I don’t have a relationship with nature. Trees have been kind to me, but I have a specific and early charge against fauna.
It happened on the semi-colony of Jamaica. While the mother country defends and develops a proper colony, a semi-colony serves as a weekend getaway and trash can. Industrial garbage (plastic waste), culinary garbage (plastic chicken), and human garbage (plastic people) can be abandoned stress-free. The singles resort industry absorbs and produces all three at leisure.
I occupied a cute age, somewhere between four and twelve. A point where general naivete was endearing. I played in my grandmother’s backyard, enjoying the latest model of dirt. Between games of dirtball and Romance of the Three Dirt Kingdoms, grandma’s pet cat wandered outside. Followed by a stray friend, then two, then four. In minutes, ten complacent cats sat in a ring around me. Humans my size must not have wandered into their turf often.
Grandma’s cat and I had an understanding. I fed him, and he pretended to be my friend. Assuming nothing had changed, I reached out to pet him.
I can’t tell you which cat struck first. I have a vague memory of black fur with white highlights, but I also watched Looney Tunes in excess. I can tell you that the cats became an angry ball of claws. Untethered by human laws or concepts of friendship, they introduced me to the color and smell of my own blood. I spent the rest of July huddled indoors, plotting a revenge that never came about.
To summarize: fuck fauna. Everything on four legs is the enemy of man, and your fur-babies can cuddle with a wood chipper. Vegetarianism exists to protect grass from livestock.
My point? I don’t go to parks for the dogs. Or even the birds on divorced heads, or lizards on virgin shoulders. It’s about trees and drunks. And we’ve entered a banner period for outgoing drunks. I enjoy, without a drop of the usual venom, watching collections of drunks mingle. Small and large. I felt losing that a little more personally then the four or six hundred thousand locals killed by the plague.
Sober people mill around parks too, for some reason. It’s the kind of rudeness I can’t explain. I’d say it comes down to class, but many of them seem well-to-do. The only answer in sight is the raw, unfiltered selfishness that defines the national character.
New York’s selection of park drunks is surprisingly thin. It’s possible to enter the south end of Central Park, walk through the mugging zone, and exit northern tip without running into a single Jameson enthusiast. Prospect Park isn’t any better, despite a ring of hip bars and less-hip liquor stores surrounding it on all sides. Children walk around freely, marking it as a place I don’t want to spend more than forty stationary seconds.
But I shouldn’t judge the city as a whole. One park has raised the proud flag of alcoholic excess. It’s created a genuine moment, something marketing teams from coast to coast fail at on a daily basis. After three dead years in an ad agency, I still wake up in a cold sweat, imagining VPs asking how a tagline “ladders up to a cultural movement.” These visions of hell take me to Crown Royal, which takes me to Washington Square Park.
I’ve made two recent visits. I can’t remember the first. The second was tonight, after a date cancelled to tend to her “responsibilities” as an “adult.” It’s a recurring gap between us I hope to heal over time. For the moment, I replaced her with a friend around the same height and resolved to find something to write about.
Responsiblity reared its hideous head again, as Redacted put up a token resistance. But since we’re not romantic, I freely indulged in a little emotional abuse. I dangled the appeal of “Seeing shit that won’t happen again,” mixed with the vague danger of me hanging around the splash zone of recent stabbings alone. Within an hour, I had a sleepy cohort.
Washington Square Park has been in enough passable fiction and terrible film to skip a physical description. It’s a Top 10 location for corpses on Law and Order, a show that paints the version of New York in Eric Adams’ subconscious. It’ll only climb up the rankings as things gets more anarchic.
But some of you skip books set in New York (wise), and don’t watch trash television (shameful). So here’s a brief version of the post-plague park: urine. It smelled like urine. Someone typically urinated in the periphery of my vision. An electric motorcycle the color of urine cut through a cluster of undergraduates. Homemade nutcrackers, which generally mix rum and urine, were sold freely from bench to bench. Music blared from multiple personal speakers, with the audio quality of urine. All the waste water in four boroughs (the ferry’s down) flowed into one point and froze.
I liked it. There weren’t any cats.
Understandably, the NYPD didn’t. There’d been a showdown a week ago between the NYPD and the people paying for their riot gear. The horde won, in the warmest tribute to the power of meat against technology this side of Thulsa Doom. They won’t win next time. Officers loitered in the corner, waiting for the green light to use the Good Stuff™ with tank treads and semi-lethal voltage. For the moment, the aftermath left an entertaining bazaar.
The cuter side, for those of you less attached to cirrhosis and watching failed pickup artists, was the Worry Crusher. That’s a likely misquote, since it’s the kind of cutesy gimmick my brain actively tries to paint over. But the gimmick was simple: a handmade brass Rube Goldberg machine helpfully labeled “Worry Crusher” took scraps of paper (presumably with worries upon them) and destroyed them. I’m sure I’d have appreciated it more within shouting distance of a breakup. Or a cat. Or a VP.
Still, the Worry Crusher’s line stood out to me as we entered. I wondered what kind of international armageddon followed by full year internment could create so many worries for crushing. The thought fled as quickly as it came.
We drifted in around 1 AM, since I’d scrambled Redacted’s simple instructions. A longboarder immediately swung around us, deterred from a collision by the heroic efforts of the motorcycle operator in his path. Some would say e-bike, and I’d beg to differ. A quality e-bike and a shitty motorcycle are only distinguished by optimism. After a year of my own company, I called it a motorcycle.
Redacted and I spent the next hour people-watching, which hurt my self-esteem. People-watching is a signed confession of being a side character. You watch the main characters live, love, and fight from a comfortable seat of mediocrity. In this case, more fighting and less loving.
The trigger: “Killing in the Name” by Rage Against the Machine. The anti-cop anthem currently divided two people with the same opinion on policing. While combatant A wanted to blast his disdain for pork through his urine speakers (who wouldn’t?), combatant B felt A’s soundtrack choice put everyone else in danger. Which it did. The NYPD were still perched under the arch, plotting the reconquest of the park in the name of the gainfully employed. The average officer’s expression was less “bemused irony” and more “blood feud.”
The debate’s audience grew with its volume. People can smell a good fight, and the standoff had the right ingredients. The pair had the same broad height and weight, adding a veneer of sportsmanship. Their demographics weren’t in an active blood feud, freeing viewers from uncomfortable questions. And the urine speaker created stakes. Audio quality aside, the winner of any fistfight would likely leave with the gear.
Of course, a fight over drawing the police would draw the police. I made this joke to myself, laughed at it, and then processed it.
Here’s where perspective tilts things. Depending on your perch, either the revelers or the NYPD are the feral cats here. Either way, I was keyed up.
I fled, citing a “Spider-Sense” that’s never saved me from anything to Redacted. And then nothing happened. Violent, explosive, nothing. Redacted and I returned to our bench with a new humility, and consciousness of the four Ivy League years separating us from people of substance. But the moment’s paranoia solidified what drew me, and the thousand other people present, to drive down property values in the area.
Namely, the ephemeral state of things. After the apocalypse, the park’s become the place it was described to me as when I was ten. It’s never lived up to that (it’s mostly NYU’s quad), and I’ve spent a non-zero amount of time there in saner years. I’ve been a breakdancing hitter, single male vampire, and drunk office drone. With doors open and nightclubs dead, the park’s suddenly chasing its own reputation for diverse bacchanalia.
Given the value of the buildings, and the six or so stabbings that have unfolded since it became fun, the other shoe will drop rather quickly. The NYPD rarely takes a pin, and they’re ready to get their win back. Until then, enjoy ten zip codes of tension stuffed into one block.
It can’t last. People pay to live and sleep there, not to get the St. Anne treatment. But I enjoyed the snapshot.
I’ve got a book coming! Which is what I’m celebrating in the above fugue. Check out Everything Abridged through The Outlook Press next year.