Shirley Chisholm was not a cowgirl. I first saw her name in the novel The Sellout by Paul Beatty where the main character refers to Shirley Chisolm’s smile. I pictured a woman in a cowgirl hat and spurs with a lasso and a smile. Fast Forward to Shirley Chisholm State Park being constructed and my mention of it to my brother during which I ponder the name, wondering aloud if she was really a cowgirl. You can guess his reaction—one of those face palms and a mini lesson about how everything with the name Chisholm is not related to herding cattle.
I Love My Park Day is an annual event that encourages people to help keep our parks beautiful. Luckily, some parks extend the day into two days, which meant my brother and I could go on a Sunday, and we headed to Brooklyn. Off the Belt Parkway, the park is several huge hills, all built on top of a former garbage dump (as my brother likes to say, Where they buried the bodies. And I don’t think he’s completely wrong).
We met up early so we could walk the trails before the cleanup. Actually, I arrived earlier than early because traffic on the Belt is unpredictable, so what I thought would take me 40 minutes took me 20, which rarely happens. My brother got there on time because that’s what my brother does, and off we went, up a hill and winding around and up another and winding around. Birds chirped. We saw a cat. We got to places in the park where all we could see was water and grass, as if we weren’t in the middle of a frenetic urban space. Pretty trippy. We made it to the top of a rather high path, checked out the views—we could see downtown Manhattan’s skyline—and wound our way back down. We then went to the other side of the park where we found paved paths and went up only a little so that we wouldn’t be late for signing in.
We found the parks people (rangers? guides?), signed in, and waited. Then we waited a bit more. Then I was like, Imma gonna have to use the port-a-potty. I’d checked it out before and decided it was a big fat no. However, I’ll take port-a-potty over days of agonizing UTI any time. Off I went, holding my breath, trying to not touch anything while having to touch things in the portable toilet. So. Gross. Wearing a mask has its advantages. A long time ago, I had to use a bathroom in the Bowery where I was at first mouth-breathing and then not breathing at all by the time I was done. Here, I realized, the smell wasn’t atrocious, and any time I did breathe, the air was mask-filtered. (To be clear—the park does a great job of keeping these things clean. They still skeeve me.)
After dousing myself with all kinds of sanitizer except for the official park sanitizer that smells like that Bowery bathroom and doesn’t fade away for a week, I hooked up again with the group that was still waiting and still growing. There were a bunch of families and two young men whom my brother told me were most likely there for service credit. He can spot em. My brother has run all kinds of service groups with his students. He’s a good egg.
The two park people (rangers? guides?) introduced themselves, told us a bit about the park, informed us about who Shirley Chisholm is (NOT a cowgirl), and then showed us the way to the shore. My brother and I walked with one of them, talking about how many state parks are in NYC (seven!) and how my brother is a history teacher and tour guide and how the park already looked so clean so what exactly could we clean up. When we got to the shoreline, we saw what we could clean up. The tide comes in. The tide goes out. Garbage gets left in the beach grass.
Everyone grabbed a bucket and some grabbers. I was in heaven. Grabbers! Such fun to use! Unfortunately, we were using them to grab garbage, and there was so much. At first glance, you may not see anything, but then, it’s everywhere. We dove in and found mostly bottle caps at first. That prompted me to proclaim no one should be allowed to drink out of plastic bottles. Then we found a lot of straws. That prompted the new rule of no straws allowed. Then we found a lot of vaping things, and I was all, vaping should be illegal. Then we found candy wrappers. I didn’t say no one should eat candy, but really, people should eat the bigger sized ones so that there aren’t so many little wrappers around.
Since we were picking through the beach grass, we had quite a time deciphering what things were. We got into a routine of poking, picking, and then often asking, What is this? Is this nature? Sometimes nature and garbage look similar. I found a few plastic bags. My brother found a tampon applicator and a glove. I kept getting more upset about the garbage. He was like, Sometimes it blows out of cans when it’s windy, and I was like, People are gross and shouldn’t be allowed to do anything!
Then the rain rolled in. The sky had been looking ominous as soon as we’d begun. The drizzle came. Then it ended. Then it came. Then it ended. Then it came once more. Then it ended as we finished up our bucket. Some families came back with eleven pounds of garbage. We had four. We won, I guess? Less garbage is better.