LEWISTON — The Rev. Douglas Taylor is calling on his neighbors to clean up their act.
At a brisk pace, Taylor approached a torn trash bag slumped over the curb near the corner of Bates and Birch streets, apparently not in front of any residence.
"This is going to be all over the neighborhood," Taylor said before bending down to pick up a stray piece of paper blowing across the sidewalk. Since the garbage collection wasn't coming until Thursday, he had little hope of the bag making it into the back of the garbage truck.
Although Taylor said the street appeared unusually clean Monday afternoon, it was still awash with candy wrappers and bits of paper. As he spoke, an Utz potato chip bag blew past his foot.
Back at his home and headquarters of The Jesus Party, Taylor opened the gate to his six-foot chain-link fence to deposit the garbage in a large trash can he just bought. Taylor had purchased the fence for $1,600 in an attempt to keep blowing trash out of his diminutive yard.
Affixed to the fence were new signs, calling out to the Bates Street neighborhood to pick up their trash and follow in his footsteps.
The signs, with slogans like, "We May Live in the Ghetto but We Don’t Have to Live in the Garbage" and "Being Low-Income Has Absolutely Nothing To Do With Being Low-Class," dominate the black chain-link fence.
Taylor said he usually steers clear of terms like "ghetto" when referring to the downtown area but the rising tide of filth has demanded stronger language.
He pointed to a lot beside his house. According to Taylor, the decorative shrubbery planted by a local non-profit provides a lovely facade for what lies beyond.
Beyond the sidewalk, a worn walkway flanked by overgrown burdocks winds down a hill and out to Knox Street. Among the weeds, there is a variety of debris, including a broken sled, a wooden crate, empty milk jugs and other garbage, most of which appeared to have been dumped from windows above.
Pointing to the debris, Taylor said he spends about $250 in the spring and fall to gather local youth and scour the lot.
He said the winter provides a brief reprieve by freezing the garbage and covering it with occasional snowfall. The spring garbage thaw, however, leaves much to be desired in the Taylor household.
He said the city will eventually help with cleaning the lot if he screams enough, but that the task has usually fallen upon him and his local youth.
Taylor's backyard is a narrow porch high above a wooded area, where shredded plastic and garbage hangs from trees. Below is a familiar scene of clothing, bicycle parts, trash, a teddy bear and a pillow.
Not even Taylor's porch is spared the barrage from neighboring buildings. A broken cell phone, a child's sandal and toy parts litter the deck boards.
He said he has to be careful when he takes kids out there to clean as it is not uncommon to find used needles and condoms among the mess. One time, Taylor said he found a DVD of child pornography.
Taylor said it's disheartening to see it all. By his accounts, two or three times a month, he leaf-blows the trash up and down the street, as much as his 100-foot extension cord will allow, into disposable piles.
As he spoke, three local children came. The youngest one shouted, "Can we clean right now?"
These kids are Taylor's hope.
In a kind of trash-for-treats exchange program, Taylor offers children candy and pretzels (without wrappers to toss on the ground) for picking up litter and dumping it in his trash can.
It's a lesson he hopes will stick with the kids. Taylor said he wants them to take pride in themselves and their neighborhood.
He had just recently purchased a new trash can, bags and gloves for the kids to help with clean-up duty.
Taylor said the signs were just a dramatic way of drawing attention to the problem and in no way disparages those with low incomes.
Taylor himself identifies as low income, working as a laborer by day.
"I am poor," Taylor said. "I get no government assistance and live in a $27,000 house. I don't think you can even build a two-car heated garage for that."
Despite this, Taylor said he manages to keep his home clean inside and out and present a clean personal appearance. It's part of the message he brings to the area children, who are always at his gate shouting for "Brother Doug!" and asking for high-fives.