By Carol Tannenhauser and Renee Baruch
As I was walking my dog in Central Park the other morning, wondering what I was doing in the city in the summer (or, maybe, ever), I bumped into my friend, Renee Baruch, who has lived on the Upper West Side for 42 years. She was with her dog, Popcorn. I noticed that Renee was wearing a latex glove on her right hand and had a plastic bag hooked over her left arm. As the dogs enjoyed a (legal) off-leash hour, and we walked and talked, Renee kept bending over and picking up cigarette butts, and depositing them in the bag.
“What are you doing?” I asked her.
”Cleaning up,” she said.
“Because I live here.”
Simple as that.
Today, I bumped into another woman who was doing the same thing. In fact, Renee had told me to look out for her, that she had been Renee’s “inspiration.”
“Is it a movement?*” I wondered.
The second woman spoke limited English. She told me she was from Japan, but quickly added that she was educated in “Christian schools.” She was wearing shorts, a t-shirt, and sneakers.
“I do it every time I jog or come to the park,” she said, “for years. It’s a small thing, but it’s better than doing nothing. I know it is a losing battle, but I do it anyway.”
She wouldn’t give her name or allow a picture, but revealed that she also lives on the Upper West Side.
When I got home, I emailed Renee and asked her to write her own story. She sent the following:
“I walk my mini Golden Doodle, Popcorn, in Central Park every morning when I’m home and it isn’t pouring, and, for a year before I started cleaning, I was really concerned and annoyed by the litter everywhere in the park. It was especially noticeable to me, because I was picking up a ball constantly that Popcorn retrieved, and I was most worried about the broken glass I saw, which was a danger to my dog.
“I was inspired by a lady who calls herself ‘Nancy,’ but that’s not her real name. I saw her occasionally in running clothes, with a latex glove, picking up litter and placing it in plastic bags and then properly disposing of it. I decided that was easy enough to do and started to do the same myself. So I got a supply of latex gloves and just took one with me each morning to pick up litter while Popcorn retrieves a ball.
“It gives me a feeling of doing something constructive to solve a small problem in our community. I can’t afford a huge donation to the Central Park Conservancy, and anyway, they aren’t terribly concerned with cigarette butts and broken glass. But that’s something I can do, and do easily.
“If everyone who used the park did the same each day, it would result in a sparkling clean park. Maybe I can inspire a few others as Nancy inspired me!”
*It turns out it is a movement after all! It’s called “plogging”—a combination of “plucking” and “jogging”—which means jogging while picking up trash. MarketWatch called it “the hottest fitness trend of 2018.”