My house is inhabited by two teenage boys — my 13-year-old stepson and my 16-year-old nephew from Marseilles, France, who is spending the school year with us. Some days I don't see them for hours, because they hide away in their rooms — on the computer or on the phone. I know they're in the house, though, because they leave evidence — empty cereal bowls, dirty orange juice glasses, crumpled candy wrappers, basketball shoes on the couch, socks, and more socks.
When I find such evidence, I turn into my father. "Tristan, come out of there and pick up your mess. It's not my job to clean up after you." This is a lesson that never seems to take, so I repeat my mantra several times a week: Clean up your own mess.
The city of Memphis is a lot like a teenage boy. From January 2005 to September 2009, the city's Maynard C. Stiles Waste Treatment Plant on North Second Street reported 1,170 overflows, in which a total of 23 million gallons of raw sewage leaked into city streets, yards, and the Mississippi River and its tributaries. In addition, a sewage line broke in April 2008 and leaked 45 million more gallons of sewage over a 25-day period.
Bianca Phillips reported this information in last week's Flyer, and I'm still trying to process it. But it's true: Just upstream from Mud Island, the city of Memphis regularly pours a disgusting stew of raw sewage into the Father of Waters, the river that is our lifeblood.
The situation is so bad that the Tennessee Clean Water Network plans to sue the city for repeated violations of the federal Clean Water Act. A spokesperson for Mayor Wharton's office says public works officials aren't able to talk about the situation since it's a pending legal matter but confirmed that the city is working with the Environmental Protection Agency to remedy the problems.
I don't blame Wharton, who's only been in office a couple of months. He inherited this fiasco. But it's quite obvious that we can't turn away from this problem any longer. There's a recurring environmental disaster downtown. It's our mess, and we need to clean it up. No excuses.
It's deep in a November night in Memphis, and I'm awakened by rain. It's coming down hard, sounding like a million pebbles hitting the roof. The gutter I've been meaning to clean is overflowing outside the bedroom window. A flash of lightning illuminates the room, and I do what I've done since I was a boy: count the seconds 'til the thunder rolls. I get almost to 10 before I hear a distant rumble. Two miles or so. Someone else's lightning ...