ongoing conversations with the curb

There’s an empty lot I like to visit. There used to be a supermarket at that location. I don’t know quite when it was torn down, but nature is slowly having its way with the lot. People once bought Cheerios and pork chops and dish-washing detergent here. Now it’s home to field mice and garter snakes, to rabbits and hawks, to crows and the occasional deer.

I find that oddly appealing.

As I wandered around the empty lot back in November I noticed somebody had tied a length of red PVC-coated wire around a chunk of broken asphalt curbing–presumably to make it easier to carry. I’ve no idea why anybody would want to carry a chunk of broken asphalt curbing anywhere, but apparently somebody did–and wanted to make the chore less onerous (although, in truth, the bit of curbing couldn’t have weight more than a couple of pounds). In any event, somebody had toted the curbing some twenty yards from its original position and then set it down.

Why? Why move the chunk of curbing? Why move it only twenty yards? Why weave a curb-carrying net for the task?

I didn’t understand it. I still don’t understand it. I’m completely baffled by it. But I find it inordinately cool.

Every time I passed that empty lot I’d stop and check on the bit of curbing. I’m not sure what drew me–what continues to draw me. I suppose it was as much a ritual as anything else. Nothing changed. The curbing stayed exactly where it always was (what else would a bit of curbing do?) and remained an enigma. The world just moved on around it.

Last winter I noticed a heron had passed by without stopping to ponder the larger meaning of a bit of asphalt curbing wrapped round with a length of red PVC-coated wire. I suppose herons have their own things to consider.

Winter became spring, and I continued to stop by and visit the bit of curbing whenever I passed by the empty lot. I didn’t go there just for the curbing. The lot itself has charms of its own. There’s usually a contingent of shy crows making a fuss in the distance. Fog and mist seem to linger there longer than in the surrounding areas. On occasion somebody from the nearby apartments will wander through, taking a short cut to the nearest bus stop.

I think of those people as trespassers. They’ve no interest in the lot itself, let alone in the chunk of curbing. They have no relationship with the lot. They’re just passing through. Which is perfectly okay with me.

The empty lot might have its own unique attractions, but the curbing–that’s a mystery. It’s the chunk of asphalt curbing that pulls me with tidal regularity. I might visit the empty lot and not pay any attention to this or that particular aspect, but I invariably make my way to the curbing.

I’ve told other people about it–about my fascination for the lot and the curbing. And for the most part, they smile and nod with a sort of kindhearted patience–but it’s clear they see the whole thing as ‘another of Greg’s eccentricities.’ And I suppose they’re right. But how could they not be curious about it? Somebody tied red PVC-coated wire around a chunk of asphalt curbing and toted it a distance of twenty yards–and then just set it down. How can that fail to fascinate?

Then one day I visited the former supermarket and the bit of asphalt curbing was gone.

Except, of course, it wasn’t really gone. It had merely been moved. Somebody had picked it up–presumably by the red PVC-coated wire carrying net–and toted it another twenty or thirty feet. I’d sort of expected something like that might happen. I’d felt the desire to pick it up and move it myself. The more I thought about it, the more I realized it was inevitable that somebody at some point would take hold of the chunk of asphalt curbing and carry it off–even if only for a few feet.

The curbing-mover might have moved it farther, except the wire handle had snapped. The curbing was abandoned where it fell. I suppose there’s no reason to move the curbing at all if you can’t carry  it by the handle.

And there it sat. Through the spring and into the summer, there it sat all by itself, unmoving and unmoved. Until now.

Now it’s been tipped over. Somebody saw the chunk of curbing and, for whatever bizarre reasons, decided to fuss with it. But that’s not the most peculiar thing.

Even more peculiar is the fact that there’s now a second chunk of asphalt curbing beside the first. A second chunk of curbing without any red PVC-coated wire carrying web. A chunk of curbing that doesn’t seem to have come from the same location as its predecessor. A chunk of curbing that was apparently just minding its own business when it was commandeered and carried–apparently by hand–to this new spot.

 And now I’m left, once again, to wonder why. Not just why somebody tied red PVC-coated wire around the original chunk of curbing and carried it for twenty yards. And not just why somebody (presumably a different person), several months later, carried it a tad farther. But why somebody (I’m assuming a third unrelated person) would carry a second chunk of asphalt curbing and set it in the vicinity of the original. Why?

It makes no sense. None at all. It is absolutely bat-shit crazy. The ambiguity is killing me.

I hope it continues.

7 thoughts on “ongoing conversations with the curb

  1. I am going to guess it may be a crafty 9 or 10 year old boy. He has his reasons and there is a whole story in his head about the rig and transportation of this curbing.


  2. heh. Lynn beat me to it. Glad your own inner 10 year old boy is alive and well and keeps you visiting the curbing so we can share in this story. Wonder if the curbing will multiply and start constructing itself into something new.

    Things like this give me renewed hope in the human race.


  3. Reminds me of Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. From the second chapter, Seeing:

    “When I was six or seven years old, growing up in Pittsburgh, I used to take a precious penny of
    my own and hide it for someone else to find. It was a curious compulsion; sadly, I’ve never been
    seized by it since. For some reason I always “hid” the penny along the same stretch of sidewalk
    up the street. I would cradle it at the roots of a sycamore, say, or in a hole left by a chipped-off
    piece of sidewalk. Then I would take a piece of chalk, and, starting at either end of the block,
    draw huge arrows leading up to the penny from both directions. After I learned to write I labeled
    the arrows: SURPRISE AHEAD or MONEY THIS WAY. I was greatly excited, during all this
    arrow-drawing, at the thought of the first lucky passer-by who would receive in this way,
    regardless of merit, a free gift from the universe. But I never lurked about. I would go straight
    home and not give the matter another thought, until, some months later, I would be gripped again by the impulse to hide another penny.

    It is still the first week in January, and I’ve got great plans. I’ve been thinking about seeing. There
    are lots of things to see, unwrapped gifts and free surprises. The world is fairly studded and
    strewn with pennies cast broadside from a generous hand. But—and this is the point—who gets
    excited by a mere penny? If you follow one arrow, if you crouch motionless on a bank to watch a
    tremulous ripple thrill on the water and are rewarded by the sight of a muskrat kid paddling from
    its den, will you count that sight a chip of copper only, and go your rueful way? It is dire poverty
    indeed when a man is so malnourished and fatigued that he won’t stoop to pick up a penny. But if
    you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your
    day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a
    lifetime of days. It is that simple. What you see is what you get.”

    Thanks for the post, loved it.


  4. Somewhere else, there’s a blog pondering the mysteries of a man who periodically visits a piece of curbing and wonders what he’ll do if we move it a bit, or add another piece of curbing, or perhaps, excitingly, stack them…


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