Most of my summer was spent interning for hip-hop pioneer Robby Muffins, the innovative genius behind hit singles such as “Well-Ironed Slacks” and “Bullets Flying, Snitches Crying.” During this heart-poundingly-intense internship, I ended up spending some time in downtown Milwaukee, 45 minutes away from my hometown. While Robby, or as I call him, Mr. Muffins, performed to sold-out crowds, I took in the sights and sounds of that beer-loving city.
While in Milwaukee, I couldn’t stop myself from comparing it to the city I write weekly, Hemingway-esque columns about. I must admit that Boston has Milwaukee beat on a few things: history, architecture, monuments, Archer Parquette living there for the majority of the year, an ocean, etc. But Milwaukee’s downtown takes the victory when it comes to cleanliness. Stereotypically, you might think Milwaukee is full of drunk, morbidly obese people who litter the streets with beer cans and human waste, but that’s not true at all. There is, at almost all times, almost no litter on the sidewalk. Comparatively, Boston is full of trash: cigarette butts, grocery bags filled with toilet paper, rotting food, and small homeless encampments.
When faced with this difference, my keen journalistic mind demanded that I investigate further. I rolled up my sleeves, unbuttoned the top button of my shirt while still wearing a tie, and started sweating profusely. Sweat poured down my face as I pounded the pavement, confronting local politicians and asking the tough questions. I was so persistent the folks started calling me, “that goofy-looking kid who won’t shut up.” I wore that title like a badge of honor.
After my investigation, I arrived at a conclusion. Milwaukee has a municipal program in place called Clean Sweep Ambassadors. City workers walk around picking up litter every day as well as power-washing sidewalks and maintaining constant cleanliness to promote tourism downtown. I was so happy to have figured this out I leapt with joy, sweat flying from my brow and soaking a small family that happened to be walking by me.
“All of my condescending advice regarding cleaning up the city meant nothing, it was just rambling, pseudo-Steinbeckian trash”
Now, I know we’s just simple country folk out’s der in the heartland. We’s ain’t no nothing like you book-learned eastern fellers, but I been thinkin and I thunk that Milwaukee gots themselves a pretty darn-tootin good idear. Upon my August return to campus, I ran to my office and immediately wrote a 1,000-word column that solved every problem that had ever existed in the City of Boston. After writing this beautiful column I rejoiced for exactly three seconds before being gripped with paranoia. My hands shook with fear as I opened my laptop and googled “Clean Ambassadors Boston.”
It turns out Boston has an almost identical program to that of Milwaukee, called “Clean and Hospitality Ambassador Service.” All of my condescending advice regarding cleaning up the city meant nothing, it was just rambling, pseudo-Steinbeckian trash. If I had published that column, I would have looked like a nincompoop. If there’s anything I can’t abide in this world, it’s a nincompoop. Filled with fury, I stood up and flipped my desk over, sending it tumbling across the room.
With a cloud of failure hanging over my head, I walked back to Walsh Hall to sleep my pain away. I slipped my headphones in and listened to “My Least Favorite Life” while making uncomfortably intense eye-contact with everyone who passed me.
When I entered Walsh Hall, blinding flashbulbs lit up the lobby and the shutter click of paparazzi cameras filled the air. I waved a hand in front of my face, shooing the paparazzi away. Ducking into the elevator, I took a slow and dramatic breath while leaning my head against the back of the elevator and closing my eyes.
A ceiling tile on the top of the elevator was pushed out of the way by something above, revealing the elevator shaft. I looked up and saw a few deformed monkey-men scattering behind cover. Then a foot appeared through the hole and my personal editor, Niles Corbitt, dropped down into the elevator.
“What’s going on Archer?” Niles asked casually as he dropped into the elevator.
“I tried writing a column that had ideas about how to fix problems in Boston,” I explained. “When I last went there I saw so much junk in the streets, litter and refuse and homeless people on almost every corner. I thought maybe I could at least write about it, maybe throw out some ideas. But my ideas are crap. I have no idea how to fix the problems in Boston. My column was terrible. Nobody knows anything, Niles.”
Niles looked at me for a moment. He nodded and crossed his arms over his chest.
“Archer,” he said.
“You smell terrible,” he said. “Seriously, you smell awful. It’s like being in an elevator with someone who died two weeks ago. I think my health is being put in jeopardy just being in this close a proximity to someone who smells as bad as you do right now. Go take a shower right this minute or I’m never speaking to you again.”
I lowered my head in shame and nodded. As the elevator doors opened and I began to slink my way to my room, Niles stopped me.
“Your column this week better have a definitive point and be somewhat uplifting instead of ending with you leaving a freaking elevator after failing to write a socially relevant column and being told you smell bad.”
I sighed and turned around, “Yeah. Like what?”
“End with a quote,” Niles said. “Like this: ‘Sometimes I go about in pity for myself, and all the while a great wind carries me across the sky.’ Maybe you’re not going to change the world now, but don’t feel bad about it. With every passing year we get better at whatever it is we do and eventually, with enough will and work, we can achieve great things.”
“What was that quote, Henry James?”
“No. The Sopranos, idiot.”
Featured Image by Francisco Ruela / Heights Graphic