html xmlns="" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: I wasn't even supposed to <em>be</em> here today.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

I wasn't even supposed to be here today.

I was right when I wrote that the Drunk Old Guy wouldn’t last much longer in our garden. I would have overlooked all the minor stuff he agreed to stop doing, then took up again within the week. But while I was in LA this weekend, the neighbors told my co-manager Denise that they didn’t want him living in his van outside the garden anymore, and that he took off in his van after hitting a parked car. Denise is a doer, so she had him out and the lock changed within the day. I don’t miss him, but I also didn’t need Amy asking me how I would feel if he killed himself because we all know that the garden is the thing he loved most in life and what else does he have anyway? Jeez, Amy.

You know how long it took to get replacement garden drama? That’s right – one day. Denise has given Blonde repeated warnings not to leave junk around the garden, so when Denise found three large garbage bags full of cans in the shed on Monday, she put them out on the street. Blonde has been at the garden since the first day. She’s always been a mildly erratic gardener, leaving her plot untended until the day she shows up with a twelve-pack of Natural Light and some baby plants, and re-makes her plot in a fourteen hour blitz. She is also the worst violator of the only rule I care deeply about: no kitsch in the garden.

Blonde called me three times last night, pissed and crying and frantic. She has been laid off (?) from her job at the bakery; to make ends meet, she has been canning. Monday night, after searching trash cans and dumpsters until four in the morning, she left her three bags of cans and bottles at the garden while she went home to get warm and get some sleep. She figures she collected $25 worth of cans, which she intended to spend on her grandson’s birthday present. Each time she got to the part about her grandson’s birthday, she just dissolved into wails. In between sobbing over her lost night’s work, she was furious. Are we ashamed of her for canning? Don’t we know that she takes care of her own? Do we hate recyclers*? We are thieves! Purely mean thieves, who owe her twenty-five dollars! For her grandson’s birthday, and we are back to crying… .

An hour of listening to Blonde left me with two unresolved thoughts. First, it reminded me how terrible it feels to be broke. I was out of work for longer than I want to tell the lot of you after grad school. I remember how each dollar carried such a huge weight, cast a constant fog of worry that was hard to breathe through. If Blonde is feeling like that, $25 is a huge, riveting, utterly compelling amount of potential relief, so important that calling relative strangers to cry and scream at them is trivial, nothing. I also remember how kind people were; how my generous friends would murmur to me that they were taking me out this time (as if I could pay next time – although now I do). I could pass that on to Blonde; to me, $25 means I can’t binge on more plants for my porch this month. Also, as bleak as I remember that time being, I never once considered spending a night climbing into dumpsters for aluminum cans. Because I got lucky at birth, the worst it can get for me is a very unpleasant conversation with my parents.

And then I wonder about the nature of the community garden. The Drunk Old Guy and Blonde are both running afoul of some basic, common sense rules. Don’t shit in the shed; don’t drink in your van all day and bother the neighbors; don’t store your not-garden-related crap in the garden. Right? Obvious rules. But those rules are easy for people who have options; those rules would never constrain me, who can go home to get drunk or shit and never have to find a way to carry three full garbage bags home at four in the morning when I am cold and exhausted. Does creating and enforcing a largely reasonable set of rules have the effect of driving poor people out of a garden designed for the community? Does not enforcing the same rules drive middle class people out of the same garden? You know what? If we can get a garden meeting together to talk about rules, I honestly don’t care how it comes out. I just want people to consciously make that explicit choice; to be aware that these rules that make the garden more pleasant may make life harder for people that have bad choices in front of them all day long and also at four in the morning.

*Which sends me spinning off into the debate over whether taking bottles out of my blue bin robs the city recycling program of its most valuable assets, a topic I managed not to discuss with Blonde. I have also not figured out how to broach that with the aged, four-foot Southeast Asian woman who looks me straight in the eye as she goes through my recycling and would surely kick my ass in any fight I can imagine. She’s going to eat all the grapes on my fence, too and still I yield. I am a coward.


Blogger Megan said...

You know, I can never guess what direction the comments will take.

2:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why would you care if some weirdo kills himself over something that's completely stupid?

And, what kind of kitsch? I mean, what exactly does she do?

You should concern yourself less with weirdos like that. Anyone who's living in a van, or whose whole life goes out of whack over $25 has more problems than you should even bother trying to deal with.

Specifically, the problems are theirs, there's nothing you can do about them, so why worry about them?

2:44 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

I never expected an amazing response like that, for example.

3:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm also a cold hearted selfish human like anonymous.

That's probably why the girl I love is exactly the type to worry about such things. Even though I disagree, no one should ever be faulted for worrying about the less fortunate. Even if you don't always agree.

As for recycling, I hear the city recycling actually gets less money in their budget the more people recycle; you're helping the city by not recycling!

3:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, but aluminum cans are the only part that isn't money-losing for the city. Aluminum is so valuable that if there is no recycling program in place, big compacting bins for aluminum cans appear in grocery store parking lots and spit out change for your cans. Newspaper is probably break-even. Glass and plastic is almost certainly a money loser.

3:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Umm, I see it's glass bottles that are being taken out of the recycling bin. In that case, you probably are saving the city money.

3:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, I guess you won't be asking the four foot tall asian lady out on a date then?

3:47 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

No! Why would I invite danger like that into my life?

3:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The Drunk Old Guy and Blonde are both running afoul of some basic, common sense rules...Obvious rules. But those rules are easy for people who have options..."

Or do people who are able to follow obvious rules have options? It's hard to have options when you alienate everyone who could ever help you.

4:17 PM  
Blogger bobvis said...

The garden is voluntary, right? The law should be laid down, and those who don't want to follow should band together and get their own garden. (Frankly, if I were there, I might join them. I wouldn't want to live under the iron boot of the Turnip Nazis.)

Frankly, I think the claim that poor people can't follow simple rules is a mildly offensive. I know Megan doesn't intend this, people never do. We're not talking about requiring that silver trowels be used to smooth the dirt before you leave. Rather, this incident seem to be basic rules intended to not infringe on the ability of others to enjoy the garden.

7:39 PM  
Blogger bobvis said...

ananda uses no fewer than five participle verbs, and I have a frickin comma splice in my post:
"I know Megan doesn't intend this, people never do."

7:41 PM  
Blogger Erica said...

Here in Urbana, there is curbside recycling and it is illegal to put your recyclables in the trash. This law is apparently not very effective, because the town pays people to go through the trash and pick out recyclables. (Which seems almost like a disincentive to separate them oneself, since they'll get recycled anyway and it provides jobs for some of the many people in town who would otherwise be unemployed.)

In Champaign, the adjacent town, if you want to recycle you have to save your stuff and take it to the center yourself. If you have a lot, you can pay them to come get it. (This is consistent with the sharp cultural distinction. Champaign is the larger, cooler town, full of bars and restaurants and almost all the chain stores, while Urbana is home to the farmers' market, the organic grocery, the better public library, most of the campus, and not much else.)

8:22 PM  
Blogger ... said...

please tell me you gave blonde some money, or asked the woman who threw out the cans to give her some money. jesus, she dove in trashcans all night and whatserface tosses out the fruits of her labour, because... well, it didn't seem like she really had a good reason. and you know it's sad and pathetic, and you even have the good grace to acknowledge your relative luck and how sad her situation is. but then your commentary about the matter got all theoretical... nature of rules, excluding the unfortunate, blah blah. and all the other commenters talk about participles and recycling programs? she calls you "wailing", and you talk about your ideas? i'm shocked.

i'm no bleeding heart, and i've only read about 2 months' worth of your blog, which is hardly a perfect way to judge someone's character- but this post made you sound like a callous bourgie jerk, and that surprised me, because my impression of you is that you're awesome and sensitive and smart and cool- you don't generally seem like an asshole at all. so, who cares what i think, i'm just a voice on the internerd, but i'm a voice who badly wants to know, WHAT DID YOU DO FOR POOR WRONGED BLONDE? did i miss something?

9:11 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Bob V.: Shit, they don't have to band together to go to a new garden. All they have to do is tell me and Denise they would rather have different managers. Our only authority is the will of the majority of gardeners and we mostly just guess what they would like us to enforce.

No, I don't mean to be condescending. I think faced with hard choices (like what to do with three bags of stuff at 4:00am) I would act the way she did. But because of my relative wealth, I am not faced with choices like that. If a bunch of middle class gardeners get together to formulate rules (which is likely to happen), we should at least remember that those rules matter differently to different people.

Poot: I haven't done anything for her yet and I don't know what I will do. Part of me aches for her and knows I could spare the money. Another part of me resents the idea that a managerial obligation that costs me five or so hours a month, that I do for free to be part of my town, could end up costing me money because my co-manager enforced a rule Blonde knew well in advance. Denise and I are still thinking and talking about it; if we don't decide to make her whole, it won't be because we thought the whole thing was trivial.

9:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Urbana has that little mall, and it used to have the only decent billiars/darts store in the area. Plus it has amature wrestling out at some bar somewhere. And, bar age in Urbana is 18, and it had the brew'n'view! Of course, that's probably all changed since I left.

Champaign has Legends, and La Bambas, so Champaign is clearly better.

I thought the populations were pretty similar between the 2 towns though.

11:42 PM  
Blogger bobvis said...

If they can vote for new management, all the better.

I have difficulty with the point that the choices of the poor are more difficult. Remember that we are talking about rules like: keep your personal stuff out of the public shed that everyone uses. I could even argue that rich people have more stuff and thus may find it more difficult to avoid using the shed to hide away their stuff. (I grant that the consequences of not following the rules are more grave for the poor. However, it ain't more difficult.)

Undoubtedly diving for cans is not pleasant. However, she could have stopped a couple of minutes earlier to allow time to transfer the cans, or she could have worked 15 more minutes to transfer them home. This is annoying, but perfectly reasonable, I think.

For some reason my mind goes to parking meters. Clearly it's more "difficult" for poor people to pay for parking. However, should they expect that their car won't be towed if they don't cough up the quarter? No, it is perfectly reasonable and fair that we treat them the same. No one is forcing them to park where they choose to park. They have other options and know the consequences just as I do when I pull up in my Mazerati.

4:54 AM  
Blogger Bill said...

A lot of people seem all up in arms by Megan saying that they (the garden community) should understand the circumstances of the people giving them trouble. I don't see that as her saying that the poor simply have trouble following the rules, I think she is saying that it's easy to sit at your comfortable high priced computer and say, "it's easy to follow simple rules." When in reality it's much easier to make mistakes following those rules when you are dealing with much bigger problems. I find that hard to disagree with, whether or not you believe they should tolerate such behavior at the actual garden.

10:00 AM  
Blogger ... said...

let's say one night denise left her work uniform in a plastic bag in the shed. and blonde said, 'what the hell is this plastic bag doing here, we SAID no stuff in the shed, toss it." and she tosses it. clearly blonde is being a jerk in this hypothetical scenario, by throwing out something denise needs in order to make an income. if this happened, obviously she'd owe denise $25 to get a new uniform for work. right?

a uniform in a plastic bag is small and not gross, and obviously tossing someone's small-and-not-gross stuff is unfair. it's only because canbags are big and gross that this is even an issue. poor denise didn't like big gross canbags so she trashed them. but i bet she wouldn't have tossed megan's work tools, say a pencil case and clipboard, or a duffel bag of workout clothes or a pair of sneakers or whatever non-big, non-gross items megan had left in the shed.

but blonde is POOR, and poor people sometimes need to touch gross things, and it's not fair to toss them then rationalize taking her income away from her. NOT FAIR. i call bullshit. who really needs that $25? denise should pay her back. or at least kick in a good gift for the kid.

3:58 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

To me it seems more relevant that I don't have to leave things in the shed, not uniforms or cans or clipboards, because it is easy for me to go home and leave them there. I have options that she doesn't. Creating rules that foreclose choices that aren't important to me (like leaving stuff in the shed) may have the effect of driving poor people out of our garden.

4:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does Blonde not have an apartment, or place of her own she could take this stuff back to? Not even a car she could have put the cans in?

And, why would a simple rule like, don't store your personal stuff in the garden keep poor people out of the garden? Unless their only purpose in joining the garden was so that they could store stuff there, which really would make it more of a garbage dump than a garden anyway.

And, why does who needs the money more even matter? Blonde needing the money doesn't mean anyone owes her money.

This seems very straight forward to me, Blonde knew the rule. On top of knowing the rule, there was a chance that someone might just see the cans as garbage and take them anyway. She took a risk in not putting them in a more secure place, it didn't work out for her, and now she wants someone to pay her back what she lost on the gamble she willingly took.

I don't get you people. It was her risk, and her loss. No one owes her anything. And I certainly wouldn't want to set the precedent of being financialy liable for people's stuff left in, what sounds to me like, a fairly public place.

5:03 PM  
Blogger bobvis said...

"When in reality it's much easier to make mistakes following those rules when you are dealing with much bigger problems."

I have to admit that I actually *do* still find this condescending in a very subtle way. We aren't talking about rules that cost money to follow. These aren't rules that require you to have an attorney or a high school diploma. The only rule talked about boils down to: don't interfere with the ability of other people to enjoy the garden. To say it is difficult for poor people to avoid bothering others *is* condescending in my view. That is the sort of thinking which leads to fees to keep out the riffraff and a distrust of letting poor people into our lives. I know both you and Megan are well-intentioned, but please keep in mind what deduction can be made from your claim.

I think your analogy would hold better if Blonde had left a smelly sewer-system-worker uniform and Denise had left a clean uniform and the Blonde's was thrown away. Frankly, if I came across three garbage bags and put them on the curb to be taken away, I would have thought I was doing the owner of the bags a favor! A note saying, "these are important to me; please forgive me for keeping them here for half a day" would have gone a long way.

Does she really not have anywhere she could have taken the cans?

6:51 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

To Ennis' comment, I would also add that she was likely on foot or on a bicycle. Hard to go home with a load like that. And maybe also (I am entirely speculating here), home could be an apartment with no place to leave cans and scary neighbors who don't want you bringing in noisy bags of cans late at night.

Seriously y'all, you aren't picturing yourself without all the usual privileges of wealth. You think those privileges are just the way things are, and they aren't for her.

10:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But, if she has no wealth, isn't that her doing? Isn't that because of her decisions in life?

I don't buy this, oh I feel so guilty because I'm doing well in life, BS.

Her problems are not yours. Don't think they are.

11:55 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

I am thinking about how to create and enforce rules for a community garden. The county is letting us use this land for the benefit of our community. My town is heterogeneous by both wealth and class and I do not want to accidently shut out an entire group of people in our community because I did not realize that what appear to be basic rules to middle class people have a different impact on poor people.

Two more things:
1. I am not nearly as good about this as I could be, but yes! My neighbor's problems are my problems, because I want to be woven into humanity in general and my town in particular.

2. Seriously, people. "There but for the grace of god..." I have worked hard, but the vast portion of my place in society is pure luck. You can't confuse good luck (in wealth, or health, or power) with virtue, because that leads to believing that bad things happen to bad people. Appreciate luck and virtue separately. A hard streak of bad luck could have you collecting cans out of dumpsters on a long Sacramento night and wondering on earth you were going to do with them while you try to catch just a couple hours of sleep while it is still dark out.

12:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmmm, that's probably the difference. I have no interest in humanity in general, or my town in particular. I've got my friends and my family, those are the ones I feel an obligation to.

But, if you really think her problems are your problems, it's only $25, or $12.50 each if you and the other girl split it. That should be a pretty trivial amount of money to an engineer.

However, I still say the rule isn't the issue here. I can't see any reason why, no keeping personal stuff in the garden, should be a burden on anyone, especially when it's stuff completely unassociated with gardening.

And, as for the luck thing. What luck? You were lucky because you were born into a good family? Don't you think your parents probably worked hard too, and made whatever necessary sacrifices to make sure that you'd have a good life? Won't you do the same for your kids? That's not luck. It's not like children are randomly assigned to homes, there's no chance in it. And, I certainly wouldn't feel guilty, or that I owe anyone anything, because my parents, and their parents, etc..., worked hard in their lives to get ahead.

11:46 AM  
Blogger bobvis said...

I have to admit that Megan's comment about being on bike or having scary neighbors may be convincing me to change my view. I still think the viewpoint that poor people have a harder time not interfering with the lives of others is potentially destructive. However, I don't want to fall into the trap of not believing something because I don't like the conclusions that could be drawn from it. (The classic problem of ignoring all facts that might make you change your view of the world.)

Let me drop my previous accusations for a bit and pose this question:
Is there anything about the rule that is intrinsically discriminatory to poor people?

Post hoc, it's easy to look at it from the viewpoint of poor, biking Blonde at 4 AM with her cans and answer that yes, of course it is discriminatory against the poor. However, anonymous has a point that this whole canning incident really has nothing to do with gardening. Frankly, it seems like the same situation could have happened even if she wasn't a tenant of the garden! Is the shed locked to prevent any other random person (me, for instance) from storing stuff there and creating the same sort of dilemma?

Is this a pro-middle-class, anti-poor law?

8:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What if you decide to be compassionate, and let poor, tired gardeners break the rules? Almost certainly these kinds of problems would come up more often. People with the means to do so (the middle class) would leave for a location or hobby that doesn't involve old men leering or tripping over other people's garbage bags. People with no other options (the poor) will be forced to choose between dealing with the garbage and going home. So your (well intentioned, compassionate) disregarding of the rule out of understanding for the poor will end up hurting other poor people.

11:28 PM  

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