Thursday, April 2, 2009


She walked the streets of the sprawling city, looking for the perfect bit of trash. She of course, did not call it trash, that was a word her mother used. To her, they were all orphans, forgotten remnants, alone on the sidewalk, waiting to be found, hoping for a loving home. In her purse, she had small plastic baggies full of used cigarette butts and empty matchbooks and carefully folded pieces of old newspapers. With her eyes trained towards the ground, she walked past blocks and blocks of the famous fashion quarter. Hardly ever did her eyes wander to the plate glass windows that held the spectacle of mannequins in a static state of style. Hordes of fashionable young women walked by her, their high heels provided the music to her quest. She heard them, she heard their squeals, their chatter, their laughter, but their image went past her like a blur. When she wasn’t crossing streets or waiting for taxi cabs to pass her like yellow bats out of hell, her eyes were fixed to the sidewalk, to the cracks where litter seemed to gather for the party, to the gutters where she always found delight, to the 90 degree angles where cement sidewalk and storefront always met. A perfumed woman passed her, both their minds fixed on a particular obsession, an accumulation of things…one looking for new things, the other searching for the forgotten.
She took in a big breath of the city air. She had not been out here for a while. Over the last few months, her free days had become fewer and fewer, until she was only able to hit the streets on a dedicated mission every couple of weeks. Yes, she did walk the streets every day, gathering milk and eggs at the market or taking her mother to the doctor, but it was never the same when she had a destination, the needed the space and time to make the day about the journey, when all her attention could be on the sidewalk and its treasures. She carried her containers with her in a little metal push wagon. There were glass jars and small cardboard boxes for leaves and plastic forks. What she found was categorized and organized. She didn’t wait for later.
She stood on the street, amid gray soldiers in business suits and delivery drivers and creamy white women. Those women were like her sister, they would never see her collection as tasteful, even after a careful explanation. The women who gathered new handbags and French perfume just could not understand why she carried the remnants of the city with her. She had tried before, years ago when she was still figuring out her methods for categorization, when she was just beginning to feel the itch of the hunt.
Today, she was walking along the many jewelry stores of the fashion district. This is where people with piles of money came to buy piles of things. This was her favorite hunting ground. In the center of extreme consumption, she delighted in the salvage. She would not let the wrapper be forgotten, she would not let the grocery list find its way to the sea. She had their brother and sisters, she had others like them, she was the orphan hunter, the subculture collector.
She spotted something round and green, she stooped over, calm, with the grace of a rescuing angel… she picked up the small bottle cap in her gloved hand. Against the brown of her leathered fingers, the cap glistened with beauty. She turned it over and over, feeling as best she could the ridges along the side, the light of the sun reflected off the green metal and gleamed. Fifteen years ago, she would have walked by the cap, oblivious to its existence. She too, had been a fashionable, perfumed woman. She would have never known its temporary home, she would have walked by, never seeing its green, never touching its shape, never pausing to see what was there.
Tasteful? That was a question that the germ-a-phobes and the critics could debate. Her days had become fewer and fewer, she didn’t have time to waste with questions. She knew what she needed to do. She knew her place among the denizens of the city. She was the self-appointed historian, the archivist, the matron. The women and men of the city might never know she had been here. On her walks, she took away any signs of her voyage, tucking them safely in her cart, either in a box, bottle, or plastic bag. She gave them a home, and the fashion district might never know she had passed by.

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