The Floor of Invisibility

The other day I was riding the bus, hanging out in the back like one of the cool kids, when I noticed someone taking advantage of a unique property of public floors - the fact that they make things invisible.  This kid hopped on the bus a few stops after me, half empty Pepsi bottle in hand, backpack slung over one shoulder, and settled into the seat opposite me.  He quickly polished off the rest of his drink and started slowly peeling away the label.  As the pieces tore off he shoved them down between his legs onto the floor of the bus, slightly kicking them away.  When the label was totally gone, he set the bottle on the seat next to him and just looked out the window for the rest of his ride.

I was seething on the inside, because this is one of my particularly major pet peeves.  Working in restaurants I've noticed a tendency for people to let things that fall on the ground become invisible.  In fast food it is their napkins - used or not, the moment they hit the floor they disappear!  I am honestly startled any time I see someone reach down and pick up napkins that have fallen to the floor around them, because the standard is to just leave them where they lie.  Receipts and other paper goods also magically become invisible once they touch the magical floor of invisibility.

But the floor's magical properties don't just extend to paper goods.  Parents are particularly good at this trick - when you are getting ready to leave a table and notice that there are crumbs, or just chunks of food scattered all over the surface, someone will inevitably take a napkin and try to "clean up".  This form of "cleaning up" usually involves brushing everything off onto the floor and then ignoring it.  I mentioned parents are good at this trick, right?  That's because every time I see the disaster area that a child once inhabited, the table will be conspicuously brushed clean, while the floor for a two foot radius will look like a mini food-tornado hit. 

When closing at my restaurant I have to sweep under all the tables and chairs.  We're pretty busy, so while we do make an effort to sweep up messes during our shift, usually only the really major ones get picked up.  I'll pick up enough napkins off the floor to fill an entire dispenser over any given shift.  By the end of my shift as I'm sweeping up the debris of the past four hours, I usually end up with an enormous pile of discarded food that could make an entree all by itself.  These are the discarded pieces of food that the floor renders invisible. 

How can you avoid this?  Obviously you aren't going to get down on all fours and pick up every single lost tomato chunk, or piece of rice, or breadcrumb that you drop.  Eating can get messy too! You can't help occasionally dropping something (it's okay, I drop some food here and there occasionally too).  However, I tend to notice who has worked in areas with floors of invisibility due to some simple clues.  First, when they are brushing off a table, they'll brush it off into a napkin or onto a tray, which then gets dumped in a trash can, rather than on the floor.  They'll pick up their napkins off the floor if they fall (usually they don't fall at all, because people who have had to clean up after others tend to be more careful themselves).  Finally, in general they tend to eat more neatly - when my co-workers and I take our breaks, after our food is gone we can pick up our baskets and generally not have to wipe down our tables.  This is because we know how to carefully eat our food so that chunks don't go flying off into the distance.  I honestly don't know how people manage to eat their food such that half of their entree ends up on the table and floor.  It baffles me.  But people making huge messes when they eat is a completely different entry!

The real problem here is the same one that leads to littering.  Once you decide that the mess isn't your problem, you don't have to pick it up.  The restaurant pays someone (me) to pick up your napkins for you when you throw them around like confetti.  The bus hires people to clean up the trash you leave behind.  Someone is going to pick up that can or cup you left sitting on the wall.  Trash cans are always too far away, whether 10 feet or 2 feet from where you are standing.  No one believes in the "Pack in in, pack it out" philosophy - "I brought this onto the bus, so I should make sure I take it off the bus when it becomes trash"

Rounding back around to that kid on the bus.  About a half-dozen stops from my own he pulled the cord and grabbed his pack to leave.  His bottle and label remnants were all set to be left behind.  I stopped him, told him to pick up his trash and that he should be ashamed.  He did so, and a small part of me is hopeful that next time he'll be a little more careful about how he treats his trash. 

Listen, I hate you:

  • Trash you don't want isn't your trash anymore
  • The floor makes things invisible
  • You make a huge mess when you eat (More on this later!)

How to be likeable:

  • Pick up your garbage
  • Put your garbage in the trash
  • When you try to clean up messes, don't just brush them onto the floor

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