One Saturday while working at the park, somebody defecated on my cinderblock office. The tar-stained smear blurred the colorful, yet carelessly painted mural. Sadly it wouldn’t be the last time I had to purge human excrement from my small stronghold. A shameless sliver of me smiled at the defamation of the murals, which I had wanted to repaint if it weren’t for anticipated grassroots protest of park advocates like Nathan Nightgown, the “Boobs Not Bombs” lady and Arthur. The University owned the park and I worked for them, but in reality, the park really belonged to the people and we feared their retaliation. I hoisted open the wide, garage-like door to my office, put on two pairs of gloves and began my rounds. The park was beginning to wake up.
I walked counter-clockwise around the public space--the size of a city block-- picking up garbage, debris, and bio-hazards. The empty basketball courts awaited sweaty afternoon pick-up games. The Free Box sat overflowing with a recent donation. The deceased man’s possessions were scattered like ashes in the dewy grass. Vinyl records snapped in half, un-paired shoes, open luggage, and other ransacked personal items were strewn across the park. The valuables had been plundered for resale rendering the rest useless. I ceremoniously collected them for the dumpster.
The tall fennel plants leaked their licorice smell. Laying belly up near the community garden was Charles Chicken Bones. His round girth resembling a moon in its fullest phase was partially exposed revealing soft, smooth skin. With his stocking cap perched on his head and his tight leggings he reminded me of a garden gnome. Always at the west end of the park and unencumbered by a pillow or sleeping bag he slumbered freely. Legend has it that he planted chicken bones in the community gardens. I’m probably just as discouraged by the results as he. Today, I hovered around him trying not to disturb his sleep while I gingerly picked up wet napkins and squished ketchup packets.
In the southwest corner between scratchy bushes and a small tree dwelled a patch of land belonging to Victor. He belted baggy, black sweatpants and wore white sneakers. Shirtless and in fairly good physical shape, he karate chopped trees and kick boxed thin air. The majority of the time, Victor was peaceful, but I had seen him retaliate very angrily when someone threatened his territory or crossed him in some way. I even saw him hurl a stick or two with alarming speed at trees. Grey haired and bearded he’d press his palms together and bow to me, “Good morning Sister-Queen-Of-The-Universe.” On my first day in the park, my supervisor introduced me to Victor and asked him to watch out for me. How do I explain to my worried father the security I felt with Victor in the park.
Ernest slept in the wide-open space in the middle of the park. He didn’t have anything to hide and his normalcy was a relief. If he wasn’t in his spot, I’d be concerned. This central space also housed a stage, which was the site for various special events: battle of the bands, protests, and regular vegan food donations from Food Not Bombs. I was warned to never succumb to the soup kitchen style handout no matter how hungry I was. A coworker had once had trouble chewing his salad, which happened to be tossed with a piece of dreadlock. Is hair vegan?
Aside from renting basketballs to students and chess sets to the brilliant but unemployed, I documented criminal proceedings in the park, presided at special events, and called the police if fights broke out - particularly if weapons were involved.
With another sort of dread, I plodded to the wooded part of the park at the east end. The extra coverage provided protection, encouraging small groups of young pock-marked kids with rotting teeth to roll out sleeping bags and string up makeshift tents. With bikes propped upside down, they would tinker endlessly, fashioning elaborate carts to pull their belongings and items to sell at the resale shops. They’d often exceed the limits regarding creating a campsite, and I hated confronting them about their transgressions knowing that I conveyed an absolute lack of authority. Though it wasn’t their used needles, which I’d carefully confine to a sharpie box, that I feared most but their gaze. I was afraid of who I’d see in their eyes and even more scary who’d they see in mine.