Finding useful objects strewn about on the sidewalks and streets of New York--surely one of the most waste-prone cities in the nation--happens frequently as I move about between home and work. I have lived in other big cities, but either the residents there are less wasteful, or else their sanitation workers do a more thorough job. Take the matter of discarded clothes. I often find shirts, sweaters and pants in good condition lying on this or that street. Once taken home and laundered, they make the actual purchase of clothing relatively rare. What is not personally needed, I pass on to the clothing room of the St. Joseph Catholic Worker, not far from my Jesuit community. Back packs, too, have come my way as throw-aways. I am still using an excellent one with wonderful zippers inside and out, and side pouches. It apparently once belonged to a student who wrote his name on it, Riley, in several places. It was lying on top of black plastic trash bags in front of an upscale apartment house.
To the credit of some who discard unwanted belongings, they carefully place them in neat piles on a sidewalk, or even in a cardboard boxes--especially books. I still have several cherished finds, such as my favorite French novel, The Princess of Cleves, and another favorite, Henry James’ Daisy Miller. People who go to this trouble are among those who resist the rampant waste of our American culture, which stems largely from our consumerism. In July, I saw a man trying in vain to persuade a sanitation worker near the main research library on 42nd Street not to toss chairs and small desks into the back of his truck. All were in excellent condition. But heedless of the man’s pleading, the driver simply went ahead with his job, and I watched as the chairs and small desks summarily crushed before being lifted into the body of the enormous vehicle which then rumbled away through the streets of midtown Manhattan. The sight left an odd feeling, of sympathy for the man who tried to prevent this waste, but also of regret at this reflection of our consumerism-driven society.
George M. Anderson, S.J.