(Originally published on 26th April 2013)
Most cities care by making some attempt to help the homeless, or by making sure their waiting staff are paid at least minimum wage. New York cares by painting fences.
On Saturday a group of particularly public-spirited/in-possession-of-nothing-better-to-do Mountbattens got up at stupid o’clock to drag themselves out to the Bronx to take part in New York Cares day. Admittedly, we are poor, and most of us were there for the free t-shirt because it would delay having to wash any clothes for a little while longer (saving both money and time, and therefore spreading happiness. And who doesn’t want a pyjama top that screams ‘I’m a good person!’). But New York Cares day happens twice a year and the idea is that the people of this great city stop “accidentally” kicking you with their stilettos and muscling each other out of the way for cabs, and do something to help someone else. But I suppose a few people are getting a small amount of shit done, and that counts for a lot in what is quite a self-absorbed city.
The day quickly became massively over-exciting when we realised we were going to get to go on an actual yellow school bus. Of course, the day probably became drastically less exciting to the US residents also on the bus who had probably spent the best part of half their lives on actual yellow school buses, and were going to have to sit for an hour and listen to a group of Brits talk in awed tones about ‘actual yellow school buses’. But we did not worry about such things, for we were passengers of an actual yellow school bus now, and we lived up to everything that implies. So we acted like five year olds, spilled our drinks, and squealed every time the bus went fast over a bump.
The random hand merely proves that I was not the only person sad enough to take a photo.
As an out-and-proud Brown Thumb I nearly bit the hand off the woman who was handing out work assignments for the morning. I mean, it’s not that I would have minded doing something to do with plants (I’m not being non-specific here, I just genuinely didn’t know what on earth people were talking about), but I just decided that peoples’ lives are hard enough, without me “helping”. So I ended up on a special painting mission with a few select others who were also greenery impaired and/or in the toilet when the people for gardening were chosen.
But the secret prize for being crap at gardening was…
The dismembered hand of a Sesame Street character!
Not for us the tedium of brushing or rolling. We simply had to spend a few hours stroking the park’s acoutrements. All we had to do was dip our hands in and get going (that’s what she said). I promised myself that, as an adult, I would be much better at what was essentially finger painting than I was as a child and I’d keep my clothes clean. And in fairness, I more or less did. My arms, hair, and face, on the other hand, were a different story. I had a good half hour of Lady-Macbeth-stylee ‘out damn spot’ing when I got home before I could call myself presentable and be allowed back into society.
But despite the aftermath, anyone who’s never spent an afternoon dipping a prosthetic paw into black gloss, stroking a bench, and breathing in the fumes while they’re at it has just never known joy.
The afternoon was spent clearing logs from a section of woodland. I missed the explanation as to why we were doing this, but I’m more than happy to blindly bundle in with the rest of the herd, and so bundle in, I did. I quickly discovered that the secret to successful log shifting is to pick ones which are really rotten. This allows you to carry huge logs, without all of the extra weight and inconvenience that comes from things being alive. It also allows you to look super-impressive, not only as you carry entire trees past a group of burly guys struggling with one between eight,but also when you show off and move it from one shoulder to the other mid-walk, and when you turn around on the spot and smack one end into a surviving tree, causing the dead one to explode fairly disproportionately but also spectacularly. Basically, I brought the party. I also taught a couple of Americans about tossing the caber, so you’re welcome, Scotland. Just spreadin’ a wee bit o’ culture.
After much less time than I expected, the wood looked pretty much exactly the same, but there was also the above giant pile of fallen tree next to the wood. Which is apparently a good thing. Like I said, I missed some probably-quite-vital instructions at the beginning of the clearing, which would maybe have helped, but everyone who worked for New York Cares seemed very pleased. And they were lovely, so that was good.
It wasn’t a park when we arrived, but it was a ark when we le- Actually. It was a perfectly fine park when we arrived. But now all the lamposts are just that little bit blacker.