Devil's Head Diary

Socially Distant Amusements


In this era of social distancing, being out of the loop has been an adjustment, especially since there are no loops to be in. With meetings canceled, routines disrupted, latte stops eliminated, the squares on the kitchen calendar have become virgin territory.

What to do with all this unscheduled time?

My husband, David, and I were once habitual, even chronic, exercisers. The first disruption was the pool closure, setting our daily water aerobics group adrift. The second blow came when the YMCA shut down. No more tai chi, no sword form for me; no weightlifting or treadmill for David. We were soon bemoaning the deleterious effects of our innate couch potato natures. Were we really going to watch all 635 episodes of “Gunsmoke”?

We thought a walk up to the mailbox would do us good. The round trip is one mile with a wee incline that Fitbit counts as four flights of stairs. The saunter put a dent in our cycle of inertia, but not quite enough to quell the restlessness. Adding a bit more to the walk made sense. But for the purpose-driven, a walk should have a goal, so we toted plastic bags along to pick up cans, bottles, candy wrappers and other treasures along our tributary of the Key Pen Highway.

I feel no remorse about my lack of compassion for graceless people somehow compelled to discard their debris along the road. I can only imagine these pampered but ill-fated souls had mothers or maids to pick up after them, depriving them of the opportunity to learn how to deal with detritus or master other basic life skills.

But de-littering a local road has its own subtle rewards: It is akin to spying on your neighbors. In the first few days, their signature behaviors became evident

There was Cigarillo Guy. Obviously, littering the interior of his vehicle with cigarillo plastic tips was unthinkable. He — and I unapologetically assume he is a he — usually finishes his skinny cigar within in a few yards of the intersection at 88th Street.

Another neighbor seems to need one more drink before tucking in for the night. He (or she?) tosses their mini-bottles between 72nd and 76th. Do you suppose the impact of favorite watering hole closures has created a boost in mini-single-serve booze sales?

Also, I do sympathize with the habit of those anonymous smokers repulsed by the idea of retaining their own cigarette butts, avoiding periodic in-vehicle clean-up by just flicking away that annoying ciggie stubble. But I hereby request that they please use the installed purpose-built receptacle — some call it an “ash tray.” They may have no worries about starting a roadside fire, but the worst offenders are those who opt for tossing their butts in gag-inducing mixtures of partially filled booze bottles.

But our litter reduction efforts have paid off. Our right-of-way is now relatively trash-free, except for Cigarillo Guy and mister or miss One-More-for-the-Road.

To compensate for the reduction of entertaining treasure hunts, and missing the benefits of deep squats, we went to work on the Scotch broom.

Although we are making steady progress dislodging the golden horde from our road south to Devil’s Head, several stands still flourish. We have encountered dense patches of resistant individuals that will not yield to hand-pulling. More aggressive attacks with shovel and weed wrench will soon be part of the battle plan.

You may think this is a curious way for a couple of 80-year-olds to spend their twilight time, but for several years I thought it would be fun to make April “Scotch Broom Eradication Month” on the Key. I thought a catchy tagline for the effort would be “Pull Your Own Weight — In Scotch Broom,” especially appropriate if the kick-off date was April Fools’ Day.

One motivator for our ongoing effort was figuring out exactly what “Pull Your Own Weight” entailed. Upon reflection, I realized that for me the stated goal may be out of reach. I have learned that by leaving the bigger plants for David and not working fast enough to generate a my-size bundle means that if I am going to pull my own weight, I will have to go back on a serious diet.

But when I paused to look back at our handiwork, the unsightly Scotch broom debris left behind was appalling. As soon as David empties the truck of gravel he uses to maintain our private road, we need to drive that 4-mile stretch of the Key Pen Highway to pick up the scattered golden wreckage. Who knows, by the time that happens we may even uncover another month’s worth of spent liquor bottles and cigarette butts.

Award-winning writer Carolyn Wiley patrols the byways of Longbranch.