The Dirty Water

The Flushing Creek is not a resort. It is no longer pretty and hasn’t been for a century.

I can reflect on long car rides as a child, gazing out of the window and seeing the big U-Haul building, indicating that we were not far from home. Across the way was where the home team played. Admiring the giant neon silhouettes playing ball on the outer walls of Shea Stadium got me hype, as excited as I am for the upcoming season.

The Flushing Creek was once nice, but industrialization, raw sewage and a host of toxic spills ultimately destroyed the waterway. During my lifetime it’s been shit and everyone referred to it as one thing and one thing only, The Dirty Water.

I wouldn’t swim in the creek, not unless I had to, say for instance, if I had to evade the police. This particular body of water is considered one of the most contaminated in the city. It is 2,000 feet deep and stretches only four smelly miles. There have to be water rats the size of Saint Bernards and a mutated oil slick creature floating in there waiting to consume whatever mistakenly crosses its path like in the The Raft segment of the 1987 horror flick, Creepshow 2.

An absurd amount of money is being dumped, pun intended, into making 13 towers along this high risk flood zone. 2 billion dollars to develop over 1,700 residential units and 800 hotel rooms. Locals have mixed feelings about this project. Whatever woodland animals and other inhabitants of the creek’s salt marsh will not likely survive this transformation. We will not recognize the creek as the Dutch settlers who renamed the region, Vlissingen, or the native Algonquins would not recognize the eye sore now.

Daniel Atha, The Director of The Conservation Outreach at the New York Botanical Garden Told the Gothamist, “When the Dutch came, this was a paradise with fantastic biodiversity, even though people had lived here for 10,000 years. They had their communities and societies without destroying the biodiversity.” I don’t think any of us look at the creek from the Van Wyck Expressway or from the 7 train and think, “Ah, paradise.”

Stolen photo from The Gothamist who stole it from the New York Public Library. Willow Bank, 1910.

Willow Bank, named for trees surrounding the Lawrence family mansion, who held control of the land since the 1640s. Once an idyllic estate, now the site of the U-Haul storage center.

We contributed a different type of destruction to the area. We defaced the buildings that belonged to the companies and corporations that polluted the water. There was no activism or moral crusade in our dereliction. We wanted ups and good times, nothing more.

Stolen from the interwebs.

Over the years lots of great writers hit all sides of The Dirty Water as well as the piers of the Roosevelt Avenue Bridge, a double deck, double-leaf bascule, which opened on May 14, 1927. It had history.

I hit the north side of the creek a few times in my youth with MAGE, RAMS, YIKES, and other XXI/MPB kids. Graffiti was full of adventure. We would scope out the spot from Roosevelt Avenue before walking down around the building to the water, assessing police activity and whereabouts of the homeless. There were shanty houses back there, which doubled as scaffolds to get as high as you could reach. Some bums would spectate but mostly ignored our crimes.

One time in particular I was with SATE, EM? and LOOT. We picked out our spots and began painting, and right in the middle of the fun we saw headlights. The headlights belonged to a patrol car courtesy of the 109th precinct. Fuck.

They crept in slowly and SATE ran and kicked off the back of a detached semitrailer, catching the lowest rung of a ladder attached to tubular steel support of a billboard. He climbed quickly up the ladder and jumped down on top of the semitrailer, where he laid flat, undetected. SATE was on some pre-dated parkour Jackie Chan shit.

The three of us ran in the opposite direction toward the water, climbed over a concrete seawall, and stood on a small ledge or some rotting wooden pier above the water. The lackadaisical police got out and looked around but thankfully not thoroughly, then promptly returned to the squat car where they sat for what felt like an hour, I wondered which of us would fall in and figured with my luck it would be me, but none fell or were forced to swim to freedom.

After the police left we finished our fill-ins. We lived to paint another day. The buildings are gone. The billboards are gone. The graffiti we did is long gone. Some of our friends are gone. Nothing is here to stay. Remember that. I personally don’t welcome most changes in life but like the fate of the Flushing Creek I have no control over what happens.

Looking north from the Roosevelt Avenue Bridge: KWIK MPB, REMS XXI, 1990s.

Blurry picture courtesy of KWIK MPB, 1990s. Who do you see?

One response to “The Dirty Water”

  1. Sounds like it may have started with this poorly named piece of water. I can think of nothing but negative thoughts to associate with Flushing, but I much enjoyed your vignette and the photos and details were enjoyable in there sad irony.

    Liked by 1 person

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