Friday, April 1, 2011

On closing the Dump

"Roll up your windows"

That's what we'd say when we drove by: "roll up your windows." Whether I was with my mother or brothers, or sister, driving on the highway that cut through those huge mountains of filth, we'd all say "roll up your windows" to each other. But it didn't matter. It got in anyway.

The smell. It got in the car. That awful, putrid smell.

I was about 8 or 9 when I moved to Staten Island. I don't remember much about my life, especially the early years, but I will never forget that smell. It got in. Through the vents. Through the doors. It stuck to you. To your hair. To your clothes. It came in waves - sometimes you'd think it was gone, but it came back, stronger, overwhelming.

(I once dated a girl who lived near the thing and the waves that came were awful. It infected everything. It came from everywhere. Like a mold growing in every corner of the house it was ubiquitous and inescapable.)

But we rolled the windows up anyway, on our wood-paneled station wagon, and continued to travel to school, or to Brooklyn, or wherever it was we were going - as fast as we could - and, sometimes, wondered why we came out here, moved out here to (what seemed like) the end of the universe. It was the '80s and there wasn't much down there except long-haired freaks, and we certainly didn't look like them, or fit in there, but we soldiered on. And we kept driving. With the windows rolled all the way up.

And those mountains on either side. Those pulsating hills of refuse. They were alive.

Sure, now it looks like a postcard. But back then, those hills - man, they were alive. Birds, so many birds: swooping down like B-52 bombers, feasting on five boroughs worth of leftovers. A generation of dirty diapers. Carcasses and all. So many birds - seagulls, I guess - just swooped down and ate it up, shatting all over the place as they swept.

There were trucks too. All over the place. Bulldozers, I think they are called. Pushing and piling the mounds of garbage while the birds were feasting. They flew in circles as the trucks plowed, and shat on the windshields and all over everywhere as they swooped.

Fences lined the outskirts of the landfill and plastic bags, random ephemera, just meandered, trying to escape, and smacked up against it and stayed there.

Now they call it a park. They say it is capped. They say it sinking. They say it's not sinking. The politicians sat up on those hills and issued platitudes, and patted themselves on the back, and they called it a park, and said it's not sinking.

They probably got kick backs, money, favors, whatnot. The government contract to cap the entire landfill was probably a few million dollars and I'm sure some of it made it their way. Lining their pockets as the local boys lined the dump with their "impenetrable seal." Everybody gets a piece of the action, the grease the makes the machine run.

But, now they call it a park and they'd like to change the name. They call it a stain. An unfortunate blight on this otherwise pristine place, this place that should never have been sullied with so much for so long. And they say that the stain is removed and it is gone, and we should change the name and move along, and forget it.

But it's there. You can see it. It's hiding. Right there under the cap. Under the "impenetrable seal." It's still there.

And it's still alive, man. So alive. Pumping out methane gas. Years and years worth of dead, rotting, filth. It's pulsating. Tons of it. Right there. Big gigantic heaps, suffocating, trying to breathe underneath that cap.

We can call it something else. We can change the name. We can put a big cover on it. Pretend it doesn't exist. But it's still there. It'll always be there.

As long as we live, work, play in this sacred place it will haunt us like a vision from the past, or loom over us like an impending storm. Or, it will just hide there. Lie dormant. Under the cap. An ever present reminder that we need to "roll up the windows" - fast. We have to stop it from getting in.

Even if we can't. We'll still try.