So if any of you have ever been to the Big Apple and descended into the depths of its subway catacombs, you know that, especially during the summer months, it definitely smells overripe—and that’s not because of Mayor Bloomberg’s new “no showering” laws. Rather, it’s because of the bounty of garbage overflowing from the sporadically spaced garbage receptacles.
What to do? Force New Yorkers to wear their refuse, like they do in Paris? Nah:
At the two stations that have been without trash bins since last fall — the Eighth Street and Broadway station in Greenwich Village and the Flushing-Main Street station in Queens — the number of trash bags hauled out by workers has decreased by 50 percent and 67 percent, the authority said.
I know those two stations well. In fact, some of my finest arrests for littering have occurred there. (You have to understand—I consider all civil laws mere suggestions until ruled on definitively by either the U.S. Supreme Court or the panel of judges at America’s Got Talent.)
The psychology of the thing seems to be this: You see a garbage can upon alighting from a subway car and you assume you can throw out your garbage in the subway station, right? And when the garbage can is full, you assume that allowing your garbage to casually slide off the top of the can and onto the floor is more or less acceptable, given the fact that it’s not your fault that the can has not been emptied by the appropriate professionals.
But, if there is no can to begin with, you assume it is your responsibility to wait until you get aboveground (or, in the case of Flushing, to street level) before disposing of the remains of your nine-course luncheon from Sal’s Pizza, Panini, and Cal Zone.
It makes a wacky kind of sense. Of course, you have to assume that most commuters are reasonably responsible and make some kind of effort to play by the rules and not stink up the joint to begin with. Those jackanapes who cannot be bothered, or who insist on treating subways like the British Museum Reading Room (don’t ask), will simply throw their detritus on the tracks or toss it under benches (which Mayor Bloomberg has now had embedded with broken glass to keep the homeless from sleeping on them, a part of his War on Homeless Obesity—better they get some exercise running from the police than simply lounging in public and making the city look bad in front of people who wouldn’t be caught dead riding the subways in the first place).
I wonder if this laissez-faire approach would work in other areas of civic life? If no speed limits were posted on highways, would the average driver drive more slowly then usual for fear of unwittingly going too fast? (This assumes that there is some limit acknowledged by authorities.)
Taking this one step further: If there were no prices on goods in stores, would consumers pay more on average, thinking the piece of useless crap they’re purchasing to be more valuable than it is (and thereby rationalizing in some weird way the outlay, because what they’re buying is really cool)? Or would they assume it’s less expensive, so they could justify dipping into the iron-lung money for one more iGadget?
What about in the area of health? If there were no warnings on cigarettes, OTC meds, or anything with Aspartame, would we be more cautious about what we consumed or experimented with on some quack’s recommendation, or less? Do the warnings in and of themselves give us a weird peace of mind, because we assume that some Master Authority out there has dotted all the i’s and crossed all the T’s and wouldn’t be trying to scare us so badly if there really were something to be scared about?*
Oh the human psyche. It’s like it’s all in your mind…
*I know these hypotheticals are not strictly analogous to the NYC subway garbage-can scenario, but that’s the tricky thing with analogies, they can run right into the metaphorical, except when they’re more like allegories, which is very much like a simile, but nothing like a euphemism, which bears a striking resemblance to a figure of speech.