Entry 4

Entry 4

Entry 4
A weeklong electronic journal.
Oct. 16 2003 1:05 PM

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Gingko trees at the pristine Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Gingko trees at the pristine Brooklyn Botanic Garden

As promised, the rain Tuesday night was heavy at times. Heavy enough to save me close to six hours Wednesday watering Ralph Bunche, a park across from the United Nations, and Peter's Field, a strip at Second Avenue and 20th Street that runs down the side of a couple of basketball courts.

Freed from the plaintive cries of under-watered plants, I went to a meeting of the trustees of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden this morning. A few years ago I discovered that some stock I'd bought long ago had increased from the original investment value of $600 to about $6,000. I doubt this will happen again. Donating the stock to the BBG saved me taxes and gave me a deduction and made me feel good. The combo of being a relatively minor moneybags and a student there helped put me on the board.

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My donation supports the maintenance of, among other things, the alley of ginkgo trees shown here. Seeing the stately rows of trees and the whole rain-washed garden was restorative. But it was not long, given the curatorial/janitorial nature of my city job, before I was appreciating not so much the glory of the ginkgos and the last roses of the year as the marked absence of trash and dog crap.

Park workers with blowers and brooms sweep through the city parks early in the morning. They get the stuff tossed on the pavement. But the litter that sits in planted beds is left to me. In these parks I do artistic tasks like plant-selection and placement, plus the Edwardian-lady stuff like snipping faded blossoms. But I also spend about an hour a day picking up litter.

Some of it just blows in: newspapers, bits of paper. But much is tossed deliberately.

There's the oral-gratification litter:

• Cigarette butts. (If cigarette filters could somehow be made of organic fertilizer, chicken poop for instance, the flowerbeds in public spaces would be much healthier.)

• Gum and candy wrappers.

• About twice as many coffee cup lids as coffee cups.

• Beer cans. Previously described Colt 45 bottle caps, other bottle caps, small vodka bottles.

• Chicken bones.

And litter connected to other forms of gratification:

• Used condoms.

• Playing cards. (Never a full deck.)

• The miniature baggies known as dime bags.

• Many AAA batteries. (I used to imagine someone on a sofa at home saying, "Oh, darn, the batteries in my Discman have worn out. Now I must go to the park and throw them away in the bed of tulips that just started blooming." Now I realize that, like gum wrappers and bottle caps, batteries are things that must seem too small to justify getting up and walking to the trash basket.)

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Puzzling or intriguing things:

• Unopened bottles of rather expensive spring water. Leary of consuming it, I pour the water onto the soil.

• An amazing number of artificial flowers. Where does that impulse come from? A vain hope, perhaps, that they'll turn real?

• Torn letters. (One in pink ink on lined paper: "We're leaving middle school now, Antoine. We're almost in high school. It is time to make a permanent commitment.")

Not-so-puzzling evidence of residence:

• Q-tips and Band-Aids, toilet paper and worse, disposable razors. Many socks with holes in them.

I finished picking up some of the above in Albano and settled down after lunch (bagel taken from BBG board breakfast) to plant the creeping euonymus in the bed of previously doomed plants. Also had a bag of wholesome country worms from the Staten Island greenhouse compost heap. (Had not heard about Staten Island ferry crash yet. What came to me when I saw the news later were bad memories of people waiting for loved ones who weren't coming home.)

Homeless man approached. (Very Irish face, has in past told me that he fought in Vietnam, has been in jail, and pitched for the Mets. Perhaps not in that order.) He's much more garrulous than usual, which makes me pretty sure he's been drinking. Very disappointing. Last week he said words I never expected to hear from him: "I have to go now, I have to get to work." Which made me happy, both for his sake and for mine. Seems not true now since he had plenty of time to ask me my sign (he's an Aries), pull my hard-working worms from the bed, move packs of plants around.

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I told him I had another chore to get to (true), that I needed to concentrate. He appraised my distant air with what I suspected was a line from AA.

"Oooooh, isolated. It's bad to be isolated."

Most irritating: He asked my age and while I waited for him to guess, I couldn't help wishing for the gratifying seven, maybe even 10, years under. His guess was under, but very close.

As I left I picked up a couple of napkins and a McDonald's wrapper.

"You're compulsive," he called after me. "You need to relax."