Papers should catch messes, not be part of them

Posted by GT on October 11th, 2008 — Posted in Newspaper columns

Originally published in September 2006, The Daily Sentinel, Grand Junction, Colo.

Please, do me a favor. If you’re reading these words on a page spread out on some public restroom floor, pick it up and take it with you when you’re finished.

If you’re not interested in keeping the paper and there’s no recycle bin handy, then go ahead throw it in the trash.

Want to get my goat? Don’t bother telling me you’re going to line a birdcage with my column because I’m delighted to think my mug might be smiling under thousands of seed-stuffed parakeets. That’s a spectacular use of newsprint.

I keep a stack of old newspapers near my workbench and spatter them with paints and glues while working on model kits. Newspapers have caught the cast-off pieces of dozens of my daughters’ art projects. I’ve seen sheets of newspaper being used to protect just about every conceivable surface while work is being done nearby.

Saving carpets and tables from stains … perhaps that’s not noble, but it’s definitely handy. For only a couple of coins, anyone can have a decent-sized roll of flexible, mess-absorbing paper. What a bargain!

Plenty of experts think newspapers will have to evolve into Internet-based entities if they want to thrive in the 21st century and maybe that’s true, but if it is, I suspect a lot of things are going to get messed up in the future for lack of something to cover them with.

No, if you want to bug me, don’t do it by pointing out one beneficial alternative use for the product to which I’ve dedicated my professional life so far. It’s a good thing people turn to newspapers to prevent some nasty messes.

If you want to bug me, use the paper to make the nasty messes. Throw them in the back of your pickup and let them scatter when you drive, perhaps, or just decide they’re too cheap to bother toting around and leave them wherever you are.

Which brings me back to the floors of those public restrooms, fondly known by many as “reading rooms.” You might be in one this very moment, looking at my column because it was facing up on the page when the previous user dropped it.

I think people in general try to be basically polite to one another, so I don’t know what could inspire so many of us to just drop things for someone else to pick up later.

Even if it doesn’t come naturally, I’m sure most of us heard from someone when we were growing up that we should clean up after ourselves. My mother is the one who said it most to me.

Perhaps some of us consider it a courtesy of sorts to the next visitor to leave a newspaper spread out on the floor, but I suspect such people have never been in the position themselves of cleaning up after others. They’ve also probably never heard the sigh or seen the head shake of the custodian who has to pick up all those newspapers at day’s end.

I’ve heard that sigh, though, and seen that head shake, and felt pretty bad about only watching as a tired fellow stooped to pick up all those papers on the floor and deposited them in the trash – which was only a few feet away. The next day, and every day since, more papers covered the floor.

More than one of the jobs I’ve held put me in the position of actually being the person who sighed and shook his head. My bosses and I both thought I had better things to do than clean up messes that were made not because they had to be made or because of some accident, but because someone simply felt like making them. But it was me or nobody … and “nobody” is pretty much how I figured I was regarded by the people who put me in that position.

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