When I first visited New York, before 2007, I thought it was cool, but I didn’t want to live here. I remember thinking that for one, it is very dirty. Garbage on the sidewalks, garbage on the streets, garbage on the subway tracks, towering piles of garbage bags on the sidewalk ready for pick-up. Gross greenish-colored puddles in crevices near sidewalks, with that shimmering gasoline reflection. Oil stains, black dots from gum, papers, cups, bags, beer cans, broken glass, poop, furniture parts, mittens; the list goes on an on. It makes every inch of the city feel dirty, and the kind of dirty that just cant be simply washed off. Ever. And there are so many unpleasant smells.
As of summer 2010, I began to appreciate the disgusting smells and mess. It was no longer something that repulsed me. It was like acquiring a taste for beer after you hate it the first time you try it, and then grow to enjoy the unique flavors of beer. I no longer felt “at home” when I went back to the clean, calm streets of Milwaukee, without a scattering trash on the street, dirty smells, or nasty thick puddles…I became empathetic to the puddles, smells, repulsive fluids and other things…their origin. I saw their unique beauty. Still aesthetic issues were secondary. What I realized was I sincerely admired what this garbage represented. It was evidence of life. It came from people, from hurried people trying to get on with their daily and not so daily life, it was proof that people are busy, existed and were most of all alive! It’s kind of a sexy notion. The same way you think a dance club or bar is sexy if it is full of people. I enjoy seeing overflowing trashcans, with piles of trash on top and scattered around the can—that failed to accommodate the demanding energy of the masses and the garbage collectors that couldn’t keep up with people’s excrements. Without garbage on the street, it feels like there are no inhabitants of the city, something feels wrong—the gritty architecture and grimy sidewalks look superficial without litter and waste. Yes, New York is a beautifully grimy city—it reminds me of the Velvet Underground, the lives of poor creatives, and the nature of punk.
Now when I need to throw something away and there isn’t a cop in front of me, I just let it fall from my hand naturally, or throw it somewhere unless there is a trashcan to practice my aim. But if I miss I just don’t bother to pick it up, because I want to contribute to the aesthetic of New York City. And in Milwaukee or other cities I do the same because otherwise the streets just don’t look right; too perfect to be lived streets.
I’m almost inclined to call this garbage ridden cityscape sexy? It signifies danger and adventure, carelessness, and walking amongst it heightens one’s awareness. Maybe it makes people more comfortable at being closer to other clean people instead of the dirty streets. Clean streets are stale, somewhat pretentious, and lack a sense of touch. A grimy, dirty, decaying cityscape makes people look better and places more approachable. If the place is too clean and perfect it can highlight people’s physical blemishes. But amongst the context of garbage a lot more people look clean, sexy and pretty because of the contrast.