My brief conversation with someone smoking crack by Washington Square Park, next door to Babbo, with a twist at the end.
This morning as I walked to Washington Square Park to pick up litter, then to drop off my food scraps for compost in Union Square, I saw someone on the steps of a brownstone, curled up, fiddling with something.
I’d seen that look before, of someone concealing doing drugs. Sometimes they pull their shirt or jacket over their heads. When not that many people are around, they just do the business in the open. I could have been wrong. If right, I couldn’t tell if smoking, injecting, or what. The person was focused enough on his or her task not to notice me. I was crossing the street so was on the other side of the parked cars. I looked and saw a glass pipe and lighter. Crack.
I should mention, we were on Waverly Street, a couple doors down from Babbo, a world-class restaurant. I once saw Nicole Kidman walk in. They now have a classy pandemic shed with white table cloths, air conditioning, and an attentive staff, though in the morning it’s closed.
Normally, I pass by without saying anything, but I’d meant to confront someone, not aggressively, just to learn their situation and perspective. Crack and heroin users have made this area their home. The police aren’t intervening and our culture continues to limit people’s hope for better futures. The only hope for change I see is for my neighbors to organize to keep illegal activity from the park, but the ones I’ve spoken to haven’t seemed interested. They say it’s the cops’ business. Another problem is the number of empty storefronts for blocks in all directions resulting in neglected street area overrun with people with no vested interest in the neighborhood’s future.
This time I decided to say something. Before approaching, I saw a woman pushing a baby in a stroller approach. I opted to let her pass. Then I walked up to about ten feet away, me standing, the crack user sitting. I leaned on some scaffolding, keeping it partly between us.
“Are you okay,” I asked.
The person looked up. She was a young woman, I’d guess around twenty years old. She had a face tattoo. Her jaw was misaligned so her bottom teeth didn’t align with the top. Her skin looked clear. Her features were sharp, almost like a model’s except for the jaw misalignment. She wore several bulky layers. I’d guess she was underweight, though couldn’t tell because of the layers.
“Can you spare ten dollars,” she asked back, hiding the pipe and lighter.
“I’m not going to give you money, but are you okay?”
“I could use money.”
“Sorry, I can’t help with that. How are you doing?”
“You could go to the ATM on Sixth Avenue. I need money.”
“You look like you’re smoking crack.”
“I need it. I haven’t been using it long.” She paused. I was about to respond but she continued, “only a year.”
“A year?! That sounds like a long time.”
“I could use money. I need it.”
“It sounds like you’re in a tough spot. Can you use help?”
“I need money.”
The conversation continued like that for a few rounds. I tried to tell if she had anyone to help her or hope for a better future. She wanted money and nothing else. It was my longest conversation with someone smoking crack. I’ve sat on benches in the park where someone would sit down and smoke crack next to me, but I didn’t talk to them.
I left, saying “It sounds difficult. I hope you find help. I hope there are people who care.” I don’t know if my interaction helped, hurt, or what. I don’t see what change I could make either to help this desperate person or put this criminal in jail, depending on how you look at it. I’ve resigned myself to seeing them as part of my community and meeting some. As I’ve written before, in the park, they’re used to me and know me as the guy who goes there every day and picks up litter.
Last night as I was picking up litter, trying to tell if something on a table was trash or something someone was saving, a new guy offered to sell me drugs. As I told him who I was, another guy came up and said to me that the stuff was trash and to the other guy that I was a regular guy who didn’t buy. There are a lot of dealers and users there every day, which means there must be enough money flowing through there to support all of them plus the drugs they consume.
As addicted as this young woman seemed, she was only hurting herself. As I walked through the park and up to Union Square, I passed dozens more people carrying disposable containers of water, coffee, and doof. Many of their overfat bodies showed the signs of legal addiction to salt, sugar, and fat.
What they consume is their business, despite the costs it imposes on society. But their litter poisons our world. I could mention all the cars and people’s addiction to burning fossil fuels, sadly also legal.
The twist is that these doof and fossil fuel addictions hurt the world more than crack, yet we promote them as helping grow the GDP. Don’t even start me on flying.
Read my weekly newsletter
On initiative, leadership, the environment, and burpees