Volume 80, Number 8 | July 22 - 28, 2010
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933


Midsummer rant: Bus cuts and garbage in my garden

By Kate Walter

Maybe the heat is making me feisty, but everything is getting on my nerves. I started cursing out the M.T.A. as I walked from Washington St. to Second Ave. on a hot July Sunday morning. Never mind that I was on my way to church. It was my first time making this trip since the incompetent agency cut the M8 bus on weekends.

I had my routine down. I caught the 10:35 bus on W. 10th St. and arrived with time to socialize before the 11:15 service.

As I trekked along Eighth St., my hatband catching my sweat, I was still in shock. How dare they cut this bus? Of course, I could have spent $9 for a cab ride (one way), but decided to reserve that option for winter.

I was dripping when I arrived at Middle Collegiate Church but glad to be in the air-conditioned sanctuary. Reverend Jacqui Lewis preached a moving sermon about forgiveness, but I was unable to apply that concept to the M.T.A.

When I started walking back across town, it was so hot, I broke down and hailed a cab.

I came home and watered my garden. That always puts me in a good mood unless I spot some garbage in it. For the past eight years, I’ve been the obsessive caretaker of a small sidewalk garden, a 4-foot-by-4-foot planter box on Bethune St. in front of Westbeth.

Although I’ve been an urbanite my entire life, I love playing in the soil and chatting with neighbors who compliment my green thumb and thank me for my hard work. Like dogs or babies, my colorful flowers make people smile and stop and talk; they inspire us to drop our city guard and be friendly.

This spring, after numerous trips to the Greenmarket, I slipped in seven varieties of showy plants — wild splashes of purple, pink and red — and three different vines that drape over the side. A callery pear tree stands in the middle. As usual, I spoke to my charges as I settled them into the earth, “Have a good life and grow big and strong.”

Now let’s get this out there while summer is in full swing: My garden box is not an ashtray, garbage can, park bench, picnic table or a urinal. I don’t want to fish out cigarette butts, soda cans, juice cartons, gum wrappers or the occasional used condom. (For that, I wear disposable gloves.) While I’m glad the young couples who frequent the nearby park are practicing safe sex, I don’t need to find out this way.

Do people think they are fertilizing when they leave behind their banana peels and peanut shells? My soil is rich enough to host earthworms, and compost dumping encourages littering.

What with garbage cans at both corners of my block, there is no excuse for tossing that candy wrapper into my begonias or lobelia. Cigarette butts belong in the curb where sanitation trucks sweep or on the sidewalk where maintenance guys hose them away. If people sit on the edge of my box, this crushes plants and can kill them. I am tempted to get that spiky stuff and put it around the perimeter, so no one can sit there.

The worst offenders are the dog people who let their pets go anywhere. Before the old containers in front of my complex were replaced a few years ago, they smelled so badly that I felt sick when watering on a hot humid night. I guarded the new ones zealously and exchanged words with a man from my building whose mutt trotted toward my box. And what’s with the owners who let their dogs run off the leash?

I also want to catch the culprit who dumps birdseed into the soil; this attracts pigeons who stomp through the plants in a feeding frenzy.

I realize I feel territorial about my little plot of greenery, but the sidewalk gardens of New York City are very vulnerable. So on behalf of the brave plants that brighten the concrete, this caretaker begs everyone — locals and tourists — to show respect.

During the warm weather, I’m outside almost evening watering and weeding. I worry about my flowers when I go to the beach for a break and check them as soon as I return.

(When I came back from July 4th weekend in Ocean Grove, two plants were dead from being squashed.)

I put lots of energy into this display of urban gardening, as do my fellow volunteers throughout the neighborhood. If we can’t respect one small square of earth trying to thrive in this harsh city, I have to wonder, what are the chances for our planet?

And if the M.T.A. can’t figure out how to keep the M8 crosstown bus in service on the weekends, I have to wonder what other bad news they have in store for us.


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