The Litterbug Dilemma

mail-box_300Yesterday morning I had a strange experience, and I can’t stop thinking about it. I was on my regular commuter train from my little suburban town into Grand Central Terminal. It’s an 8:30 train, generally filled with men and women in “business attire,” whatever that means anymore.

I was minding my own business, trying to be cheerful about two grim realities: 1) It was Monday and 2) I no longer seem to be able to comprehend the newspaper without reading glasses. When we pulled into Grand Central, my husband—who was sitting across from me, facing the other way—sort of rolled his eyes and looked at the woman sitting behind me. As she rose from her seat, I saw that she left a sizable pile of envelopes, papers, bill inserts, and other miscellaneous torn bits of clearly personal household mail on the floor beside her seat.

Now, we are a fairly civilized train. Every once in a while someone will mistakenly leave a half-full coffee cup on the floor, which will eventually spill, covering unsuspecting shoes and bags and making everyone hate his fellow man for a brief period. But that is rare. We are, by and large, a clean and considerate bunch.

I took a good look at the litterer, trying to figure out if she was crazy. She was wearing a blue dress and espadrilles, with hair up in a barrette. Carrying an oversized bag (that could definitely accommodate lots of mail, both opened and unopened—just saying). Her look projected “suburban mom,” not “lunatic who commutes with a hunting knife in her bag.” Which made her behavior even more perplexing. And because I am a cranky middle-aged working mother whose belief in considerate public behavior has evolved at the exact same rate that my fear of confronting unpredictable strangers has diminished, I took the plunge.

“Excuse me,” I said in a friendly-but-passive-aggressive voice. “I think you dropped something.”

She stared at me for a second. “Thanks,” she said, and turned away.

Did she pick up the garbage? Of course not. Did I think she would? Not really. Am I glad I said something? I’m not sure. I walked off the train, watching her as she exited in front of me, trying to think of why a person would leave their garbage on the train:

• Hates Monday
• Has sick child and doesn’t care about anything else
• Going through a terrible divorce
• Caring for sick parent and has no room in head/life to be considerate to total strangers
• Is just, at the most basic level, a selfish jerk

Whatever the reason, lady in the blue dress, if you are reading this: I forgive you for your garbage. But I do wish I had picked it all up when your back was turned and snuck it into your bag.

If you want to hear more from me, you can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @kvanogtrop.


  1. Sarah

    kristin, you were nicer and more professional than i would have been. once when running past a smoker who dropped his cigarette butt on the sidewalk, i muttered OUT LOUD, “litterbug,” when i passed him. of course, his response was colorful. and not for posting. anyway, i think you and i both got the same response because people don’t like being called out on their negligent or stupid, or whatever you call it, behavior. but maybe next time, they will think twice before leaving their garbage in an inappropriate spot??

    July 8, 2014 at 7:13 pm
  2. Anna

    You’re so much nicer than I am. I would have said “Here, you dropped your mail!” and handed it to her. If she wouldn’t have taken it I would have then said “HERE you litter bug… you were leaving your trash on the train!”

    July 8, 2014 at 8:20 pm
  3. Kat

    My friend and I would find piles of mail and crap in the parking lot near our first apartment. It was the same persons mail day in and day out. We finally collected several days worth and mailed it all back to the person telling him to stop leaving his mail trash in a parking lot. We didn’t find much after that.

    July 8, 2014 at 8:53 pm
  4. Brenda

    It just seems like something like” Trailer Trash” would do… Seriously!!!! No consideration for anyone else that uses that train!
    How would she feel if the next time she rides the train there is no place to sit but a seat with a bunch a trash on the floor? I really hope she does.Karmas a bitch… Cant imagine what kind of mother /wife/sister/daughter she is! She disgusts me. I would have said a lot nore than what you said to her

    July 8, 2014 at 9:28 pm
  5. Heidi

    Wow, does your post ever resonate! We live in a wooded neighborhood and a (mostly) environmentally-conscious community. But most weeks, on trash pickup day, the same bin in front of the same house, has been pillaged by local wildlife (I think these “neighbors” put their bin out the night before…a huge no-no) and there is refuse all over the place! I keep thinking of ways to indicate our disgust, my fav being taking a pic of my family picking up their trash, captioning it “You’re Welcome!” and taping it to their front door.

    And isn’t it ironic? Real Simple embodies the streamlining of life so we can enjoy more of what is important. This person took care of the tedious mail-reading on her am commute (good use of time) but decided to streamline the housekeeping by, well, assuming someone else would take care of her sloppiness. She took the efficiency factor well over the line. How horribly inconsiderate.

    July 9, 2014 at 6:16 pm
  6. Cathy

    Well, I believe in Karma. Perhaps someone who is so careless with her personal mail and information will experience “identity theft.”

    July 12, 2014 at 8:51 pm

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