On the dementia unit, it is obligatory to put a lace paper doily on the table at mealtimes. This shall be placed on every table, at every mealtime, a requirement.

To some it is a symbol of corporate control lording over them, to others a small recognition of beauty. Some argue it creates contrast to see the dish on top for the visually impaired. To others it is a symbol of the details needed to be observed when serving food to a group of individuals whose lives literally rely on the details of meal preparation — puree, thickened liquid, mechanically soft style and awareness of allergies are all individually considered along with taste preferences.

Doily. The word itself is no onomatopoeia, completely missing the mark, sounding more like “annoy” or “hoity,” not in any way representing a beautiful, laced table dressing. It is not strange to me, but notable, that I have never seen a doily on the streets, littered about among the piles of the discarded, the temporary resting place before it is placed in a garbage receptacle.

Recently on my walks in town I have seen teams of people with neon green vests and garbage bags collecting the remains of friends’ and neighbors’ debris that has come to light as the snow has melted. Lighters, wrappers, cups with straws, plastic bags all exposed in littered piles along the side of the road.

Removing the waste clears the community visual field to draw attention to the beauty of the flowering crocus and bright green grass. Our artful neighbors who use the litterati app are among the few enlightened to reflect on debris and transfer their displeasure to a data collection and later art.   

Litter seems to be mainly a reflection of our community’s oral needs, mostly objects that have a final resting place after satisfying a nutrition or oral need in the hole in someone’s face. Taking a moment to reflect on the life of the object before it came to rest in a public space, and the life of my fellow humans before disposing of the waste, is a small practice in humility. I like to take a moment to honor them as I remove their narrative from the communal visual experience.  

It is an easy leap to imagine the life of my fellow man or woman who tossed the 50 ml bottle of Fireball, the can of Modelo, the package of flavored owl cigarillos, the Dunkin’ Donuts coffee cup, the Slurpie straw, the bag neatly tied with remains of a styrofoam plated dinner inside.  

But never in all my walks have I seen a paper laced doily among the litter. I think the closest littered cousin to the doily would be the floss stick. It takes a certain level of maturity to floss, and the floss stick on the pavement represents both personal attention to detail and complete disregard for public detail. A commitment to personal gum health in a public place, a new trend, as there was a day when flossing was limited to private spaces. The traditional box of floss, with a flip top and hooked cutter, and spool of 50 yards of mint waxed floss, is far more cost-effective than a bag of less than a yard of floss strung as a bridge with a tool for picking food from between teeth, so the picks also are a symbol of wealth and success. The floss picks, the “doily” of the oral hygiene world, can be found outside of gas stations, on the sidewalk near restaurants and along the side of the road for others to enjoy. 

While I can barehand a discarded water bottle, a juice box or Kit Kat wrapper, the abandoned floss stick has the privileged protective spell that goes beyond an ordinary piece of trash; these gems require a tool or a glove to be removed from our shared public space. 

All litter to me is a symbol of pain, a little gift of externalized anger, a tiny act of violence, and in a way, a healthy expression of rage and disrespect. The floss-pick litterers are the modern-day hippies with trust funds. They are like the people who wear the message “women for Trump” on their face mask. These are people not defined with shorthand labels; they are complicated and demand a little extra attention to respect their personal pain. 

So, my floss-pick litterers, thank you for sharing your oral hygiene garbage with all of us in the community, and broadening my public experience; your consciousness makes a difference, just like the doily on the table does.