Tuesday, February 15, 2022

The Gowanus Has Gonorrhea and Other Impressions, from a Toxic Waterway to East River Park, and love letters to the trees


Bored to Death season two The Gowanus has Gonerrhea!
@medievalkarl and bell and ben and @catherinetalese and Adorno chatting away at book group. Thanks for the pic @catherinetalese

On October 3rd, 2007, Curbed reported:

“There's good news and bad news to report about the Gowanus Canal, along which developers hope to someday develop many luxury condos. The bad news: the canal has gonorrhea. The good news: it no longer has typhoid and "virulent" cholera.”

The more things change, as they say. 

Dec 15, 2020, the Gothamist reported:

“The canal's waters are tainted by millions of gallons of sewage every year, which, in the 1970s, led to it being contaminated with typhoid, cholera and tuberculosis. In more recent years, it has been diagnosed with gonorrhea.”

The established wisdom has come to be a part of our popular mythology, of Brooklyn neighborhood lore. Hence the “Bored to Death” episode “The Gowanus Canal Has Gonorrhea” from the second season of the TV show, that aired October 10th, 2010.  In it Jonathan is kidnapped and nearly dropped into the ever controversial Canal whose waters carry pollutants and toxins. Dangling his body over the water, he reminds his kidnappers that the water below “has gonorrhea!!!” No one seems surprised, but they pull him back from the brink. That the Gowanus has gonorrhea is not news. But to leave someone in there, feels cruel.  The toxins in the water are well known to many of us, most of us, except those who seem interested in building along the canal. I laughed watching the show, looking at the prezoned neighborhood, full of old warehouses throughout our borough in transition. Walking down Bond Street the other day, I found myself taking in the strangeness of the scene. Something had changed, the water in the distance, old warehouses and brownstones razed to make way for condos. 

You feel it everywhere here, the city in flux, toxins in the ground, condos rising, construction crews, community spaces coming and going, the stories and shows we laugh at, the afro futurism that begs us to re imagine what is around us. 

“Science fiction isn't just thinking about the world out there,”  says beloved scribe Samuel R. Delany, who used the public spaces like few else, creating his own city of friends on a daily basis in Times Square, before they rezoned it.  “It's also thinking about how that world might be - a particularly important exercise for those who are oppressed, because if they're going to change the world we live in, they - and all of us - have to be able to think about a world that works differently,”

Looking at the city, we are all imagining something. 

I feel it walking in the snow on Sunday, Looking at the blue skies on Saturday, thinking about the intersections between struggles. I ride to Tim and Mel’s; ALS is gripping him. But Tim still smiles, still says we are brothers, still greets me, still.laughs, still chats. But the pain is real. It's hard to watch. Pictures on my feed of Tim and Mel and me... for years and years. Now it slows. But the friendship continues through time.

And make my way to 7th Ave to meet the teenager, who strolls me from 14th street on unseasonably warm Saturday, East to Union Square, down to Astor place, and East on St Mark’s Place, to Tompkins Square Park, where they are meeting friends.

My friends are down at East River Park, reading poems to the trees, that the city is bulldozing. 

1000people1000trees posted: 

“Love Letters to the Trees, Saturday, February 12th, 2pm, Corlears Hook Park (Entrance to Corlears Hook Park at Cherry St and FDR). Corlears Hook Park is renowned for its flowering Cherry Trees. Saturday make art/signs/write letters, be with community and friends to express your feelings about what’s been happening in East River Park. We will deliver love letters to the trees, many of which are slated to be killed “to make room for a temporary bridge”. We know there is a better way. Like always, Community Gather will be held Saturday, Feb 12th 1pm at the Houston entrance. We will then move together to Corlears Hook Park, joining community and friends to deliver love letters and offerings to the trees there. These trees are threatened to be clear-cut by ESCR, the violent plan destroying East River Park. Gather to honor and respect what we know must be defended with love…Can this horror be used to help us find each other, to find friendship and creativity, to find a path together towards survival? We honor this land, these trees. We know this place, Lenapehoking, has seen violence before. Come honor the land, talk with neighbors, mourn these trees and plan together ways to protect what is still here. Everyday, Community Gather, 1PM inside East River Park, Houston entrance…..Not only did ESCR needlessly clear-cut almost 400 mature healthy trees, now the 500 trees STILL HERE are at risk & some currently being damaged due to no @NYCParks oversight, no standard tree protection happening at track?”

Arriving at Corlears, some are sending Valentines. JK is telling a story.  Poet @eileen.myles says I love you cherry trees... you are a family... it's sooo great to see you...here...I look up and you are in the sky... you are wiser than me. Thank you trees... #saveeastriverpark #savethetrees🌲💚🌳

Despite my despair about our fight that hasn’t stopped the destruction, I am still happy to see the community organized together in resistance.  What a gorgeous day in the city, with poetry in East Piver Park, running into friends Tompkins, looking at punks in the park, walking to La Plaza, where they are prop making for Charas, biking over the bridge, to join film lovers in WBerg. Everyone was out on a sunny winter day.

Back home, I think about the trees and the city, the community I adore, befuddled by the city hell bent on development schemes that destroy the trees to save us from climate change, always fighting for peace, war is peace.

At Judson Micah is talking about science fiction and the trees. 

Jeremiah 17:5-10 is the ancient testimony:

 “They shall live in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land... They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.”

 Can our trees hold us?

Can we be “be like a tree planted by water?”

I rode through the snow to get to the action. 

Will we get our community center back, wondered East Village activists in the show, standing on 9th Street and Ave B. 

Susan had invited us to a press conference for Charas:“Join SOCCC-64, elected officials, community orgs, artists and activists this Valentines Day eve to ask the City to return our beloved community and cultural center, CHARAS / El Bohio. This is an urgent call, as developer Gregg Singer, who purchased the building that housed CHARAS, former P.S. 64 at 605 E. 9th St. at public auction in 2001 is now in default of his mortgage and is in foreclosure! We are rallying to urge the City to work with us to return our center, and we need everyone's help to make it a reality….join us Sunday, February 13!”

Babs held the 12/27/01 article about the CHaras eviction. All of us in the street calling for the community to get back its community center. Frank was there,  So were Ray and Wendy and Judy, talking about public spaces lost and found, where we were when CHARAS locked up, and what might happen if it opened again?

Peter and I talked about East River Park.

 Frank told me stories about poetry at the Nuyorican Poetry Cafe. 

We gossiped about local activists chasing windmills.

The snow kept pouring and I rode back to meet the activist informed reading group, to talk Bell Hooks and conspire about what to read next. On we went, talking about the ways the personal is political and it's hard to get the stories of friendship and love right from the beginning. 

“Friendship is the place in which a great majority of us have our first glimpse of redemptive love and caring community,” writes Bell Hooks in All About Love. 

Yet, it may not be compatible with the stressors and strains of capitalism notes Erich Fromm in the Art of Loving. The economics of it can get messy. 

So we have the two things - the stressors of capitalism and the yearning for friendship - dueling it out. 

Can any our friendships hold?

Can we learn to love our neighbors as ourselves?

The snow poured into the might. 

The trees were full of snow. 

We love the trees, said the poets at East River Park. 

Love you trees.

THe trees love us too, says Meredith.  Thanks for fighting for them.  

And perhaps they love us back.  

I’m not sure they should. 

We are treating them very well.

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