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Sketchbook: Stooping in New York City
...and the morbid pandemic-era sidewalk game of "Fled or Dead".
May 11th, 2020
New York, NY
For nearly a decade, I've furnished my entire apartment with crap I found on the sidewalk.
It's called Stooping, and it's one of the most underrated things about living in New York.
Not to be confused with schtooping, Stooping is taking shit that people throw out of their apartments and bringing it into your apartment (after cleaning it thoroughly.)
Some people make a full-time profession out of it and drive around different parts of New York with a trailer on their car, piling in stuff they can flip on eBay like some kind of Gary V acolyte.
After years of stooping, I discovered that there was an Instagram account called @StoopingNYC which alerted New Yorkers to really great shit that was being left out on the sidewalk for anyone to take.
I honestly didn’t purchase a single piece of new furniture for about seven years after moving to Manhattan.
The only thing that was in our apartment when we moved in with a large old rolltop writing desk. It was left there by the deceased previous tenant who happened to be the poet laureate of the Lower East Side.
I have vivid memories of piling into my grandfather's old car, trailer attached, trawling the neighborhood for treasure on bulk rubbish collection day. He was a fixer-upper guy.
His first instinct when he needed a tool or a car part wasn’t to order it new: he’d go to scrap yards, even the tip, and more often than not he’d come home with the thing he needed.
His backyard shed, which smelled of rope, grease, and old paint was full of things he'd found and fixed; a deeply entrenched habit borne of living in a post-war depression. He and my grandma lived through that horizonless period when you had to stretch every penny as far as it would go.
I remember him saying, “Waste not, want not.” and “Wealth is the money you don’t spend.” It worked, too! He and my grandma saved up enough each year to go on an overseas trip.
I inherited this instinct. However, my generation now lives in an unprecedented era of planned obsolescence: A perpetual firehose of consumer convenience where it takes so much trouble to repair something that it’s "cheaper to just buy a new one."
The pandemic-era stooping boom
During the pandemic, our neighborhood had to play the morbid game of ‘Dead or Fled’. (I heard an old guy coin that term while he was poking through piles of new-looking furniture with his walking stick.)
Moving vans lined every street of the East Village for months. There were literally hundreds of mattresses on the sidewalk. Some would blow onto the road and block traffic.
I would play the Billy Joel song “Movin’ out!”1 on my phone to keep things light as we walked past the giant piles of new and used furniture that were left after residents hastily fled Manhattan. (Or, sadly, died.)
We agreed to only take stuff that looks like it once belonged to an NYU student who moved home. There were still unscrupulous people taking old family photo albums and heirlooms. Who would stoop so low?
We would mask up and walk the dog around the neighborhood twice a day, and I’d somehow come home with another armful of crap. Sophie would always walk ahead and sigh while I noodled through the piles alone and then ran to catch up with her saying something like “Can you believe someone threw this out?!”.
One in, One out.
The rule, however, was born of living in a tiny Manhattan apartment: One in: One out. If I lugged something home, and somehow got it up the 5 flights of stairs, I had to pick something else to jettison from the apartment lest we be featured on an episode of Hoarders.
What about you?
What’s the greatest thing you ever stooped?
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Actually titled “Anthony’s song”, featuring an absurdly long solo by a muscle car engine at the end.