We filled up two big black trash bags. And I'm using the word "we" fairly loosely here.
I dropped off baby Brody at a friend's house yesterday afternoon, and picked Jake up from preschool right after nap (his, not mine; I don't get naps). I had to bribe him with a Slurpee to get him to leave school before closing circle, but he came without too much protest, and picked out a cherry-orange combo at 7-Eleven. We went home and armed ourselves with gloves, brooms and a dustpan, and set out for the alley a half a block from our house. I should have taken before and after pictures of the alley, but of course this idea didn't occur to me until we were well into the clean up process, so you wouldn't have gotten the full effect, and besides, I didn't bring my camera anyhow. But here's a pic of Jake in his fabulous gloves.
Jake had a lot of thoughts about how all the trash had gotten into the alleyway in the first place, and what was going to keep it from coming back again in the future. In the end, he thought the most plausible reason for the trash was that the people who used the alley must not know where to find a trashcan to throw away their stuff. "Christy," he told me (I have no idea why he no longer calls me mom, but we're on a first-name basis now), "I think the people must be too tired to carry their trash all the way through the alley, and so they drop it while they're walking. Maybe if there was a trashcan at the beginning of the alley, they wouldn't have to carry it so far."
Sounded logical enough to me, but I pointed out that there are two sides to the alley, so people could enter from either place, depending on which direction they were headed. Jake of course decided this meant that we needed two garbage cans. Somehow, I talked him down to one, which we could place in the middle of the alley. I'm pretty sure that he was still worried that people wouldn't be able to hold their trash until they got to the middle, but I pointed out that they would be able to see the trash can from each side, since it would be at the corner of the 90-degree turn. And maybe seeing the garbage can up ahead would be enough motivation for them to hang on to their waste just a little bit longer. So yes, we also brought along a trash can with a lid to leave in the alley. Which I guess I am now responsible for checking and emptying on a regular basis?
Jake tried sweeping up the trash, but the big broom was difficult to maneuver. He tried picking up trash with the dustpan, but found it hard to scoop up more than one piece at a time. He tried pulling weeds, but pulled so hard that he fell back onto his bottom. He tried picking up the trash with his gloved hands, but, well, it just wasn't fun. And this reminded him of the fun he was missing by not being at school. "Christy, I bet all the friends at school are waking up from nap and saying, 'Where's Jake? Why isn't he here to play with us?'" So, it was my fault that not only was Jake missing out on the fun he could have been having at school, but I was also making the friends at school sad because they wouldn't get the chance to play with Jake.
I found out that the alleyway does get some use, by people other than us. We saw one family walk through while we were on our way there. Another man walked by in the other direction, just as we were about to get started. And one lady walked through while we were in the midst of Operation Clean Up. (It occurs to me now, that if I had described this to Jake as more of a tactical mission à la The Penguins of Madagascar, then maybe there would have been slightly less complaining. Probably not, though.) The lady politely asked us why we were cleaning (were we affiliated with the nearby church?), and nicely thanked us for the job we were doing. Jake noticed after she had gone, "She was able to carry her trash the whole way through without dropping it." I guess she wasn't as tired as some of the other people Jake imagined to be passing through.
As you may have guessed, the afternoon involved a lot of talking (on Jake's part), and a lot of trash collecting/sweeping/weed pulling (on my part). In the end, I think we did a fairly descent job. I left behind a few small weeds (some of them really were difficult to pull out of the cracks along the sidewalk). I'm sure I missed a few small pieces of broken glass (the broom doesn't work so well over the really uneven sidewalk). And there were a few large glass bottles stuck behind a utility pole that I couldn't figure out how to remove without breaking the bottles (I still have no idea how they got wedged in there in the first place). But, we did remove two large bags that were literally bursting with trash. And we left behind a trash receptacle, the effectiveness of which remains to be seen. I felt pretty proud of what Jake and I accomplished together.
Jake also seemed pretty proud, too, when he told his dad about what we had done later. "But, Christy," Jake asked me, "Next time you decide to clean up the alley, can you not invite me?"