So now I'm officially a fully-fledged Litter Ninja: council-funded and newspaper-supported. Even the local police station have put up my recruitment posters. Sure, the two officers were actually just walking back up Wellington Street after having bought their lunch at Subway, but hey, you take your opportunities as you find them.
Trouble is, I now feel the need to go looking for rubbish to pick up every day instead of the once or twice a week amble up my street that was happening before. These days it just isn't acceptable to have my beat fluttering with Maccas wrappers and beer cans when I'm poncing about trying to get other locals to do the right thing.
But carrying around a long-handled pair of BBQ tongs is fraught with difficulty.
For starters, if I shove it into my shoulder bag, at least a third of it sticks out and I'm naturally ear-marked as one of those weird old ladies who carries around her most precious possessions. All I need to do is let my one (as at last frantic 'count the wrinkles check') chin hair grow and wear my crocs out in public with knee-high pantihose unravelling at the ankles and it's a done deal.
If I just carry them in my hand during my walks with Milly or off to the corner shop to buy two litres of milk it frightens off pensioners, who automatically assume:
* It's a dangerous weapon
* It can pick pockets and wallets out of old peoples' shopping trolleys and it is therefore vital to shake one's head in disgust and immediately cross to the other side of the street
* The anti-psychotic medication isn't working and neither is the secure lock-down facilities at the accommodation centre that Mr Divvy Van favours; and
* If I'm not terrorising humans, I'll start randomly decapitating the roses and azaleas of the cottage gardens I pass.
Teenagers think I'm collecting cans for money, and I guess my unfashionable state lends itself to their assumption of poverty, both financial and sartorially. "Hey lady," one said to me a while ago, "You know that you only get a deposit if you live in South Australia, don't yer?"
As I nodded and kept bending down, his buddy sniggered and pointed to a trio of beer bottles under the park bench. "Ya missed some."
But if I don't include the tongs in my travels, I invariably see a heap of litter just waiting - begging - me to pick it up and put it where it belongs. Today, under a plane tree, was a nappy bag so full it resembled the rump of a palomino. And this pear-scented bag of human excrement was rudely dumped alongside a Cold Rock Ice-creamery carton (how come? There's not one within coo-ee of here), an empty tin of chopped tomatoes, a car ashtray's worth of cigarette butts, yellowed junk mail brochures and the ubiquitous bourbon and coke can.
After wrestling with my do-gooder instincts agaisnt my concerns of bacteria collection, I ignored the lot and walked away. And felt terrible for doing so. Ninjas are renowned for stealth and invisibility: what if one of my fellow rubbish renegades saw my callous disregard?
To make up for it, I waited until 5pm when Love Chunks had cycled in from work and Sapphire was still happily playing with her best buddy Juliet. As soon as Milly saw me heading towards the laundry cupboard to find her lead and the saggy long sock full of shopping bags, she knew: it was Litter Ninja time. Or, in her mind, walkies and finding bonus food (read: Red Rooster chicken bones and squashed chips) time.
The high school is my territory. I clean it, therefore I feel a sense of proprietory ownership towards it long after the kids have walked home in their skinny jeans, hoodies and gladiator sandals. The cleaners wave hello and the vice principal has come out and said that I could use their skip to offload any hard rubbish as often as I need to.
Today however, the school was surprisingly clean. Could it be that the kids have noticed that it's clean, and that any crap thrown on the ground sticks out like a sore thumb....? That they spend at least a third of their waking hours at this place, so why not look after it.....? The fruit box cartons and yiros bags shoved into the railings under the verandah provided the real answer. It had been too wet to eat outside.
And bugger it, I was wearing thongs and, for the third time that session, tipped up a can of Fanta to put in my bag only to have it gurgle out the orange sticky contents straight onto my toes.
Down but not out, I decided to clean up the main road in front of the school as well. Milly had to be put back on her lead as the traffic roared dangerously close, loud and fast up Mt Alexander Road. She was told very firmly to SIT as I leaned out and plucked run-over aluminium cans and cigarette packs from the bicycle lane before the lights down at Travancore released another avalanche of cars.
Squidge-stick, Squidge-stick, Squidge-stick was the sound my feet made as they struggled to move in the increasingly glue-like residue of the Fanta. It'd be easy enough to rinse off under the tap when I got home and it would be nice to pick up the greasy brown paper bags that had blown up the street from the service station's all-night souvlaki van.....
Doof-Doof Doof-Doof Doof-Doof. "Yer Pharkkin LOSER" a man yelled out at me from his commodore before roaring off ahead of the stopped tram.
I recounted this later to my friend Helen, who said, "Maybe he thought you were a bag lady."
Oh. Am I that bad a dresser?