The Untold Lives Of Trash
Plastic Beverage Lid on the south side of Broome St, crossing Mott St heading east
It was still early this morning when two kids came running into the cafe by themselves. The lady behind the counter said hi and set out two glasses of milk, a plain croissant for the boy and a chocolate one for the girl. The older one, the boy, he finished his croissant first and immediately bounced off the bar stool looking for something to do. He had two straws in his hand when he noticed me on top of the pile of lids. I wasn't sure what he meant to do at first, when he stuck a straw in me. It’s a pretty predictable life. We lay there, stacked in a tall wobbly pile, until someone picks the top one and fits it to a plastic cup. Sometimes we get to see a bit of the outside world, transported in hand, walking through city blocks. That's always a good way to go since you never know where you might end up, but sometimes we're just stuck in a cup holder in a car with no view at all. Occasionally we're left there for days.
This kid, he stuck a straw in me, and turned me into a metal detector. He said he was going to take me to the beach to hunt for coins. By the time we got to the bus stop, I had been a metal detector, an umbrella, a shield, a magnifying glass, a sword and best of all, the kids at the bus stop fought over me until his sister grabbed me out of the air and stuck me in her pocket. She ran off past the bus stop and waited there until it was time to go.
Milk Carton on the North side of Worth St, halfway between Mulberry and Mott
Chinatown had been awake for several hours already. Groggy, bleary-eyed people clustered in pockets, waiting to take early morning buses out of town. Suitcases littered the sidewalk. A mom and kid barreled into the store up to the counter. The mom was yelling at him, nagging him to finish the bagel in his hand, hurry up, keep moving, stop dragging your feet. She grabbed me and shoved a dollar at the cashier. Outside she tore me open and handed me to the kid without looking. He tried to drink and walk, but milk sloshed everywhere. I hate being jostled so early in the morning. He tried to slow down, but she wouldn't let him stop and grabbed his free hand. She flew down the street, dodging sleepy, slower moving people. Her arm stretched behind her holding his extended one as milk spilled on his coat. More milk splashed to the ground than made it into his stomach. He held onto me, emptier and emptier, for blocks and blocks, looking for a trashcan along the way. Finally at Worth St, he saw one but she wouldn't let go of his hand. She had no time for detours or dilly-dallying. His backpack giving him additional heft, he pulled her fiercely toward the trashcan, but the light turned and she yanked him across the crosswalk before he could protest and I went flying in the opposite direction.
Ticker Tape on Frankfort St, just east of Broadway
At the mill, while waiting to be loaded onto palettes for delivery, the guys liked to talk about where they wanted to end up. It’s not like we had any agency in the matter. We ended up wherever they sent us. But the conversation inevitably came around to the ticker tape parade on Broadway. One paper had a cousin who had a neighbor who had been printed for distribution in Jersey and he told us all about the parade. After that none of us could forget the idea of going out amid loud cheers. We dreamed about being feted by thousands as air currents caught and tossed us around in unabashed celebration.
I was sent to a small newspaper room in Iowa. I figured I would end up lining a country cabinet somewhere, turning yellow with age. Instead a woman picked up the paper in Des Moines, waiting for a layover back home to New York. She hated waiting without something to read. She scanned the local headlines, tucked me in her bag and forgot about me. Weeks later she threw me in the recycling bin at work after finding me forgotten, jammed down in the bottom of her bag below heavy piles of manila folders. Nestled in with all the other discarded work papers, I cozied in for a long nap. I woke to the loud sounds of machinery, a deafening roar and tear and before I knew it, I was flying through the air, hoards of people lining the sidewalks and far below me the heads of the Giants passing by. Everyone was shouting and screaming and all around me was a gently falling cloud of paper. I have never known such majesty before.
Black Haired Doll at the Pearl St Playground, south-east of the slide
I had been riding around in the pocket of a child’s winter coat for a couple months now. Sometimes the girl took me out to play but most of the time I was left inside. I liked when her chubby little hand reached in and tiny fingers relentlessly squeezed me through the motion of the stroller bumping up and down the cracked sidewalks. Most mornings I lay suspended in the pocket cocoon of the coat hanging from a hook in the entry hall of the apartment. From there I could hear the sounds of the house. The alarm clocks went off early and until the sitter came, the apartment bounded with the sounds of everyone waking up. When the dad left, the door closing behind him, the sitter sighed in relief as she let calmness settle over the apartment. Every afternoon the sitter would put on the girl’s coat, patiently pull on mittens and a winter hat and we would head out to the playground. The girl always ran for the slide first. Stolidly up the ladder and back down the slide, over and over again. The other kids sounded from all over the playground but we just kept going up and down. Even though it was cold, gripping the sides of the ladder must have been slippery because she paused at the bottom, after already having taken a dozen rides down, and stuffed her mittens in the pocket with me. It was tight, but cozy. We went up and down a dozen more times, until the sitter called out to go. When the girl reached in her pocket to put her mittens back on, I fell out.
Banana Peel on the west side of Bowery, between Broome and Grand
You know who’s really annoying? Kale. I don’t know who his PR rep is, but that guy is getting a shit ton of press these days. He’s everywhere! I can’t read a single paper without seeing his name, it’s driving me insane. The lemons are the worse with their “Oooh kale you’re so tasty, rub some of your dark green leaves into me, oh yeah baby, take me home with you.” God, could they be any more obvious? It’s fucking disgusting. And all this hype about kale and cancer and heart disease, I mean come on. Has everyone forgotten that just one banana a day will reduce a kid’s chances of getting asthma by a third? Can kale claim that? I DON’T THINK SO. I'm obviously far superior. I'm functional AND delicious. You don't need any fancy dressings or roasted pine nuts to enjoy me. Just pick me up and go at it. I'm completely self-contained. Have you have a good banana recently? Yeah, that's right. AMAZING. I'm going to be around long after kale has his little glory days.
Metallic Purple Ribbon on the north side of Kenmare, closer to Centre St
It felt like we had always been tangled in one another, suspended from the light post, dangling above the rush of traffic below. I couldn't tell where you began and I ended. I thought it would last forever. But a strong wind blew and you let go.
Paper Heart on the west side of Mott St, half a block below Canal
For art class, on Valentine's Day, everyone had to cut out paper hearts. The teacher wanted to pin them on the wall for a mosaic of hearts. You made half a dozen in the time it took everyone else to make one. As you were waiting for everyone to catch up, you idly picked up a fallen scrap of the bright red paper and carefully cut me out. Instead of handing me over to the teacher, you tucked me inside a notebook to save for later. That afternoon amah picked you up at school and, like every afternoon, took you back home through Chinatown. People were shouting and shoving everywhere, but that’s a normal day and you’re used to it. You don’t even notice being pushed, threading through pungent fish stands and slow moving tourists. Halfway down the street, someone bumped you, pretty hard. I had been peeking out the side of your backpack where the zipper wasn't fully closed. The bump surprised me and I fell to the ground. By the time you got home, you had already forgotten about me. Grandma had made soup dumplings and you were hungry. For the rest of the day, I lay in fear of being trampled, but everyone moved to the side, not wanting to stomp on a lost heart.
Plastic Bag on Chambers St between Centre and Broadway
The wind was strong on Chambers Street, whipping up stray bits of trash. The only people out at this hour were a couple of runners making their laps and a handful of weary civic employees headed to City Hall. The man had a tight grip on us as he wavered over whether or not to bag the papers. It was not raining yet but storm clouds hovered over the Hudson River to the west. His mistake was thinking the heavy stack of newspapers would be enough to keep us from flying away. But he didn't know that ten bags up from me a rebellion was starting. A little nudge here, a little shove there and the corner of the top bag slipped free. After that it was only a matter of time before we loosened ourselves up for flight. One brisk breeze lifted the weight of the newspapers for just a moment and in that one moment we flew away. About a dozen of us made it out onto the street.
Met Button on the north side of Kenmare St, between Spring and Centre
Where am I? I don't recognize anything. I thought we were going to the park. All I see are short squat buildings and scraggly trees shading beat up benches. Next to me, on the right looms a weird storefront of weathered homosote panels. You said we were going to walk through the park before the weather turned to winter. The last thing I remember was going through European sculptures and hearing something about checking out the Renaissance courtyard. I must have dozed off from the hours of walking. A sudden drop in my stomach, a fall in my dream, jerked me awake. I was on the ground and you were walking off. I yelled and screamed until I was hoarse but you didn't hear me.
Empty Coffee Cup on the subway platform of the downtown 6 train at Spring St
This morning, after a short line at the corner coffee stand, you walked down to an unusually empty station. Usually there’s a downtown train every handful of minutes or so but the sign said 11 minutes until the next train. At the deserted front of end of the station, I waited with you, precariously held in one hand while a book was open in the other. After awhile, you took my lid off so the coffee would cool down faster. It was chancy. The tote bag on your shoulder kept sliding off and every time it dropped into the crook of your elbow, a little more coffee spilled over the side. When you finished a page you moved the book in your left hand over to your right hand and while holding on to me with your thumb and forefinger, you gingerly used a pinky on the same hand to turn the page. We waited there, in a tenuous balance, until you had finished almost all the coffee. When the train finally arrived it was packed. You sighed, closed the book, and stepped to the side to wait for people to get off. A man stood anxiously at the doors and as soon as they opened, he leapt out. His briefcase hit you as he exited and the already flimsy grip on my sides weakened as I fell to the platform ground, the remaining coffee splattered onto your boots.