The clean-up was massive. There were beer cans and bottles, spent fireworks and cigarette butts strewn all about the park grounds. Dave just had to shake his head. There were garbage cans spread all through the park, logistically placed to be of maximum use to the estimated number of firework watchers. Yet most of the cans were nearly empty. Dave couldn’t believe all that anti-littering propaganda from the 1970’s and 1980’s he was so indoctrinated by had somehow been abandoned by current generations. It was just deplorable.
Dave adjusted his work gloves and started the work of cleaning this massive mess. He had a small grabbing, scoop device, something like the old ladies use to reach items on high grocery store shelves from the comfort of their scooters. It made Dave’s job much easier and there was at least a little less bending over thousands of times an hour. He wasn’t the only one in the field. There were several other volunteers with him spread across the park. So he hoped that the clean-up wouldn’t take all day, yet he had no illusions that it would be at all fast.
The grass was still damp from the morning dew and it was already starting to warm up as the sun lengthened overhead. It would be a hot day in the field and that distressed Dave more than anything. He’d hoped that his altruism might be rewarded with a cooler summer day. He realized now that wasn’t going to happen and he’d be a sweaty mess by the time the day was done. He was already sweating as he moved through the north section of the park. He had somehow drawn the short straw at the morning meeting and got the worst section of the park to clean. He’d already found three condoms and a pair of underwear mixed in with the garbage.
It was those things that bothered Dave the most. How could reasonable people these days consent to having sex in a park, during a fireworks show, surrounded by hundreds of other people? It baffled Dave. It made Dave feel a sad. It’s been a long time since he’d even been that close to a woman where the question of underwear removal was even an issue. He just didn’t care that much about it, yet, he really longed for that kind of intimacy. It was clear from the debris spread in the field that lots of people were certainly discovering that intimacy. A bikini top. A pair of men’s underwear. More condoms. It seemed to Dave that he’d wandered into the orgy section of the fireworks show.
He looked around for the other volunteers, to see if they were also amid the cast offs of intimacy, but they were too far away in their own sections. Dave picked up a few more beer bottles and cigarette butts. he thought that smoking was on the decline, yet the number of butts on the ground seemed to argue that statistic. He kept moving forward through the trash, trying to clear his mind of the hijinks that some couples seemed to have engaged in last night. It was tough. It seemed every time he found something new it tore at his heart a little more. One more crushed flower, one more condom wrapper, one more thong, one more lost ring, one more crumpled phone number written on some handbill were all daggers to Dave.
It was getting warmer outside fast. By the time Dave was halfway through his field he felt like quitting. It was just too much to bear. It seemed that he really had discovered some sort of love making grotto. The worst thing he’d found so far was an empty ring box. He’d guessed that at some point during the fireworks someone had found the courage to propose to another person, the ring box came out, the person said yes, the ring was slid on a finger and the ring box, now useless, was tossed to the side in a jubilant expression of loving embraces. Dave snapped the ring box closed and shoved it into his trash bag. It almost made him angry to see it but he really didn’t know why. His own feelings of loss and rejection, of foolishness and stubbornness, seemed reflected in that ring box and all the apparent love debris he was drowning in. It was making him feel too many things.
Dave finally saw the volunteer coordinator. A young man, a hippie of sorts, named Sasha. He smelled of weed and an intolerable sense of righteousness. Dave had only volunteered to clean the park in the hopes that there might be some women around. It was mostly guys, all hoping for the same thing. Dave walked over to Sasha and handed him his grabber/claw thing and the trash bag he’d been dragging. Sasha looked at Dave with confusion.
“I’m done,” said Dave.
Dave turned before Sasha could say anything about loving mother Earth or how he won’t get his tee-shirt if he left now. Dave didn’t care. He wanted to go home. He wanted to finish that book. He wanted to watch TV. He wanted to do anything else.
He got to the parking lot and saw a woman, about his age, also walking toward a car. She looked worn out and tired. Her feet and legs were covered in smelly mud. She appeared angry in her pace. Dave realized they had parked next to each other in the parking lot. He figured it was his only chance.
“Were you volunteering too,” asked Dave.
The woman stopped and turned to face Dave. She was tired, but still had a brightness to her eyes.
“I was. It sucked. They put me by the outhouses. I told Sasha he could shove all that crap up his butt,” she said.