NYC Trash Picking & Cupcakes
This past week’s New Yorker cover portraying a dog having a yard sale on the steps of his residential brownstone is a gracious tipped hat to a very big shadow industry that we actively pursue. We “go yard sale-ing” on brownstone steps from Mount Vernon (lower Westchester County) south. Like all yard sales anywhere, we chance upon, pull up …or walk by… and start using familiar phrases like “How much is that?”. We pay in exact cash promptly. An leave.
Of the same scenario but of bigger scale is …picking the trash. I guess the thing to say here is that we will return to this subject again and again for, in fairness, we do it all the time where ever we go and have done it for at least forty years. In the NYC region and including the steps before a brownstone that lead to the sidewalk and end at the gutter, we act on the dynamic that “every thing goes on the street”. Once a thing placed at the gutter, it is fair (and a highly competitive) game. “Put out” as trash… often is …treasure. Walking on NYC streets we seek “put out” trash… to pick. Again, this is a highly competitive activity. A “put out” often has a gutter side stay of under fifteen seconds.
“Swoop in” is too slow and too late. It’s really a who’s there, what’s there, “can I?” and the “it is GONE”. Grab it and move away from the guttered “put out” zone holding on tight until one reaches an appropriate distanced perch where one may look back and… see “if there is anything else” “left”. For the antiquarian eye this last… actually WORKS for there will often be left “the old stuff”. This is because the other gutter grabbers “don’t know that (antiques)” so “don’t want that”. But take action… and… should one discover one does not want what one grabbed, one may always “put it back”.
Today’s midtown morning began with an early Korean lunch (10:30 AM) at New Wonjo (W. 32nd at 5th). We shared vegetarian dumplings and I continued the dumplings theme by having them in broth with beef strips, clear noodles and vegetables. Fortified we went over to Madison and subwayed forty blocks north. Then walked east to 2nd. Then north for twenty blocks… looking for trash.
Then, forty feet ahead at the gutter I see human congestion and a group of three “in twenties” endeavoring to drag an “entertainment center” furniture unit out and away from a mound of rubbish. Many others are gathered round and poking. Approaching I see nothing but cardboard, composite board scraps, paper, posters… broken lamps, frames… paperback books being gathered, boxes over turned and spilled to suddenly “THERE!” spy a narrow abstract oil painting. I, reaching above the book grabbing, pull the frame upward and free the painting. I start walking backward as those behind me yield while I am stepping on more trash. I continue backing but looking down I see I am stepping on another frame so step back again, bend down and lift a SECOND companion painting from its face down and treaded on… gutter side gallery display. With that painting falling out of its frame from being walked on… I continue the backward escape, retreat to the “safe perch”. I look back at the pile and see only human heads and shoulders. Resting the paintings on the ground and against my left side I scan them and look back at the gutter pile again. A woman who saw me pull the first painting from the pile is standing by the curb looking at me and the paintings. I look at her. She diverts her eyes. I put the paintings, laid face to face, up under my arm. We leave, walking north. Glancing back at half a block distance we see the crowd thinning: “It’s over”. Our whole visit was well under three minutes.
We don’t stop and look at the paintings for several blocks. No more trash piles appear so the street settles back to “calm”. We stop, look at the fronts and then look them all over. Signed “SAXON”, oil on prepared canvas board in original frames and with the artist’s name and “Studio X” 123rd Street address labels, the two companion painting show mid 1960-1970 (?) vigorous oil compositions with found object inclusions that suggest the “green one” is about soul food and food stamps while the “red one” is a self portrait(?). Face to face and under my arm again we continue walking. We “did good” is the verdict. Two blocks later… cupcakes.
If we can grab oil paintings off the trash, we can grab four cupcakes too? On Second heading north at half way between 85th & 86th, Two Little Red Hens Bakery beckoned. We knew it was there. Crowded but with us glowing in trash picking glory, we “Four Brooklyn Blackouts please”. That left five. The woman behind me bought three while my cell phone camera tried to snapped the action. Boxed and string tied shut, we had to… back out of there too. The Blackouts; dark chocolate on dark chocolate and with chocolate pudding in the center, one eats quietly with a plate, fork and napkin. You don’t have to believe me; there are many expostulations. We found they go perfectly with trash picking oil paintings.