Editor's Note: Everyone in Middletown has seen the slim fellow striding around town with a broom over one shoulder and a leaf-blower on the other, with brightly colored bandannas in his back pocket. Here, in his own words, Fred Caroll explains why he's retired his cleaning tools.
Not for nothing am I called Dr. Freddy H Carroll.
For more than three years, Middletown has been my personal laboratory for an experiment in social consciousness-raising, a project I called “Bums with Brooms.”
The idea was simple enough. Could one “homeless” man (me) armed with the most common of household cleaning implements and assorted garden tools shame an entire city into cleaning up after itself?
Relentlessly, I went about my self-appointed mission, hunting down litter wherever and whenever I saw it: bottles and cans, tattered newspapers, candy wrappers, coffee cups, banana peels, cigarette butts (salivatory goodness!), leftover sandwich makings, discarded clothing (Don’t go there!) syringes, auto parts — in short, the detritus of a society hellbent on suffocating itself on human waste. When I wasn’t filling trash bags I pulled weeds.
Why? You ask. I needed something to fill my idle hours. Middletown is my home. And it seemed like the right thing to do. I got a little attention for my work, even won official kudos from other Middletown do-gooders, which I admit fed my not inconsiderable ego.
As satisfying as the experience was — and make no mistake about it, the experience was all that and more — I am hereby and forever more calling it quits, hanging up my broom and moving on to other pursuits. I leave it to others to decide how successful my experiment has been.
So, why has this bum chosen to sweep no more?
To be blunt, I’m scared. Many who once cast me a curious glance before moving on to go about their business, now pause to mutter threatening asides. This is true particularly in the North End, which seems to be going downhill despite the city’s best efforts to clean it up.
Kids on cell phones stroll casually down Main Street, transacting their nefarious “business,” seemingly unconcerned by the presence of police and of anyone else who takes a dim view of such activities. It’s a situation that needs cleaning up, to be sure. All I can do is look away. It pains me to look away.
If there’s a message I want you to take away from my words it’s this: in a free society we’re all responsible, in some way, for the actions of our neighbors. We’re all involved. Indeed, no man is an island. We can’t afford to turn a blind eye, but none of us can afford to act alone.
The problems facing Middletown — drugs, crime and the poverty that spawns so many of our social ills — are bigger than one bum and his broom, bigger than this bum, anyway.
The solution will come only when we act together to in good faith — together — to clean up a mess that has been piling up on our doorstep for many long decades.
Dr. Freddy H Carroll, Middletown