Friday, June 22, 2012

A Space Outdoors

I've always hoped for outdoor space. So far, none of the apartments I have lived in have had any. My apartment in Western MA I suppose came the closest to achieving this goal of any other apartment I have lived in in the last 5 years.  We didn't have a yard or balcony space, but we had an included parking space, and no car. So we used that parking space to set up a charcoal grill.

My current apartment, which I am leaving for good in August, has an alley behind the building that you must walk through to take out the trash, or get to the laundry room. The space was pretty disgusting and not usable for any other purpose than just walking through.

A few weeks ago, I decided to do something about that, and turn my little back alley into the outdoor space I had always wanted.

I put on rubber gloves and clothes I didn't mind getting dirty. I grabbed a trash bag.

The main problem with the space was a sprawl of trash on the ground. Food trash. I had assumed that someone walking their trash bags to the back area had the unfortunate experience of the bag splitting, littering the ground with among other things now-rotted fruit. It looked gross, it smelled worse.

I have since found out that the trash on the ground has an even stranger origin than a ripped trash bag. The day after cleaning I found some new fruit trash on the ground. I threw it out. Then, more. Rotten fruit, old cut flowers, unidentifiable objects that may once have been cooked food.  It would seem our downstairs neighbors may have been using their kitchen window as a receptacle for trash. Their kitchen window opens out to this back-alley area.

I did notice everything that seems to get thrown out there is compost-able food trash....but can I just say it? An alley with not a compost bin. Things rot, they smell, but they don't efficiently become new rich soil. These are items thrown out  a window onto slabs of concrete. Even if these people have the best of intentions, what they are doing is creating gross litter somewhere that other people from the building will have to walk through it!

I cleaned up the whole area that first day. It took a few hours, besides the trash there were also leaves from the fall. There was an old charcoal grill that was left behind by previous neighbors. It had been left uncovered for who knows how many winters, and there was disgusting sludge inside, and the grate was nearly rusted through.

I decided it was salvageable, though. So I spent at least an hour trying to clean out the grill, and then went down to my local hardware store and spent $18 on new grates for the thing.

Now my mind was made up- I had to have a usable outdoor space as result of all of this work. This is where my sidewalk shopping luck really picked up.

On my way to the grocery store to buy some charcoal I saw an outdoor chair. Made of slats of weathered wood, it was left for the trash men to take away. I inspected it carefully, deemed it to need a bit of a wipedown, and the tightening of a loose screw.

I carried it home, and place it in the back. I decided to walk over to my parent's house, about a mile away to see if they had any materials in their basement I could use to construct a small table.

On their street I found a second chair. An orange fiberglass and metal chair evocative of the Eames style. No it wasn't and Eames. And I have struck out in doing any research to find out if it is in fact of any value. But it turns out it is great for outdoor use. So I carried it the mile distance back home.

Oh, and then returned another mile walk to my parents house to get plywood and an old table base from their basement, and bring those items to my home.

It was a long day that involved a lot of walking.

I also found a small houseplant left out for the trash, and placed it on a plant stand I had been using in our living room, but didn't really need there.

Oh, the table base worked great with the piece of plywood I found, and as a last step I stapled to it some laminated fabric for pattern. It wipes down easily and brings in some fun color.

But by the end (and clearly I still need to sweep the dirt on the ground...and if I was living here longer I would invest in some shade-loving plants) I had a space that could easily be used for a relaxing evening grilling and eating outside in my back....erm, alley.

PS- no, I don't have anything to do with that graffiti on the wall. And yes, it is The Cat in the Hat.

I hope my next apartment has some outdoor space! But until then, I am glad to have this quirky little spot .

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