Becoming “That Guy” by Eric Nuzum


PoP contributor Eric Nuzum doesn’t want to be “that guy”. Ed. Note: I will happily accept someone mowing my yard…

I think one of my goals in life is to never be “That Guy”: the person who does things so stomach-turningly earnest that you are unsure whether to nominate him for a mayoral citation or kick him in the nuts.

Good deeds are great things, and should be encouraged. However, there is a category of good deeds that really aren’t that good at all: things like mowing a neighbor’s yard or trimming their bushes when they didn’t ask you to, arranging everyone’s trash cans in the alley, taking down someone’s holiday decorations, or offering unsolicited advice on how to fix a sagging gutter. They are usually activities that seem well-intentioned, but you quickly realize “That Guy” isn’t doing these things to be nice. “That Guy” is doing these things because he passive/aggressively wants them done his way and on his timetable. In other words, it’s all about him.

Why do I fear becoming one of these people? Because every Sunday morning I sneak off to secretly do my own borderline version of this: pick up trash.

Chances are that if you happen to be hanging around on the corner of 3rd and Emerson NW, you are probably there to do something terrible. And, of course, by “something terrible” I mean you are there to litter.

Even though many of my neighbors suspect that the loiterers who congregate on that corner are attempting to buy or sell drugs, newborn puppies, or sex, I know the truth. People travel to the corner of 3rd and Emerson to eat food and drink beverages, then drop the empty containers and wrappers on the ground. Given the amount of trash on the corner, I’m left to assume that a McNugget combo somehow must taste better when consumed on my corner, leaving the eater so deliriously content that they drop the packaging where they stand and then skip blissfully to their day’s next adventure. Continues after the jump.

So just about every Sunday morning, I head outside with my grab stick and plastic bag, and pickup up all the debris. Why so early in the morning? Because I really don’t want anyone to know I’m doing it. Again, I don’t want anyone thinking I’m “That Guy” who picks up trash.

The need to do something is almost compulsive. For example, last Tuesday I was walking down the block on my way to the Metro and saw about a dozen discarded lottery tickets along the sidewalk. And they were there on Wednesday morning’s walk. And Thursdays. By Friday, I was thinking about how I’d pry them off the pavement after that afternoon’s rain. Then, Sunday morning after walking the dog, there I was, sneaking up and down the block picking up the tickets, along with a collection of plastic to-go boxes, empty Funion bags, and a commanding array of Mountain Dew cans and malt liquor bottles.

Why not pick up the tickets when I first saw them, you ask? Well, (a) sometimes (bordering on often), the homeowner/resident will notice the trash and clean it up themselves, and (b) if I did, I wouldn’t be able to stop there–I’d start picking up everything. I’d show up at the Metro each morning with armfuls of broken glass, chicken bones, Snickers wrappers, and discarded shoes. (Which, incidentally, could be the subject of a whole other posting–how can someone lose ONE shoe walking down the street? I mean, I see solo shoes haphazardly strewn down the sidewalks of New Hampshire Avenue almost daily.)

I really am not doing this to be fussy. While far from blighted, our little corner of Petworth looks a lot better when the trash is picked up. Since a lot of my neighbors are older, I’m one of the few on our street who can bend over to pick up a stray Safeway flier, let alone stand back up afterwards. Still, I can’t help but feel a little icky about going up and down the street, picking up trash from other peoples’ yards. Somehow doing this ends up feeling a heartbeat away from dropping off paint chips with a note saying “Your shutters would look good in these colors!”

Some of the neighbors have caught me doing my covert trash detail–and they thank me. But I’m not sure if they are saying that because they mean it–or because it’s what they think I want to hear.

This all came to a head for me the other day when I was looking at the growing yard of an empty house on the corner. I found myself wondering if I should cut the grass. You know, to be nice. But then I started thinking, “Nice to whom?” Was I doing it for the benefit of the neighborhood–or because I was tired of looking at a tall and lumpy yard?

So tell me dear readers? Are you ever “That Guy” yourself? Do you have a “That Guy” on your block? What do they do?

68 Comment

  • I had that guy as a neighbor once, only he sent his people to mow my grass and cut down my flowering bushes. I still hate that bastard.

  • I am that guy….LOL I live on the 5000 block of first street . I clean along 5000 block of 1 street NW and gallatin toward north capitol. Keep up the good work…maybe we can tag team the neighborhood cleaned up!

  • I said:

    Maybe we can tag team the neighborhood cleaned up!

    But I meant:

    Maybe we can have a tag team operation and clean up the neighborhood.

  • I am “that guy” in the deep recesses of Rock Creek Park, where I’ve removed many many pounds of Mad Dog bottles and other trash over the years. I gave up on my own street, am near a school.

    This city needs many more “that guys”, until at least half the residents understand the meaning of civic pride.

    (now I sneak home and quickly mow my own shaggy lawn. don’t tell)

  • yep i’m that guy too. we have several that guys on my block (1900 2nd st nw) so it stays pretty tidy despite dozens of pieces of trash being discarded on it every day. i too feel awkward about it when it gets away from my house.

    i’m also that guy about watering treeboxes and even occasionally my neighbors’ yards. oh and snow shoveling.

  • There is nothing to be ashamed of. I used to do this all the time on my old block and will likely do it on my new block soon now that the weather is warming a bit.

    You’re just trying to improve our fine City. It sets a good example. It helps reduce the flow of litter into the Potomac. It helps you enjoy your walk to work. If there were more folks like you willing to leave the place cleaner than they found it, we’d have less litter blowing around our streets. Perhaps rather than the monthly clean up day, we could do it weekly!

    I don’t think I’d cut someone’s lawn though. Perhaps they want it tall to provide habitat for birds, or to sequester more carbon, HA! 😉

    What we need is already happening in Adams Morgan, Capitol Hill, someone getting paid to go around with a broom and bucket, keeping our streets clean.

  • What snooty neighborhood did that pic come from? I wish I could afford a brand name malt liquor like Schlitz. Instead, it’s St. Ides or Steel Reserve 211 for me. While they do get the job done, they certainly lack the finesse, bouquet, and complexity of Schlitz. Yet the do compliment a cheese course of Squeeze Cheez, fruit wraps, and raw hotdogs.

  • Note that up north, around Georgia and Piney Branch to Missouri area, one of our churches (Emory Beacon of Light) pays guys to do clean up. They can’t keep up with the enormous quantity dumped at GA/Missouri, but they do a good job. During the summer, youth green teams also do cleaning there, causing hilarious chaos in the process. Shoutout to Emory!

  • Monkey, you live in VA, quit frontin’. You probably get fine wines as litter, and toilet paper smudged with gold.

  • i kinda think you are overthinking this… there’s nothing wrong with picking up trash when it moves you. If there was someone who actually took it upon himself to keep my block clean all the time I would appreciate it.

    Personally, I have shoveled my neighbor’s walk in the snow and mowed their (admittedly, tiny) front yard a few times. My motivation had nothing to do with passive-aggressiveness or making them feel bad, it was simply that I was already doing it, had the requisite equipment in hand, and thought it would be a nice thing to do. And when I’ve had nice things done for me like this I’ve simply been appreciative.

    Now I’m not spending my every waking hour polishing the sidewalks. But I really think the vast majority of people do stuff like this just to be nice, and not to make a statement.

  • I had a neighbor in Kensington who would mow my lawn. Later I found he expected me to have sex with him “in exchange.”

  • I LOVE that guy!!

    I had a neighbor in philly who was a real man… you know, motorcycle, truck, and every home maintenance and lawncare implement ever invented. When he trimmed his hedges, he just kept going and did mine too. He actually owned a snowplow attachment for his truck; he plowed the whole alley and all the neighbor’s driveways, and then spent the rest of the day prowling the city for other alleys to plow. I made him cookies.

    Anyway, there is no shame in being that guy. And by the way, Eric, you write very well. So you’ve got that going for you, too.

  • Nothing like a post around which we can all pow-wow about how awesome we are for picking up x trash in y locality. Three cheers for veiled self-aggrandizement.

  • If some feel it’s alright to throw trash all over the place, publicly urinate, and mar various surfaces with grafitti, then I have no problems with those who pick up trash and work to keep the neighborhood clean.
    My personal strategy is a little bit at a time. I’ve got a garbage can between my house and the Metro, so when I leave the house I scout around for a likely candidate, usually a beer can, Express newspaper, or Best Buy flyer, and scoop it up on the way. On the way home it’s a little trickier to do, bringing trash in while juggling mail and my work bag, but when I go back out to the gym in the evening I repeat the process. I highly recommend it, it’s very satisfying.

  • I think you should rewrite this post as a call-to-arms for cleaning of community spaces.

    Betty Pair (one of the ANC 1A commissioners) has been quietly picking up litter on her block and alley for several years, and it has resulted in neighbors who are WAY more attentive to trash. Her alley is spotless compared to mine, just a block away, but she told me that she doesn’t clean up THAT much — her neighbors have just caught on.

    As an experiment, I spent a few hours cleaning my alley last summer and, to my surprise, found myself getting a little assistance from two neighborhood kids and one drunk adult. Now that the weather is warming up, I hope to make a weekend tradition of it, to see how my block responds.

    Also, most hardware stores carry those trash-grabber arm extensions things, for just a few bucks, so you don’t need to bend over all the time.

    Nobody wants to be “that guy” – so don’t get carried away harping on your neighbors about their gutters – but cleaning up trash is good for everybody, even if selfishly motivated. At the very least, it controls the rat population, but it undoubtedly contributes to public safety (and social capital) in many other ways.

  • I don’t like to take credit for the good deeds I do. I just post write ups about how I don’t take credit for my good deeds on the internet.

    Just kidding.

    You’re doing a good thing but there is no need to be self conscious about being caught in the act.

  • White Man’ s Guilt: Self-loathing due to a desire not to live in trash strewn, unkempt neighborhood and taking steps to improve their community.

    People who litter their streets are acting against there own self-interest, whatever their race or income-level. What you are doing is unquestionable positive, so please keep picking up litter, no matter how much navel-gazing it entails.

  • @Monkeyerotica

    I used to have a wicked Ice Cube St. Ides poster on my fridge in college. Sadly no fridge full of 40s behind that door. Mostly just questionable leftovers and moldy condiments.

  • I am NOT that guy… I think at one point in my life I thought I could be that guy.

    I stopped being that guy after spending a couple hours walking down an otherwise beautiful country road picking up trash only to have some bastard honk gleefully and throw yet another piss-filled beer bottle from the rusted hulk of his IROC.

    Then I moved to Petwort and quickly downgraded myself from ‘Not That Guy’ to ‘”I think Thomas Malthus was onto something”, Guy’. These days I am content to recycle my own rubbish, encourage similar actions to people in my immediate sphere of influence, and occasionally verbally assault the funion dropping masses.

  • @monkeyrotica

    The 2-1-1 is liquid paradise.

  • I actually think littering is a recognized form of nonviolent resistance in DC, ie people think that by throwing trash they are sticking it to the man. Ahhh amusing children (pat on head).

  • Some folks litter to keep property values (and taxes) down in an effort to slow down gentrification. I don’t think it works though.

  • The test of this post is dumb dumb dumb

    Let me rephrase this. About 3 years ago I was at the Mt Pleasant farmers market and there were these 7-9 year old kids walking around. One of them says something like, “Look at that ugly litter” and another one says, “I hate black people because they always litter” and another said, “They always throw their trash on the sidewalk.” I was with my son who was still in daycare, cut them off and said that wasn’t fair and they scuttled off.

    Allowing this city to fill up with trash breeds racists. End of story. You simply MUST be a playa hata and hate the playa and the game equally in order to put a halt to the sidewalk litter.

    My favorite litter incident occurred with a well known to POP drug crew. They had snack bags and junk all over their stoop but when I walked by the thing that jumped out was 6 empty blister tabs of Oxys.

    Called the police on them naturally.

  • Neener, what the hell are you trying to say?

    Call the police on litterers. Hee hee, I needed that, good one. Thanks!

  • I am proud to be “That Gal”!

  • This reminds me of Christopher Lloyd’s character from the Michael Keaton movie “Dream Team.” The movie’s like a lighthearted version of Cuckoo’s Nest and Keaton goes into a home for the mentally ill and somehow arranges a field trip for all the guys there to go out to a ball game. Lloyd’s character couldn’t walk 3 paces in New York city without stopping to pick up the trash. That was his compulsion and what had gotten him placed in a home for the mentally ill. There’s this scene where he’s trying to get somewhere but keeps stopping. He has to talk himself out of it to be well again.

    I have the “that guy” tendencies and when they kick in too much I think of Lloyd’s character and back off a bit. Dude couldn’t get anywhere.

  • Hey I live on 4th & Emerson. 64 Bus. If you ever see a black guy (early 30’s) walking the block with ipod smoking a joint early in the AM, feel free to introduce yourself.

  • I actually get a lot of trash that blows from the corner of 4th & Emerson down into my yard. Not to mention the Latino family has a lot of get togethers causing the trash to blow downstream. I tried talking to them to no avail.

  • More power to you, dude. I wish there were a lot more “that guy”s out there, but the numbers never look good to me. I started out with ambitions to “that guy”-dom but eventually got to a point where it was all I could do to keep my own front yard clean. I don’t know what it was that broke my aspirations beyond my gate, but my finalists were (a) watching my neighbor, who otherwise struck me as a perfectly reasonable woman, sweep all her the trash out of her yard onto the curb and leave it there; (b) seeing the vast majority of a 3-item Chinese carryout dinner impaled in its container on a fence post … and then remain there for 3 days; (c) having a 5 year-old kid essentially tell me to go f*** myself after he shattered a juice bottle on the sidewalk in front of me and I asked him to help me clean it up so people and pets didn’t cut their feet; or (d) watching a guy in the middle of a busy Saturday afternoon at Giant get in his car directly in front of the entrance, then get out and place an empty soda bottle on the street, feet from a trash can and in the middle of at least 100 people.

    There generally is no shame in littering in our ‘hood from what I detect. I actually wish you’d make a show of your actions so people might feel some tinge of guilt that you’re out there cleaning up after them.

  • @Nate: Hey neighbor. I’d like to pretend that there are more young dudes with iPods smoking joints while walking down our street then there are, but our street just isn’t that cool. However, feel free to introduce yourself as well–I am often walking along Emerson in the morning (a) picking up trash, (b) walking my little bulldog, or (c) catching the 64! No reefer cigarette or music players involved.

  • I sometimes become that guy when I wash the dishes in the sink at my office. It just pisses me of that people are so rude as to just leave them in there.

  • My absolute fave is watching folks throw stuff AT the trash can. Not in it, just at it.

  • Eric,
    It seems most of my trash is corner related. Your block should get better now as the house at the corner of 3rd & Emerson is vacant & up for sale. All the hellraisers lived there.
    P.S. My personality is not as cantankerous as it is comes across on the web. We should get together offline one day and do a corner cleaning. Or better yet, hang out and drink a beer.

  • @Pennywise–I haven’t seen toilet paper smudged with gold since I graduated and stopped drinking Goldschlager.

  • Dude,

    I pick up the trash around my entire block every time I take my dogs for a walk (2-3 times a week depending on weather). I admit I get really pissed off at having to pick up the exact same trash in the exact same location every time and I get annoyed at the amount of cigarette butts in front of Wonderland every day…

    I also shovel the snow from our block’s sidewalk and on my adjoining neighbors walks.

    There is nothing wrong with doing the right thing. And, in a neighborhood still plagued by indifference and trash, setting a good example can help get people to care more about their neighborhood. And that helps everyone.

  • Eric – I live on 4th and Delafield and trust me I know what you are talking about as I often walk to the 64 bus. Reality is the garbage all along 3rd from Decatur to Emerson is terrible. When ever I walk by I think did a garbage can just exploded? I often wondered whats up with all the empty beer cans/bottles (someone like heinken) and the fast food bags. If you ever want to do a joint clean up and include Delafield I’m in, I think my husband and neighbor would help as well.

    Also my husband, neighbor and I have seen an opossum running around the alley way between 300-400 block of Delafield and Emerson so becareful. I have reported it to DC gov’t but am not sure if they have found him yet.

  • Opossums are delightful animals really, very shy. Ugly as sin but nothing to worry about.

  • I think the city bears some responsibility for the trash situation. Littering has basically been decriminalized here [if it ever was illegal]. I can’t remember if it was MPD Chief Ramsey or the current Chief, but they sat in front of the city council and said with a straight face they couldn’t ticket anyone for littering because there wasn’t a little check-box on their ticket forms. City council apparently took that and said ‘ok’. I’d love to see the stats for littering tickets issued citywide.

  • i hope all of you ‘that guy’ folk are coming out to the PoP cleanup on april 25th, 10am at grant circle!

  • the oppossums I’ve met sure as hell aren’t shy or delightful. Bared teeth and hissing more like.

  • You sure those weren’t rats? Opossums generally run or play dead. Maybe they’re a meaner breed in DC… Gangsta Possums!

  • Nate- what’s the ethnicity of your neighbors have to do with the trash in your yard? I mean if you you really want to go there…

  • Econ 101- oh please.

  • yeah, what’s with all the goddamn littering in DC? is this really one of those “stick it to the white man” things?

  • Please share Ada? As one of the few Chicano people in the neighborhood, the ignorance of that remark. Add that to the chipotle postings and you’ll see a gross misunderstanding of Latino culture and broad generalizations made to a group that deserves more respect in this region.

  • Econ101 Says:

    April 7th, 2009 at 2:52 pm
    Nate- what’s the ethnicity of your neighbors have to do with the trash in your yard? I mean if you you really want to go there…
    Hey it was not meant to offend. I should have said there is one large family that has get togethers in our block that is the sourceof a good bit of the trash yard. Otherwise, they are very nice people. Is Latino offensive? Should I have used Chicano instead? I ask out of ignorance.

  • I will say that 3/4 of the newspapers blowing down our street are El Tiempo. How do you explain that?

  • Probably from the non Hispanic homeless people that use them as tp. I’m sure they’d use the Post if it were in the free news boxes or the Onion if the hipsters didn’t snatch them first.

  • Anon- that is real stupid. Your clearly trying to pick a fight.
    Econ- i did not read Nate’s comment as an assault on Latinos or chracteristic.

    I just think that we, people of color, need to pick and choose our battles wisely.

  • My house is between a convenience store and a popular curbside hangout, so there is a constant stream of litter every day. These folks will drop a wrapper or bag right in front of me and be completely unaware that it might make someone else upset. I tried to engage in one of them that litter is ugly, and his reply was “Someone will clean it up.” So at least in my ‘hood the mentality is that someone else will do it for them (a kind of entitlement?).

  • I hate that it’s come to this, but the trash coming down 6th Street NE from the Market is so bad we are putting up wire mesh around the bottom of our fence to avoid having to clean up every single day. I grew up in WV (home of the roadside dump) and the litter problem here is somehow worse. What gives DC? Is it really a means of giving it to the man? I wish folks would start pooping on the Capitol steps instead, that might actually get the man’s attention.

  • Yes, I am suggesting that people call the police or rather, call the council on litterers.

  • I walk to the Fort Totten stop every day and i have the option of a) be extremely annoyed with all the trash that piles up from the nearby laborer hq or b) just pick up a piece of trash every time I walk by. I’ll never catch up to the trash at that rate, but at least I feel like I’m doing something.

    Our neighborhood “that guy” grew up on our block and mows the lawns of all the old ladies who have lived there forever. “That guy” makes for a great neighbor.

  • Ya’ll got nothing. I live between Georgia Ave and a high school. Twice daily waves of litter!

    Neener: you cannot possibly be that ignorant. Our council won’t even really outlaw using guns in crime. We ban guns, but if you get caught with one, that’s okay, we’ll let you right out! And you think there’s a litter crackdown possible? C’mon…. Councilmembers don’t have to see litter cuz they get to drive to and from the Wilson building and other DC gov buildings. They don’t exactly walk the streets with you and I.

  • Then perhaps we should take the litter we are collecting from our neighborhoods and drop it on the steps of the Wilson Building. Then we’d be those people. And that would be alright.

  • Eric: feel free to be that guy in my neighborhood any day of the week. Trash stinks and litterers suck.

    Nate, Ada, Econ: this discussion works the same for any race. Even when added to simply paint a more accurate picture for the story being told, that one word can change from an innocent adjective to a loaded one. In this instance it went from being a simple descriptor of the family (if we take Nate’s word for it, no harm was intended), to meaning something more (that being Latino had something to do with the littering). A lot of people roll their eyes at those who take offense to it, but it seems clear we aren’t to the point as a society where we can talk in such a way without it meaning something more (either to the teller or the hearer).

    Nate: as for the proper word to use, Latino is generally acceptable. “Chicano” is more specific, meaning someone born in the US of Mexican descent. Even more technical, a Chicano is only the first generation born in the US of Mexican descent. Thus, a Chicano cannot have a Chicano child.

  • there is a huge difference in doing someone else’s landscaping who doesn’t want it done, and picking up trash in a public space. under what philosophy of civilization is the latter something about which to feel guilt? the litterers are the only ones that should feel guilty.

  • Mr. Davis dropping knowledge, delightful!

  • Easy Yancey, you’re blowing my e-cover.

  • I could have been referring to Monkeyrotica Davis.

  • Jimmy, as long as we’re on it, are “vato” and “cholo” acceptable to use in informal and friendly situations? Or are they inherently insulting? Never did figure that one out…

  • I generally grit my teeth and pick up the trash that accumulates on the sidewalk near my home. What can you do?

    The worst culprits are kids leaving candy and chips wrappers (close to a school). The second worst culprit is DCPS who seem to spill as much trash as they collect. The occasional fast food cup/bag ranks 3rd and empty fifth/tallboy 4th. You’d need a forensic team beyond that.

  • There should be more Eric Nuzum’s in world or at least in the neighborhood! Bravo, sir!

  • Jimmy D- as a Chicano whose parents nor grandparents nor great grand-parents were born in Mexico, but were descendants of folks who settled in the territory now New Mexico, the offspring of Spanish settlers/indigenous people, I beg to differ on the use of a strict definition of the term Chicano. The origin of the name itself has long been the subject of great debate, however, what is clear is that the use of the word became most popular in the late 60s through the 70s for Mexican Americans not born in Mexico, but not nec. accepted in white America. The word became and remains strongly tied to the civil rights movement for these people, a movement my parents were a part of, and can loosely be defined as “not from here, not from there”, and applies to Americans of Mexican heritage not born in Mexico regardless of generation.

    As for the litter debate- readers digest has a study on dirtiest U.S. cities that some of the amateur sociologists out there may like to draw some conclusions from.

  • I am not sure why my suggestion would be viewed as ignorant.

    I do not expect the council to act for several years.

    But if you don’t say anything they will never act.

    So the question is one of percentages.

  • Sorry neener, didn’t mean to call you names. I think its clear our government has a great many other priorities other than these sorts of issues. I have zero faith in them, unfortunately, as litter is not a problem in the posh areas they prefer to be in. If I could afford those areas, it probably wouldn’t be a concern for me either.

  • We have a lot of trash to pick on ours street mostly because metro people and the two CUA party houses on our block. The guests of the houses tend to drop adult beverages anywhere and throw trash purposely into neighbors yards.

    So basically nothing wrong with being “that guy”

  • We live between a convenience store, a corner hangout, AND a junior high, so I sympathize, man. For a while, we put out trashbags on our front fence, but then a particularly picky neighbor objected, claiming that they were a West Nile hazard–seriously, the guy even put health department literature through our mail slot, complete with helpful yellow highlighting. We’ve now installed a plastic bin out front (with drainage holes), and it’s filled every other day or so.

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