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?

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