WORKING IN THE ALLEY
It’s all about the dumpster
June 18, 2007
Lately I have been working in the alley outside my studio. I wondered if I’d be bored with no radio or a documentary to listen to while I work but it has proved far more interesting than I might have imagined. The parade of cars, animals and people has provided quite the show. Most days I begin at 9 or 10 am and work till 7ish when I lose my light so I have seen much of what happens in the alley. I am the Sentinel. I have been using the alley for a month now because of the toxicity of my vacuum cleaner project. Dean Nimmer gave me an old Premier Grand Vacuum Cleaner he found at a flea market. I had put it aside till it called me to work on it. This is in keeping with my modus operandi because 99% of all of my projects are things which either somehow show up at my door or appear next to the dumpster in the alley.
Lately industrial things parade by while I am working, en route to the dumpster, and I jump up and save them. I have collected a Champion Striper (to make stripes on roads) and a Capitol Temptrol (to make temperature in Capitols, I think). I guess my next line will be retired industrial objects, saved from their final march to the dumpster. I feel good about that.I *was* working on a BeautyBox brand breadbox project but temporarily ruined it due to over-experimentation and there was the Premier Grand, waving at me and so it began. The metal base is too nice to touch so I decided to cover the cloth dust bag with glass. But first I needed to shore it up and so I began covering it with fiberglass and resin. Yes, I wore my double-barreled respirator and layers of gloves. The resin is so sticky and it wanders so much that I had to change gloves every few minutes. It felt like being a speed racer of disposable gloves. I went through two boxes of gloves on the first day.That first day I worked in the alley corresponded with the first day of a padlock on the dumpster nearby. It was a Saturday and I soon learned that Saturdays are the days that people come to use our dumpster. First a little old red pickup truck came by with a load of trash. The driver looked upon me with chagrin, then, seemingly resolved to proceed anyway, he drove up next to the dumpster. He spied the padlock and sped off. I kinda felt bad for him. His car wasn’t screaming disposable income but then I thought well, if the landlord has to pay to empty the dumpster too often we’ll end up paying for trash removal and I don’t want that so I stopped feeling sorry for him and kept working. Because of my proximity to the dumpster people seemed to eye me warily, as if I were the keeper of the key. I felt misunderstood.
Then a little silver Honda Civic came by. It looked like a reasonable car. I am guessing that the driver maybe saw illegal dumping as a cost-cutting measure and not a survival thing. She saw the lock and did an alamande-left out the back drive. I felt nothing, really.
THEN came the gleaming, pearlescent white Lexus SUV with rims like you see in car magazines on waiting room tables at the oil change place. The woman driving slowed down as she passed and scrutinized me. I didn’t look up but I felt her gaze. I just kept respirating and fiberglassing. She stopped at the dumpster and got out and only then did she spy the lock. I felt her ire from my resiny perch upon my yellow milkcrate. She U-turned and drove past me and as she did, she rolled down her window and quietly said, “bitch”. I felt unfairly persecuted, alebit softly.
Word seems to be out now that the dumpster is padlocked so the parade of trash-bearing vehicles has abated but lately it’s the plants and animals on parade. Squirrels run around overhead on the electrical wires and go dumpster-diving (My alley has an overhang thingie like a carport) and often stop and stare for a bit at the vacuum cleaner from above. I wonder what they are thinking. I pondered squirrellism for a bit but couldn’t get a read on what they might be thinking. They did seem to be playing a frisky game of tag though so maybe they were thinking in terms of tag strategy. Flies landed on my sticky resiny surface by the dozens and thus become a part of the vacuum cleaner bag. This kinda made sense because real shellac (not the man made equivalent), a sticky substance, is made from the secretions of the lac insect which is peculiar to Thailand and India. I wonder if the insects were searching for long lost foreign relatives on my vacuum cleaner bag. It could be.
And the pollen! For a few days the pollen was crazy-like. So much so that I might list it in the media as it is almost a whole layer on the bag. I bet it meshed in nicely with the fiberglass and added to the tensile strength even.
I have a skunk friend who comes by regularly. He circles the dumpster and sniffs about. When he gets too close I ask him to please not get any closer and he actually listens and wanders away. He has a stripe like a V. It starts as a single point at his neck and radiates out into two stripes. I *think* it’s the same skunk, although I am most often mistaken in life; or maybe Holyoke skunks all have this marking. Maybe it’s their gang colors? Maybe it’s a she. Maybe it’s a mutant skunk. Maybe it’s a rabbit dressed as a skunk. Maybe it is a prophet, or an alien, or a Scientologist dressed as a skunk. Maybe it’s Tom Cruise! Maybe I imagined it and am going crazy. I *feel* crazy.
Then came my little woodchuck friend (pictured). He kept creeping out from under my car and then scurrying back under. Finally he made a run for the dumpster, evidently having decided it might be safe to run past me. I scientifically identified it as a woodchuck because my dog had a woodchuck toy that looked just like it. It made grunting noises when he shook it.
There has been a people parade as well; friends come by to hang out while I work since I am grouting now and the stinky part is over. People bring cheese and crackers, coffee and muffins. Locals ride by on their bikes and one woman stops and asks repeatedly to shake my hand although I gesture to my gloves and decline. And yesterday the police came by. I saw them watching from where they were parked and finally they drove up and asked what I was doing and I explained. They did not think the skunk’s markings were gang colors but they did think the woodchuck was a woodchuck and they liked that the working title of the vacuum cleaner is, “Jesania Yo” because of the graffiti tag on the alley wall behind it. They did not try to use the dumpster. I felt relieved.
So, back to the alley for me now that this newsletter is done for another week. I have a guest coming later to hang out with me while I work so I must go sweep up the alley and dust the milkcrates.