Saturday, June 09, 2007

A Day in the Park

There are many things I avoid talking about on this blog, because I fear they provide easy clues as to my identity. I'm not hiding from strangers, just from people who know me and stumble upon this blog and are quick to determine it's me from references to events and happenings. But that's really crippling, and the reality is I've peppered enough hints throughout that anyone who knows me knows this is me.

So I will ignore the urge to not talk about yesterday, a day in which the entire organization I work for sponsored a day of community volunteer activity, in every location. Thirty thousand people? Something like that. Each office identified and organized opportunities, gave out t-shirts, provided lunch and a post-volunteer after-party. For NYC, this was a three hour open bar at the Boat Basin, on the Hudson River.

I chose to work in Prospect Park. On the way, I passed a woman in a matching shirt, and we smiled and said "hi" although we had no idea who each other was. It was a strange feeling, but a good one. By the time I got on the subway, there were a dozen or so of us, and walking into Prospect Park it was a sea of color. This was just one of the day's many activities, but had about 80 participants, so you couldn't miss us.

My job was to pick up trash, while others in my group weeded and raked and swept. I was given a neat little contraption with a claw on one end of an aluminum bar and a squeeze handle on the other. (Yes, exactly what the subway guy may have had.) It didn't seem that it would be difficult work, but after a short time my hand began to cramp from the motion of pulling the "trigger," and by the time I finished I couldn't hold out my hand without my thumb trembling madly. (This didn't stop until the next morning. Even now the inside of my thumb has a strange numbness, and there is a tiny blister on my index finger.) (God, I sound like such a baby.) I also got so used to staring at the ground as I walked, that I found it difficult (and frustrating) to be back on the public streets later and not be able to ignore the trash there.

So what does one find buried in the grass and bushes of Prospect Park? No needles, at least that I saw, although we were warned they were not uncommon, as it's "an urban park." No condoms, either, although there were many small clear plastic bags. And broken balloons, which I conjectured might also be drug-related, but a co-worker suggested they were just left over from a kid's party. Another common bit of trash are the plastic wrappers that come off of juice box straws. They were everywhere! I suspect that they are small enough that they easily blow away as a parent/nanny is struggling to get the straw unwrapped for a yelling child. If they only knew how many filled my trash bag, I wonder if they'd make a point of snatching them from the ground and depositing them in a trash bin. (On the other hand, they are so small and so light, they may actually blow out of trash cans.) Many, many beer caps, of which probably 80% were Corona.

Unique finds: a plastic wheel. A yellow flower barrette. A nearly-new softball (which I set near a park bench, easily visible to any passing kid.) A yellowed cut newspaper clipping about a burglary. The last was interesting enough to suggest a possible short story plot, although I'm not sure if the mysterious crime clipping doesn't feel a bit too cliche.

Another sea of matching shirts on the subway, swelling to the hundreds as we got off near the Boat Basin. Inside, cold beer, and work colleagues who'd gone to other volunteer sites. The first question anyone shouted over the loud music was, "what did you do today?" and the answers were often surprising. "Planted rose bushes in front of the Rose Planetarium." "Painted the inside of a school in Harlem." "Helped prison inmates about to be released write resumes." "Wrote letters to soldiers." "Painted park benches."

I had my first work-side crush in a really long time, on a guy who looked just as cute before the beer than after. It won't go anywhere (I think I'm too old for him), but it was a good warm feeling to have. (Really, it wasn't the beer, I only had 3 in two hours.)

A good day. I was home by 6, in bed and asleep by 8:30, and slept all the way until 7:30. All the fresh air? Or the beer?


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