Sunday, October 12, 2014

A Study in Detritus

South Side, Monongahela River, Pittsburgh, October 2014

It was an insanely clear day.  Not even the barest hint of haze in the air.  Early in the morning we found ourselves gathering with other volunteers to assist Friends of the Riverfront  in cleaning up and beautifying the trail along this section of the Monongahela River.  We were given the choices of either mulching the trees, planting daffodil bulbs, weeding, or picking up trash.  We opted for trash pick up because it would afford us the greatest freedom of movement.  There are so many things that you don't anticipate (put you should) when confronting urban litter.
By the time we found the second syringe we decided to interpret the entirety* of what we'd encountered through the filter of an anthropological study.
Lots and lots, too many to count, McDonald's bags, cups, boxes and wrappers.  Apart from one Burger King drink cup, no other fast food restaurant was represented in the assemblage.
5 stray socks
2 condoms (used)
2 syringes (used)
The theory my partner and I formulated postulates that two unknown actors of indeterminate gender and origin purchased McDonald's value meals, consumed them, then threw the trash on the ground instead of utilizing one of the garbage cans placed every 600 feet.  Afterwards they had protected sex in the parking lot behind a Toyota Corolla.  It is believed that at this point they procured heroin and shot up under the 10th Street Bridge and discarded their needles near the chain link fence that separates the rail from the railroad tracks.  At some point one or both of our actors goes into the weeds to poop, instead of using one of the Port-a-Johns situated on the trail.  Not having toilet paper to wipe with, they each remove a single sock and use it for that purpose, discarding the sock afterwards.  It is possible that they have protected sex again and one or both of them poops again.

Giving the experience a narrative sort of helped to soften the reality of the drug addicted homeless people we were both picking up after and intruding upon.  I can't pretend to know what happens in someone's life to lead them down that rabbit hole, to be in the grip of something so much bigger than yourself that all you do is wrestle with it forever.  You, I, want to be compassionate, but not an enabler...It's a slippery slope.

*Does not include the entirety of what we discovered.

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