I don’t know who assigned me the job of worrying about perfect strangers, but I find myself with yet another random person to feel responsible for.
Mentally, I just think of him as the Marlboro-Smokin’ Dude of Seventh Avenue. I wish his own mother would worry about him, but somehow she foisted it off on me.
About a year ago, I mentioned that I had made myself the designated neighborhood garbage picker-upper. As long as I was out walking my 2-to-4 miles in my neighborhood anyway, I might as well make myself useful and pick up the trash along the streets. So twice a week, I make sure I bring along a bag or two and I clean up my neighborhood. I net about four bags of garbage a week. (We are evidently a very trashy 'hood.)
About a year ago, I started noticing the Marlboro-Smokin’ Dude. Every day, like clockwork, he throws out an empty Marlboro pack in almost exactly the same spot on Seventh Avenue. He crumples up that cellophane-wrapped pack and tosses it out his car window right into the curb—slam, dunk, two points. So if I pick up garbage on a Saturday, for instance, and then go out again on Tuesday, I can be sure that there will be three crumpled Marlboro packs in the gutter. Bing, bing, bing. He’s my man. Dependable as the sunrise.
So this morning, I was worried. It had been three days since I had last picked up garbage. My bag was already half full by the time I got to Marlboro-Smokin’ Dude’s little stretch of road.
Whoa. What was this?!? No crumpled Marlboro packs.
I scratched my head. Was something wrong? Did Marlboro-Smokin’ Dude move? Was he sick? Give up smoking? Take a different route to work? Did he die of Marlboro-induced lung cancer?
I worried the whole way down Seventh Avenue. Was he okay? Sure he was a littering slob, but he was my littering slob.
Before I headed home, I decided to search Marlboro-Smokin’ Dude’s gutter one more time. Fallen autumn leaves made my search more difficult. I took another swipe through, kicking aside leaves as I went.
He wasn’t dead after all. There, nestled among the brown leaves, was his signature crumpled Marlboro pack. Thank goodness. I thought I was going to have to call the police with a missing person report. Granted, it was only one pack instead of the three I was expecting. But at least I knew he was alive and coughing—er, kicking.