As you know, I pick up litter daily, including at least three pieces from the northwest corner of Washington Square Park since the pandemic brought such hopelessness to it in the form of syringes, pipes, and the community and police abdicating responsibility to it. I don’t expect to revitalize the area by myself, but I’m not going to do nothing. I’m going to do something.
As I walked along yesterday, on my way to teach at NYU (another abdicating institution in the situation), I picked up litter. I often quietly say “that’s one,” “that’s two,” and “that’s three” as I pick up successive pieces. Just as I said “that’s two,” from my right and slightly behind, I heard a hearty “thank you!”
I turned to look who said it and say one of my usual responses: “Every day, I pick something up.”
The first thing I noticed about the guy who said it were the scabs on his face and his dingy clothes. He was the quintessential “after” picture in a before and after of someone using drugs.
He responded, “I know. I see you picking up every day on crack row,” no doubt referring to the series of benches where people smoke from crack pipes and inject with syringes in broad daylight. They leave tons of litter (which is not to say that the people addicted to salt, sugar, fat, and doof in the rest of the park don’t leave comparable amounts, even if legal).
“Is that what they call that area?”
“Yeah. And I pick up stuff up too. I’m a heroin addict and I don’t get like them.”
I don’t remember the one or two things we said then. I wanted to talk more to this person with a different experience than mine, though still effectively a neighbor. I expect that as the weather warms, “crack row” will grow in population and litter (as will the doof addicts, even if legal, meaning all the people bringing bottled drinks, takeout, and other addictive doof) and I’ll feel helpless and vulnerable.
I was hurrying since I didn’t want to be late to teach class. I tried to remember him so I could pick him out some time when picking up litter on crack row and continue the conversation. We’ll see.
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