The $6 Joe can’t be purchased locally, but we have become a “privileged” repository of the brand’s classy paper receptacles, and trash of various other kinds. Everyone’s starting to notice the volume of waste being left behind by visitors every hot summer day.
A casual stroll at Fort Tilden on a recent Sunday morning turned up pizza boxes, coffee cups from stores we don’t have in Rockaway, and extensive vandalism of signs and roadways. Visitors had piled their picnic leftovers alongside the overflowing trash cans. On the day Jacob Riis Park opened to the public in the 1930s, 325 warnings were issued for littering. What a quaint practice!
When people from near and far have no respect for the littering and vandalism laws, it doesn’t surprise me that destruction and theft of eggs from the nests of endangered piping plovers has followed. Then there are the louts who consider themselves the volunteer fertilizer corps of the Rockaways, as a convenient substitute for curb-training their dogs. Don’t tell me it’s good for the trees – selfishness is the only justification for turning the neighborhood’s beautifully manicured tree lawns into doggie toilets …
Minor offenses often lead to more serious law-breaking. A vivid illustration in point — on Thursday afternoon, as I was walking toward the boardwalk, I was startled to see and hear fireworks exploding on the backyard deck of a house on the beach block of Beach 118 Street, well past the Fourth of July. Although the NYPD offered rewards for reports of illegal fireworks around the holidays, I decided to overlook the incident. Strolling past again on Monday, I saw a police scooter in front of the home and learned that a suspect was still at large, who had reportedly entered with a gun and pistol whipped someone inside. I felt guilty for not having reported the illegal fireworks display. Was it a mere coincidence that it occurred at the same address?
I consider it a privilege to live in a beautiful, safe and clean residential neighborhood that has not been overrun by Walmart, Target, Gamestop and Starbucks. Is it a coincidence that it is also one of the last seafront bastions of the tiny, harmless piping plover (there are fewer than 2,000 nesting pairs left on the Atlantic coast, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service). This bird has been pushed to the brink by short-sighted and greedy over-development of shore front areas.
I don’t find it amusing when local characters make juvenile jokes that “piping plover tastes like chicken,” and “it’s good on the BBQ.” Likewise, I was horrified when an area waterfront activist who has been the recipient of environmental education grants suggested at a summer 2010 public meeting that people are more important than birds, so we should just run the boardwalk over the plover nests! Maybe that’s the nature of our society today — to the selfish and short-sighted, man’s wants and needs must always come before those of other creatures.
If there is no enforcement of the littering, vandalism or pooper scooper laws, good luck to endangered species. As William Shakespeare wisely wrote in his play, Measure for Measure: We must not make a scarecrow of the law, setting it up to [frighten] the birds of prey, and letting it keep one shape till custom make it their perch and not their terror.”
The body of laws that protects the health, safety, and beauty of our public spaces is becoming a scarecrow. A scarecrow that is not covered with birds, but with flocks of ignorant, careless, selfish, lazy, perching humans. If we look away and say nothing, we are living in denial.
Put out a welcome mat for visitors and new residents? If we do, it should quote the sign that hangs over the bar at Rogers Pub: “Be Good or Be Gone.
Visit www.rockviv.com to order my book, Images of America: Rockaway Beach.