Sunday, August 21, 2011

Litter Mob 8 - 3 months in

I cancelled our Tuesday Mob, it was pouring out, and so only two of us assembled the following day, in humid sunshine, to go on our treasure hunt. Still, it was comforting to have as my companion author Elizabeth Royte, and to know that she who writes about matters ecological  and about trash, also picks it up. She gave me a copy of a wonderful book she reviewed, Weeds, by Richard Mabey. I am a big fan of actual pages.

Fortified, into the woods I marched. With Elizabeth. And our kind Natural Resources keeper, David, who is assigned to us from other duties for the duration, but not before being flashed by a man on a log in plain sight, exposing himself. Clearly he was overly optimistic and exercised poor judgement: David was carrying a saw at the time...

We gathered litter for an hour-and-a-half and spent the rest of the time pulling and hacking out some invasive porcelain berry, which made a nice change.

But am I growing despondent? In a small, three-letter word, yes.

Not so much because of what we are or are not achieving in a superficial sense - the woods are cleaner, in the worst areas, though new ones keep popping up - but because of a tiny turn out (so many people moan and complain about the litter and who shows up?), and the apparent lack of long term strategies or solutions.

Our core band of volunteers is stellar, and circumstances prevented two of them from being there, while others have just gone dark.

Today I looked at the page about the woodlands on the Prospect Park website and read about the problems  listed. Soil compaction is there, but the reason for it is artfully sidestepped. 8 million visitors to the park per annum are cited, but trust me when I say that those visitors are not in these particular woods.

Litter is not mentioned at all, nor, of course, its precise nature and sole source: Condoms and Cruising.

There is only the daily traffic of solitary men, and a few birders, on the informal paths. The occasional jogger, a troop of small children walking through, stay on the proper paths, dodging the odd, slippery condom. I spoke to a birder recently who rails against the sex litter. But who feels that our de-littering enables the broken system that understaffs and underfunds the park to remain broken.

While I agree that an over reliance upon volunteers, citywide, to care for our parks, is in itself an ill, a kind of symptomatic rot, I also believe that as volunteers we can do more than perform the city's work for free: while we are working and when we go home, we can shine a light on a dark place, and expose it for what it is. It is hard to ignore something that everyone can suddenly see.

Staffwise, I am amazed at how few people are expected to do so much. It's not possible. The woodland needs a keeper. One keeper. Even then, s/he would have their work cut out for them. The daily presence of a person who cares and is paid to care is an essential part of the solution. Once we are out of the woods, it all goes back to normal.

The sex log

This particular cruising log is on a steep slope. The soil on the incline which is riddled with paths, is hard and compact and after the torrential rains a lot had been washed away, exposing the tiny white bulbils of a summer-dormant plant (star of Bethlehem?). Around the log is a copious amount of mixed litter and at its foot, for the second time in a  row, snail trails of fresh semen. Don't ask me how I know. I know.

Yeah, I know. How in the world do I imagine I am going to attract volunteers with prose like this? I still have my alcohol wipes, carried on my person and in the truck a nice bottle of hand sanitizer waits for us. The men in the woods use wipes, too, and then drop them on the ground. One very well dressed man walked into the woods, past me, carrying a small green, nylon bag. I was very tempted to ask him, in a genuinely friendly fashion, if I could see inside, see the contents before they are used. I only ever see them after. And what a handy little bag, for carrying everything out again!

These are our woods. Everybody's woods. Yet they are strewn with drug baggies, condoms, wrappers, lube packets, cigarette and cigar and snack wrappers, water, juice and hard liquor bottles, and the more esoteric and unmentionable paraphernalia of intimate relations between human beings who do not give a damn about their surroundings and who are not informed that their trampling is killing trees. In short, no one speaks to them.

I saw the flasher later, and recognized him from previous mobs.  He didn't flash me, of course. I was not only the wrong sex, but carrying a very big camera. He hobbled off in the opposite direction. I unslung my camera and shot a picture.

Of some mushrooms.

Litter Mob results:

4 bags trash

Seasonal wildflowers spotted:

Oenothera biennis - evening primrose
Solidago sp. - golden rod
Impatiens capensis - jewelweed


Carrie said...

I was thinking that perhaps contacting a local GLBT group might give you some interesting insight. I realize that an African doesn’t need me to tell her that understanding and sympathy goes a long way in cases of oppressed peoples, but many of these “solitary men” are there because they believe that someone like you is judging them. (And yes, many of them are there just for the thrill, I know that.) But maybe something as simple as a trash can with a Human Rights Campaign sticker chained to the “sex log” could say ‘we don’t judge; please throw the condom here.’ (Or maybe it would be viewed as condescending - I realize there are a lot of opinions here, I am just throwing out ideas.)

One of the most noble and poignant aspects of the GLBT community is their willingness to unite and work together to overcome the monumental obstacle they face. I can’t say for sure, but I would bet that if you were to go to a community representative and say ‘it’s not the sex that I judge, it’s the litter – any ideas’ you might get a positive and helpful response. And if not, you might at least have a better sense of the root of the problem and that is never a bad thing.

No problem it ever small, and you have certainly taken on a great one. Good luck.

Carrie said...

Laughter being the best medicine … The parents of a friend, in retirement, decided to buy a dog and train it to hunt truffles. It is quite successful as a truffle hunter and her parents are making an absolute fortune selling their “locally foraged truffles” to restaurants in the Pacific Northwest. Perhaps this could be a way for you and Estorbo to fund the work you are doing in the Parks?

Marie said...

Hi Carrie - thanks for your thoughtful response.

Reaching out to the LGBT community for advice is on my list of things to do. I wish, quite angrily, that someone who is a PAID steward of the park would take this step, though. Engaging with the community is an essential part of solving the problem. And it is a problem.

My difficulty is that I only have so many hours in a day, and so much energy and space in my head to deal with this.

I understand certain aspects of what leads to the down low lifestyle that is hopping in the woods. Men living straight lives outside the woods and another inside. But looking at the woods, the absolute mess, makes me less than sympathetic in terms of wanting to seek more insight.

I think part of the change will come from within, and that will require some zeal.

And Estorbo does like some mushrooms...

Carrie said...

I understand your experience, more than you know. (I have been working as a lobbyist for libraries/education for more than 2 years now. Recently I was offered an actual librarian position, and I took it, because I just didn’t have it in me to fight anymore. It’s a twisted web of guilt and relief that I feel now. So it goes…) Again, good luck.

Anonymous said...

Would removal of the "sex log" deter the undesireable behavior and resulting trash or just disperse it more? Just a thought...

I know your frustration. I volunteer at a no-kill shelter. People want them to take their throw-away pets, but too few people want to donate money or volunteer to clean, feed, etc.

arcadia said...

Living in Arcadia, being the city's (unofficial) red light district, we get used to condoms, condom packets etc on the streets. But most of the time I'm just really glad the people are using condoms at all, considering the high AIDS numbers we struggle with here. Many of the men are married, too (family cars with baby seats are a frequent occurence outside my apartment block's gates), and considering the very troubling numbers of upper-middle class white women who contract AIDS from their philandering husbands, I tend to overlook the mess just because I'm happy that some poor woman isn't getting AIDS soon. And I suspect that some of the men in your woods are also married, also carrying whatever it is they could contract in these anonymous encounters home to their wives. Their using condoms does of course not take away the problem of actually leaving the bloody paraphernalia (um, no pun intended)in the park, nor does it address the thorny issue of whether one should respect the community's need for cruising spots, or just remove them from the woods altoghether. I don't know. I sometimes still feel that Amsterdam has the best approach there - not only do they have proper legislation regarding designated areas where prostitution is mainly centered (it of course being legal), they have certain sections of the parks in the city that are also designated areas for those who want to use the park for something other than having a picnic.

I do agree with Carrie, though - speak to the LGBT community. And I'm very impressed with your tenacity thus far. Don't lose hope.

Marie said...

Anonymous - removing this particular log would make no difference. The upright trees are also very popular and at their bases the litter accumulates. Closing off this maze of paths would make a difference - using natural brush collected from alien tree and shrub removal. The soil compaction is here is very bad.

Good luck with your own must be tough.

Hi Arcadia - ja nee. If these woods were part of a huge park or woodland system then I might say, fine, everybody into the woods for sex. But they are not. They are small, and unique. I might be intolerant. Of course I see that it is better for other people that these men use condoms, but I am not about to thank them for it. Understanding everything is to forgive or excuse everything. All I ask is that they treat the woods as they would their own living room.

Brenda from Flatbush said...

Sorry, first, that I have not been available a single Tuesday to join due to work scheduling (except for the time I came and failed somehow to find you). I will prevail!

Sorry, second, not to be able to join in the P.C. tender-heartedness towards our cruisers. Aw, the poor things, they're so oppressed and at least they're using condoms! Please. As the saying goes among horny heteros, "Get a room." I'd love to hear more about this sex-weasel park in Amsterdam, though. What, do they have beds? Logs? Washroom attendants to pick up slimy rubbish? What a utopia!

Finally, I don't buy it that volunteering co-enables municipal neglect. It should supplement it, but not let the city off the hook. Pressure on the authorities to step up their services should co-exist with looking for a helping hand at the end of our own arms. Rich liberal parents who send their kids to public school have the right idea: bake the cupcakes and pour on the philanthropy, but scream like hell at funding cuts, too. Great work, all.