Your trash is incredible

A five year old discovers stoop giveaways

Somewhat predictably, my kids love to complain about walking anywhere in the city. Going two long blocks, Ada claims, is like crossing the ocean twice, and in the heat and sun of a late summer afternoon the sweatiness is undeniable. There are, however, two things that incentivize her to keep moving: seeing plants she can identify, and spotting a free stoop giveaway within arm’s reach.

On the botanical front, it’s prime season for identifying Brooklyn’s greenery. “That’s lamb’s ear; touch it, it’s so soft,” she points out. “That kind of evergreen has red berries and if you mash them you can make medicine,” she claims, a statement I’m unclear on being true or not. “Those are zinnias. Halmoni’s dad used to grow those.” “Look at those pink morning glories that didn’t bloom even though it’s morning.” “That must be a rare fig tree, because it doesn’t look like the Common Fig I saw in my book.” And so she has developed her own mnemonic, of stories and facts attached to hundreds of species, that occupy her brain as we slowly meander along.

The second and much greater motivator is free giveaways. Ada has some hoarding tendencies, and insofar as things appear clean and bed bug free and we’re not in a rush, I let her browse. She finds it to be a literal miracle that people are giving away This Incredible Stuff. A Frozen 2 puzzle! A book about haunted houses! An old Danish butter cookie tin! A pair of crutches! She would bring it all home if she could.

Occasionally I let her take something home along with the promise that something else needs to exit the house. She nods in agreement, though my follow-through is mediocre at best. The potential for accumulation is so rapid, it’s critical to set a precedent, I think to myself as she squats on the ground, ogling over something I know I’ll throw out later.

Her select treasures have included a brand new white tutu, a book about dragons, and another book called Fly Guy, left on a stoop for at least one night during the rain. She claims she needs these things with a desperation it’s hardly worth fighting, if taking the thing is also what keeps her moving along, at least to the next block, and the next stoop giveaway.

When she picks up these objects, she also senses my abject horror at the accumulation, a reaction learned from moving too many times in the last dozen years, from cleaning out a basement after a boiler burst, and from 1,500 nights cleaning up small objects and art projects after the kids go to bed. But she bats her eyes and clenches the goods, knowing I’m not really going to stop her.

More than the victory of the new acquisition, Ada cannot believe the sheer volume and variety of things people have to give away, and are willing to give away. Imagine parting with that knockoff impressionist painting, those rubber boots with a small hole, or that 1500 piece puzzle of Cruella De Vil. Imagine putting that those shiny magical discs (CDs) on the sidewalk, that stuffed cat, or that heart-shaped vase. Ada can’t imagine it—she simply can’t.

Recommendations for the kids (back to school edition):

Recommendations for the grown-ups:

  • Relax: With these very covetable wavy, lumbar-like Big Sur pillows by interior designer / space guru Hollie Velten.

  • Eat: This fried rice (with whatever leftover veggies you have) eaten with a copious number of cornichons.

  • Visit: The Clark, if you’re anywhere near the Berkshires, for an autumn walk around the grounds, decompressing around the reflecting pools, or a dose of extremely enjoyable art + architecture (Tadao Ando with a hand here).

  • Cook: Hetty McKinnon’s cookbook To Asia, With Love, which has some autumnal congee recipes I’m eyeing as the weather cools.

  • Read: This essay I wrote for Today’s Parent about how I thought moving in with my parents during the pandemic would be easy, then all the expectations, friction, chaos (and eventually learning) that came to light.

  • Read: This NYT profile with Maggie Nelson, whose new book On Freedom: Four Songs of Care and Constraint, I’m very excited for. (Also out as of today! Sally Rooney’s Beautiful World, Where Are You)

Wishing you a smooth transition between summer + school, with many deep breaths in between.

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