I was walking west on 123rd when I saw Greg James the Rat Man standing over the mid-block, uptown hydrant with a wrench and a plastic bottle of Tide, the detergent normally used on clothes. He had opened the hydrant with the wrench, pretty clearly, but I had to wonder about the Tide. The water spurted into the street and poured east, rimming both curbs with a frothy current of white water. As if equipped with olive oil and making mayonnaise, Greg was tipping Tide into the hydrant’s clear torrent of water little by little, emulsifying the detergent.
What’s goin’ on here, Greg?
“Yo James, I’m a let you use yo common sense here.”
You’re pouring laundry detergent into the water as it comes out of the hydrant.
“You got that right, J.”
Well, what for, what are we cleaning? Are you killing rats?
“Look at what Con Edison been doin’ on this street for a month.” It’s true, the street has been torn up for weeks now, as dozens of guys do the old-fashioned work of digging the holes, shoring the pits, installing the new machinery, in this case upgraded transformers to carry the load of gentrifying Harlem.
Yeah, when is this shit over?
“This shit’s never over. But you notice the color of this street, the color of yo car?”
You mean the dust?
“Yeah, the dust, that’s what I’m washin’ down, I can’t stand this grit under my feet, I’m a flush it down the drain, but only our half o’ the block, these fuckin’ people”—he gestures westward—“ keep complainin’ that I’m wastin’ they water.”
“Yeah, like they own it, fuck that, this is our water, nobody owns this.”
I suppose you could say that New York City owns it, but then—
“New York City is the people of New York City, that’s us, just us.”
Well, there’s the larger entity—
“Yo ass is the larger entity here J, you understand what I’m sayin’, I’m a wash this street down, make it clean. Where you goin’?”
I’m going to the bank, actually, for once I’m going to make a deposit.
“Well that’s good. You wanna pour some Tide?”
Yeah, thanks, it feels like I’m cooking something.