Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Tail of Two Cities

While running errands this morning, a woman handed me a small sheet of paper. I stuck it in my pocket, continued on my journey, and took a wild guess as to its purpose. She was doing the Lord’s work, I surmised—trying to save my soul. When I arrived home and plucked said paper from my pocket, I saw that I was correct in my assumption. Heaven or hell—take your pick! Utilizing biblical quotes that separated “Candidates for hell” from “Candidates to reach heaven,” the bottom line advice from a certain pontificating pastor was: “I recommend you to choose heaven.” What the hell! I thought. Why not?

Somewhat off my predictable beaten path today, I walked along a bizarre stretch of parkland—a narrow strip of fenced-in weeds, trees, and garbage. It’s been a tangled eyesore forever in my memory. The peculiar park grounds that I speak of rest on a bluff looking down on the Major Deegan Expressway—I-87—and have long served as an atmospheric hot spot for rats and those on two legs engaging in some form of clandestine misbehavior. Suffice it to say, it is not—and never was—a place for a family picnic.

Recently, I read that an effort was afoot to clean up the spot and turn it into something unrecognizable. It is, after all, part of New York City’s parklands. In fact, I had forgotten—if I ever knew in the first place—that this poor excuse for a park has a name: Tibbett’s Tail. Tibbett’s Brook was once prominent in the area of the Northwest Bronx I call home. I’ve seen old pictures of the swampy-looking brook meandering through a lot of sea grass—or whatever is the freshwater, urban equivalent. A century or so ago, the brook was diverted underground and gradually filled in. The elevated subway line carrying the IRT Broadway-Seventh Avenue “Number 1” train—commencing and ending at Van Cortlandt Park and W242nd Street—can be seen in early twentieth-century photos lording over the murky waters of Tibbetts Brook. The El was definitely a harbinger of things to come, though, because this corner of the world bares little resemblance to that bucolic snapshot in time. The El and Van Cortlandt Park endure, however.

There’s a sign at Tibbett’s Tail—noting that it’s a recipient of a grant—which bespeaks hope for this mysterious park. There’s even a rack with plastic bags hanging nearby, importuning the inconsiderate dog-walking slobs who inhabit the area to pick up after their pets. Tibbett’s Tail and its adjoining public sidewalk have been treated like dirt for decades. But I couldn’t help but think of the canine waste picked up with those plastic bags ending up in the garbage and then in a landfill. The excrement will decompose pretty quickly, but the plastic bags might still be around in five hundred years. Right now the Number Two is feast for the flies of Tibbett’s Tail, which—I guess—has its benefits, providing you’re not in breathing distance of the place.

(Photos from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)

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