"Bob Levey speaking."
"Hi, Bob. This is one of your readers out on Sheriff Road NE. It's nice to talk to you. I read your column every single morning."
"Every single morning? You must have a pretty strong stomach."
"(Chuckles) Where do you find those comeback lines?"
"Well, ma'am, when I was 7 years old, I fielded a pop-up with my head. I figure that explains everything that has happened since, right?"
"I guess so. Anyway, can we talk about garbage?"
"Lot of people say I do that regularly, ma'am."
"I'm speaking literally. I'm speaking about the way people just throw away their trash without even thinking about it. On lawns, on the street, everywhere."
"Is it real bad out where you live?"
"It's unbelievable! I drive down Kenilworth Avenue to work every day, and people just throw stuff out the window, right on the highway. Newspapers, full ashtrays, bottles, they don't care. One day some man in front of me threw an apple core right out the driver's side window. It smacked right into my windshield!"
"That would be funny if it weren't so sad."
"There's nothing funny about it, Bob. And I'll tell you what there's really nothing funny about: the way the police handle this."
"What you mean is that they don't handle it at all, right?"
"Right! I've lived in this city all my life -- I'm 64 years old -- and I've never seen anybody get a ticket for tossing garbage out of a car. What are the police doing all day?"
"What are they doing? They're chasing murderers and rapists and bank robbers and . . . ."
"Then get some more police and enforce the rest of the laws, too! Do you know why we have rats in Washington, D.C.? Because people throw their garbage around. Do you know why there are almost no rats in the suburbs? Because nobody out there ever throws garbage around."
"You've got to be dreaming, ma'am. I was driving down Rockville Pike the other day and I looked over at the sidewalk while I was stopped for a red light. Cigarette wrappers. Those plastic soda lids from the fast food places. Potato chip wrappers. We're talking ankle-deep, mud-covered, wall-to-wall junk. And this was in glorious, heavenly Montgomery County."
"But out there at least they pick it up. In D.C., I wonder if the city even owns a garbage truck. You know what my neighbor told me the other day? She said she reached down to pick up some paper that was blowing across her property. You know what it was?"
"It was the front page of The Evening Star."
"You're putting me on."
"Bob, I wish I was. Now, how long has the Star been gone?"
"More than three years, ma'am. Wow! Yeah, I'll have to grant you, that's a bad one. Three years is way too long for a piece of newspaper to be blowing around."
"But it happens all the time in our neighborhood, Bob. I just wonder what we can do about it."
"Well, one thing we can certainly do about it is to hire more trash collectors. But as the saying goes, all that takes is money. And last time I checked, the city didn't have a lot of it to spare."
"Can't they borrow it? Or something?"
"Well, I do think the federal government could help the way it helped back in the 1930s, with an Urban Cleanup Corps, or something like that. What I mean is, you hire unemployed inner-city kids for the minimum wage, give each of them a trash-collecting spike and tell them to go clean up the city. Then, once they've done it, people will be a lot less likely to chuck trash out the windows of their cars."
"Now who's dreaming?"
"Maybe so, ma'am. Maybe so. But I really think it's tougher to throw the first Coke bottle into a clean gutter or onto a clean empty lot. The second and third and so on, those are easy. The first, there's a little unseen force that holds you back for just a second."
"I think that pop-up really messed up your brain, you know that?"
"You're not the first one to say so. But seriously, if we made one good citywide effort -- one clean sweep of the town -- I think things would stay better for quite a while. Isn't it at least worth a try?"