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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Great Far East Food Fights

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VLADIVOSTOK, Far East — One morning several years ago I was walking down Ulitsa Chkalova when a tomato exploded on the sidewalk in front of me.

This was the beginning of a crime streak, it seemed, because a few days later a yogurt container blew up just behind me on the same spot. It wasn't the work of a mad bomber. Some punk had lobbed the objects from the 12-story apartment block I was passing.

I doubt the objects were directed specifically at me because over time I saw evidence of splattered produce that had been hurled at others on the same stretch of sidewalk: a plum, a banana, grapes scattered in a grapeshot fashion.

But I am sure the culprit was a boy because generations of evolution have bred in men an instinct once needed to survive on the hyena-prowled savannah: the yearning to throw objects from high buildings.

Throwing things from windows is dangerous in a city of high-rises. It is irresponsible and contributes to litter. And that is why I feel so guilty. I, too, like to throw things from windows. In my case, it's toenails.

I know this is wrong of me, and whenever I clip my toenails I tell myself this time I will throw them in the trash can, as members of a more civilized gender would do.

But as the toenails drop to the rug in quarter-moon shapes, they seem precious, like slivers of ivory. It would be disrespectful to fling a former part of a sentient person down a garbage shaft, where it will end up being picked over by bums at the dump ("Hey, Motya: toenails. Think we can sell them?").

So I glance out my seventh-floor window, establish that all is clear and cast out the claw-like bits. Contented, I am ready to start the day's work. Freelancing provides its pleasures that staff reporters can only dream about.

I also throw feathers that leak from the comforter out the window, but those don't count, since they go up, not down. Someone could be blinded if he happened to be standing under my apartment surveying the skies for an eclipse or a rare bird. And this has begun to nag at me.

Perhaps my newfound civic-mindedness started with reading a reference to a statement attributed to the author James Baldwin: that people who threw trash from slum tenements were actually protesting the social order. "They're just pigs, is all," I muttered, then felt a stab of conscience: What do you call a guy who flings toenails out the window?

Or maybe it started when I recalled several deadly instances of idiots tossing junk from windows. In 1996, drunken university students, guzzling vodka in a dormitory drinking corner called "the trash room," hurled a radiator out a window and then peered out to see they had killed a woman. Last year, a Singapore resident tossed a flowerpot from a high-rise and killed a 5-year-old girl.

For that matter, Singapore, with its decades-long phenomenon of "killer litter" thrown from skyscrapers, should give pause to anyone who advocates the freedom to scatter toenails from on high. Consider a few headlines from the Straits Times:

•"He threw bottles from 10th-floor flat."

•"Killer litter: this time a sack of rice."

•"Near misses: A bag of ice, metal rod and bag of curry have nearly struck her."

•"Wham! Down came this chair."

There are also social factors to consider. Our insane downstairs neighbor once found jam on her kitchen window and came raging up to accuse us of having dumped it on our balcony, whence it dribbled down. What would she think if she saw toenails fluttering past on a sunny day?

Besides, think of the poor people closer to the ground. Once at my old apartment block I saw a woman in a bathrobe sweeping a section of roof that covered the ground-floor lobby. Furiously she brushed beer bottles, cigarette packages, rotten fruit, eggshells and globs of dubious dark matter off the roof and onto the common walkway. Everything stank. For a moment I thought, "What a slob."

Then it hit me: She lived in the apartment whose windows opened onto the lower roof. She was sweeping off the rubbish for the rest of us to crunch through as we returned home. Luckily, she didn't notice the toenails.

Russell Working is a freelance correspondent based in Vladivostok.