his helper. First task: police the one mile entrance way. He drives, I ride shotgun. “Pick up all the cigarette butts you see,” he instructs me. He starts driving. “There’s some,” I say right away. I jump down and pick up the couple I’d seen. From ground level I see more.

He kept urging me back to the truck, I kept seeing more cigarette butts.
In other words, an assumption went with being Morning Gate: there must be some litter along the entrance way, pick up some of it: five or ten minutes worth. If I had been assigned to pick up five, ten, or fifteen minutes worth of litter, I could have done it, no problem. But my instructions were to pick up all the cigarette butts I saw. Picking up cigarette butts I’d also pick up the gum wrapper, the crushed beer can … Actually, if you looked carefully, the entrance way was full of litter. They could have assigned just me to do a thorough policing and let the ranger go off to do the rest. By noon, perhaps by the end of the day, I’d have finished, or at least know how much more there was to be done. But no, the Morning Gate had programmed himself to notice some litter, and to pick it up. Imagine being given two sandwiches to distribute to the poor of India. You can give one sandwich each to two hungry kids. You can give a half sandwich each to four hungry kids. But you cannot feed the poor of India with two sandwiches.

I tell this story in order to suggest that the principle applies at large. 10,000 manuscripts arrive over the transom at the publishers. What’s the slush pile reader to do with them? Read one? Glance at two? Skim three? I’m sure your average slush pile reader knows what the publisher expects: this is junk, don’t expect much from it. Not pk; pk would try to read each MS carefully.
So what if most are junk? What about the ones that aren’t?

How much litter did the Morning Gate see diving the wagon at seven or ten miles per hour? The bushes were filled with beer bottles, bottles that had been there for months: all missed by the normal Morning Gate.

Many a time since I’ve noticed: the whole park is full of trash: most of it just off the roadway. But it has to be half on the road before the rangers will see it. Get on foot. Walk at the road side. Poke your head among the bushes. Trash galore.

I’m reminded of a novel, probably by Thomas Perry, probably one of his Jane Whitefield novels (I recommend any such (but read The Butcher’s Boy first)): guys are chasing the hero. The hero jumps out of her car and runs across the field, enters the woods. The chasers drive around, looking for her to come out on some other road. The bad guys can’t leave the road, can’t leave their cars! Exactly. The rangers seldome left the road either. If something couldn’t see it from the cab, they didn’t see it. (And if picking up the trash meant getting wet or mucky, the trash remained.)

I have to confess, I did years later see one example of the rangers doing a thorough job, not from a truck cab. Corinne (cute blond!) and another put the canoe into Little Charlie Bowlegs Creek and removed every single water hyacinth plant from the main waterway! I’d taken out hundreds and hundreds of pounds of water hyacinth from the catwalk area myself, but never cleared the whole stretch. (Naturally, the hyacinth has come back since then.)

2016 10 03 When my tram season came to an end I pointed out to Paul Rice, Lt., second in command, that I’d uprooted every single siezer weed plant along the South Canal (except for where it clustered at the Cross Canal. Another few hours labor would have cleared that too. I told Rice that it would be very easy to maintain the South Canal in that area from then on: all they had to do was do it. I’m going to go back to the South Canal this month and check it out: I bet the entirely of the South Canal will be choked with siezer weed. In any case, I’ll report back.

pk Stories Social, Hierarchical
by Age by Theme by Others Institutional Stories
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About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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