Stale Street

Written by  Chris Dunsmore

From my bedroom window I can see my neighborhood framed and contained. I watch the tops of heads pass and hear high heels tap on the sidewalk. I listen to fragmented conversations as they trail away and I obsess over the lives passing by, carrying on beyond my thoughts. A constant flow of cars streams past my window, sometimes parking in front of my apartment or across the street, taking or leaving people I mostly don't recognize. The ones I do recognize – some strangers, some neighbors – move and interact according to an imprecise routine I chart from my apartment. Of course there's the buses that pass and the mail carrier delivering mail. But there's also the man wearing a fanny pack, waving a big American flag as he jogs past in the bike lane a few times a month. There's the pit bull that barks and roars as he eviscerates his toy down the block every evening. Almost every week a fire truck or two and an ambulance pull up outside the building across the street in the middle of the night and haul away somebody I've still never seen. These are the repeating occurrences that reveal my neighborhood's character to me, and sometimes I think I can know the world outside my window by its habitual tics and quirks.

The defining quirk of my neighborhood is the flock of pigeons that frequents a patch of grass next door to my apartment. They arrive daily, probably from all over the city, and stay until sundown, feasting on a smorgasbord of stale food that's left out for them. My neighbors even named our street "Stale Street" after the stench that rises from the piles of tossed out food littering the lawn. These pigeons and their feeding habits are probably the most consistent feature of the street. Or it's actually Don, who gives them their daily bread, who's the real constant. Every day I watch dozens of pigeons swarm around him as he shuffles out from the alley next to my house holding a bag of bread or chips or a box of bagels. They dive from the power lines overhead and crowd around his feet where they strain their necks toward his crumb-spilling hand.

At times I don't get anything done when I'm home because I can't stop watching Don and the feeding frenzy. From inside my bedroom I see the exchange from a comfortable distance. And even though I see it every day it's hard to resist looking. Monitoring the pigeon situation outside has become part of my daily routine. I watch for stretches at a time as he feeds, talks to, and sometimes even embraces the pigeons. He'll squat low to the ground and hold one up to his face, his hands circling its entire body, his mouth disturbingly close to its beak. If he's going to kiss that bird, I think, I don't want to miss it.

Even when I restrain myself from staring out at the spectacle long enough to get something done, I'll be interrupted if the birds, frightened away from their meal by a loud noise or a sudden movement, take flight in one huge, precisely choreographed formation and fly up to the power lines or away to wherever they go when they're not in front of my apartment. The sound of thirty or forty pigeons clapping their wings just outside my window rattles my concentration. I usually have to stop what I'm doing and watch through the window as they circle the air above the street. And when they fly off and don't circle back I wonder where they go. They seem just as purposeful, and their movements seem just as routine, as Don and all the other people passing on the street. But all I know is that they end up some place I can't see from my window.


After I'd been living in the apartment a while Don stopped me on the sidewalk, as he often does with really anybody passing by.

"You moved in up in that attic apartment?"

Don's skinny and hunched over, balding, bearded and liver-spotted. He dresses in worn out rags and always wears a hat. He seems to prefer the worst kinds of footwear (just the other day – a snowy, freezing cold one – he was wearing a pair of pink Crocs around in the snow). If you let him go on, he'll speak to you in a low, conspiratorial tone about the pigeons or the piles of junk he collects in the alley next to my building, and eventually his rambling will culminate in an incredulous exclamation, or he might laugh or open his eyes wide, expecting some kind of validation or commiseration. He points at you with a loosely gnarled hand as he talks, and when he looks in your eyes they seem less like they're looking and more as though they're pointing at you too.

"Yeah, I moved in a while ago."

"Well I hope you're not being bothered by those pigeons are you? If they do you shouldn't go and complain because you'll be getting the city on my case again. People don't like me feeding them. They don't bother you do they?"

I could smell the sweat and grime caked on his skin and clothes in the spring heat.

"Yeah, actually, they really do. This food smells terrible. I can't park my car in front of my apartment because they sit on the power lines above it. And they land on the roof outside my bedroom window and wake me up every morning."

I thought Don asked because he was interested in my opinion but I hadn't yet learned that he doesn't listen to reason. He's probably not all there and he's stubborn, so it's useless to try and convince him. It'd take a few more interactions for me to figure that out. But he asked how I felt about the pigeons, and I told him the truth. Though I started to understand that he'd asked me in order to gauge my loyalties. He needed to know if I was with him and his army of pigeons, or against them.

"Well those grocery stores there just throw this stuff out and it's perfectly good. And how else are these pigeons going to get fed? It doesn't hurt anybody and the pigeons get their food. This stuff I leave out would go to waste if I didn't leave it out like this."

Interspersed in his explanation were complaints about the city and crooked judges, a lying son and a deceitful ex-lover – plot points and characters in a convoluted narrative I'd learn more about through rumors and hearsay over the next few months. In the end though, he told me I shouldn't be so lazy:

"Why do you want to sleep in like that anyway? The sun's out when those birds are landing on your roof so why aren't you up and doing something with your day?"

I had no answer.

"Well I'll get those birds to stop bothering you on your roof like that if you think it bothers you."
I didn't know what he could possibly do to stop the birds from landing wherever they wanted to land. But after our conversation the pigeons stopped landing outside my window. Now whenever I see Don holding a pigeon up to his face as I pass I don't just wonder if he's going to kiss it, I slow down and try to hear if he's saying anything.


The feelings I have about Don feeding pigeons might be unreasonable. He's been living in this neighborhood much, much longer than I have. His commitment to the task is unwavering and it seems it's been that way for years and years. College kids and bums, deliverymen and postal carriers have come and gone but Don's always been here tossing crumbs on the ground. He and those birds have developed their relationship over pigeon generations and pigeon generations and they've been at it since long before I was even born, let alone before I moved in next door.

And when I moved in I had no idea about Don and the pigeons. If I'd taken more time to learn about the apartment and the area before moving in, I probably would've found out about the street's strange character and history. At the very least I would've seen or smelled the piles of food out front.

I first visited the apartment one night in late December. I met the landlord there after responding to an ad online. From the outside, the house seemed like most other houses in Salt Lake, nothing out of the ordinary. It looked kind of interesting – dirty white facade, small front yard, probably built in the early 1900s – but it wasn't necessarily a hot property in terms of appearance, or in any terms really.
I walked up the narrow path at the side of the house that leads to the apartment's entrance. Inside, Mike, the landlord was fixing the heater, which seemed like a good sign. At least he takes care of the place, I thought. We chatted while he showed me around and our conversation was awkward, but in the way conversations with strangers, and with landlords in my experience, usually are.

"You're a student?"

"Yeah, I'll be going to the U next year."

"This'll be good then. It's a good place for students."

"It seems great."

He was quiet and it seemed like he didn't have anything to say about the apartment, and he didn't have many questions for me. I wasn't sure if he was all that worried about renting it out.

"Do I pay utilities and stuff? Is there internet or do you know if the guy downstairs has it?"

"You'll pay for electricity, yeah. Internet I don't know about but it doesn't matter to me if you guys share. I wouldn't really have any way to know really. As long as you're paying the rent every month I don't need to know everything that's going on."

Later I learned that the landlord, Mike, is actually Don's son. To me this partly explained why our interaction felt strange. Mike didn't ramble on or attempt to conspire, but his eyes seemed to point instead of look, the way Don's do. And our subsequent interactions, after I knew about his relation to Don, revealed a similar speech pattern between the two, a kind of slow, methodical, strained voice. This connection seemed to manifest itself as a clue or a missing piece to a story about my apartment and my neighborhood that I was trying to learn. When I found out Mike's related to Don I started to wonder if my apartment and I were more a part of Don's world and Don's story than he was a part of mine.

In any case, Mike seemed like he'd be easy to work with and dependable and I had a good feeling about the apartment. Aside from the old house smell it seemed like the perfect place for me: quiet, not too small, and close to the university where I'd be going to graduate school. I called him the day after my visit, and within a week I was moving in.


On moving day I got my first real introduction to my pigeon neighbors. When my friends and I parked the pickup filled with furniture and the car loaded with boxes in front of my new apartment we noticed rows of pigeons on the power lines above us. We joked about how ominous the birds looked, especially on such a grey day.

"We better get this mattress inside quick. You don't want pigeon shit to be the first thing that stains your mattress when you're moving into your new apartment. It's bad luck." My friend Mikey had been making, and for the rest of the move would continue to make, jokes about my mattress. For him the idea of living alone in a one-bedroom apartment meant the mattress would probably see a lot of action.

"Let's make sure the bed's set up first. And make sure it's set up right. Nice and sturdy," he said, humping the bare mattress after we'd set it on the bedroom floor.

I was just happy I wouldn't have to learn to deal with a roommate again, which had been manageable in the past but was something I wanted to try and avoid. Although I admit I did consider that the chances of bringing someone home would increase slightly if my mattress was in my own place instead of my mom's, which is where I'd been living post-graduation. Sure the flock of pigeons outside my door might create an air of squalor that could be a deal-breaker for some visitors, but I didn't quite realize the extent of the pigeon problem yet, nor could I anticipate the influence Don has on the street's stale character, so I didn't think it would hurt my chances too much.


I'd come to find out over the next year that "air of squalor" would be a pretty accurate description of the stench Don and the pigeons generate on my street. The smell's not that bad in winter, although there's definitely still a putrid hint to the air, but in summer it can be rank. Don doesn't discriminate when scrounging up a meal for the pigeons. I've lived here two years and I've seen him drop loaves, bagels, baguettes, buns, cookies, chips, bags of flour, pasta, and pre-cooked macaroni and cheese. Just yesterday he was tossing uncooked spaghetti noodles on the ground. I've even seen him set out a birthday cake, and he's done it more than once. Maybe the most baffling pigeon meal I've seen was the seven-layer dip he plopped on the ground one warm summer evening.

Don and his other son Robert acquire these expired food items from grocery stores that throw them out, or just from dumpsters and trashcans around the city. Robert can be seen wandering the neighborhood, hauling trash bags of dumpster loot with their two Border Collies close by, one excitedly running ahead and waiting and the other limping slowly behind. Robert has the same focused but distant look in his eyes, the same ragged clothes, and the same odor as his father. But while Don will talk most of your afternoon away, Robert's usually pretty quiet. Like his father, he's been known to ramble on at people, but I haven't encountered that side of him yet. The only time I really hear him speak is when he and Don argue, which they do heatedly and fairly frequently, like lifelong partners.

The dogs, loyal and protective, rarely leave Robert's presence. And I feel sorry for the dogs, trekking all over the neighborhood with him day in and day out, in the rain or snow, just to find some stale bread. They could be enjoying the comforts of a warm house or apartment, eating normal dog food that came from the inside of a store, that's not rotting; but instead they've become extensions of the father-son duo. They can be standoffish, awkward and other than their owners, they seem to only get along with each other.

Don, Robert and the two dogs often take trips in their screechy VW Rabbit and return a while later with a bounty of bread and chips and sugar cookies, along with any other trinkets or discarded items that interest them. And they don't go around searching for deals on fresh goods. I don't think they even look for salvageable refuse. The food they scavenge has been tossed out or abandoned for any number of reasons, the most noticeable being that they smell awful. And from an outsider's point of view the miscellaneous trash they collect means nothing and serves no purpose. But Don and Robert are just out to reclaim and recycle whatever waste they can find, whether it's only slightly reusable or unreasonably rotten.

And the air of squalor about Stale Street isn't just generated by the birds or their food. When I moved in, the street next to my building – a gravel alleyway called Banks Court where a few houses stand, tucked away in the center of the block – was mostly visible through a fairly large collection of what appeared to be junk. From my living room and kitchen windows I'd watch Don and Robert shuffling around the alley, sifting through piles of indiscriminate stuff and occasionally adding more to them and starting new piles. I didn't really consider it to be out of hand because I could still recognize the place as an alley. But over a span of about two or three months, the ground, all but a narrow pathway through the trash made for Don and Robert and the Banks Court residents, was slowly covered by more and more stuff. They had a routine of leaving every morning in their Rabbit, their two dogs peeking through the windows in back, and returning later with a heap of what looked like junk. For a while they were hitching a trailer to the tiny car to tow the larger items back to their stash. Eventually the entire alley, about half a city block long, was overflowing with objects they'd fished, apparently indiscriminately, out of dumpsters and trash bins from all over the city.


The neighbors who started calling it Stale Street also never seemed as unsettled as me when it came to Don and the pigeons. Most of them were two or three years younger than I was and a few were going to the university. They all played music together in their basement and during the summer they'd put on concerts in their garage with other local bands as part of a series they called Stale Street Underground. The first few months after I moved in I stopped to talk with them when they were out on their porch smoking.

I found out Don's a World War II veteran. He's probably in his nineties. He and his family, the Laytons (as in descended from the family who founded the city of Layton, Utah), has owned, and still owns, property all over the state. He owns five houses on and around Banks Court and he's filled them all to the rafters with stuff, so much stuff it's rumored that Don and Robert sleep in their car at night. Some of the neighbors told me they've seen inside one of the junk-filled houses and claim that along with the random junk Don and Robert have collected, Don has a room full of guns, with which he's made vague threats.

They always talked to me about Don and Robert as interested parties instead of as concerned or appalled neighbors. All of them seemed to get along with Don a lot better than I've ever been able to. Even though Don constantly complained about their loud music, he'd lend them Christmas lights and he'd mow their lawn, and they'd listen to his ramblings instead of arguing with him. Besides being able to deal with small annoyances more easily than I can, I think my neighbors also saw the whole situation as a story in which they had an integral part. They named the street because it has a very particular character and they participated in, contributed to, and embraced that. Obviously, I see myself in a story too or I wouldn't have written this. But the difference is, while they were outside talking to Don as they put up his Christmas lights, drinking and listening to music, I was inside, watching it all happen from my window.


I found out some of the people I talked to on the porch were tenants in one of Don's Banks Court houses. Like Stale Street, they also named the house they rented from Don, a spooky one two houses over from mine tucked away behind an overgrown yard. The story is that a group of friends who played music at the Stale Street house once asked Don if they could live in one of his houses. He told them they couldn't because it was so full of junk. But eventually they came to an agreement and the group had permission to move in if they removed all the trash and hauled it to Don's neighboring property. After cleaning out the place and moving in, they christened the house "The Trash Pit."

One night, I'd been chatting with my neighbors for a while and one of them, a tenant of the Trash Pit, Ryan, invited me to the pit because he wanted to show me some of the art he'd collected. I agreed. I had a reputation for not spending enough time with them, a reputation as "the neighbor who never talks." This seemed like a good chance for us to talk.

When we walked through the front door the hallway was pitch dark, and as the only light – a single bare bulb – came on, it flickered and buzzed. I figured there were probably rusty meat hooks swinging in the kitchen. I pictured a large chest in the corner of the basement, which, upon being opened, would reveal a large man clothed in leather with a zipper for a mouth that my neighbor would refer to as "the gimp." I imagined somebody's dead mother creaking in a rocking chair upstairs near the bedroom window. But Ryan was good company and I felt safe enough. At least from serial killers and gimps, maybe not from frayed wires and hobo spiders. I was making an effort at neighborliness though, so I followed Ryan into the flickering light of the hallway.

He acknowledged how sketchy it was to be living in such a dilapidated house.

"Can't beat the price and we do what we want. It's like camp," he said.

I think he found the place just as fascinating as I did. And he was more than happy to give me a tour, listing the many defects of the Trash Pit. He showed me the first floor and the basement, telling me that they called the first room we passed, empty except for a piano and some turned over chairs, "the rain room." (My neighbors were nothing if not concise when naming the places they inhabited.)
"When it rains," he explained, "the ceiling leaks and makes all these puddles. We don't really go in there."

In the kitchen he showed me how their power came from an extension cord plugged into their fuse box, which ran outside the back door through the backyard to one of Don's generators next door.
"Look at this. This whole place could get incinerated any minute."

The basement, all concrete and cobwebs, housed nothing but an old mattress and a partial drum set, again illuminated by a single bare bulb.

When we ended up in his room, Ryan explained that the drawings and paintings on the walls were all originals, all made by a local artist friend, Sri Whipple. I remember thinking that they depicted, in both representational and abstracted forms, an abundance of vaginas. And it's not that I take offense to representations of vaginas, abstracted or otherwise. I just felt somewhat uncomfortable looking at all of them in a house called "The Trash Pit," as my host drank vodka from the bottle, in a bedroom littered with VHS tapes that had spilled from the piles of tapes lining the walls, while we listened to The Knife.
We talked about movies for a while as he searched the room for a chaser. He talked to me about his band, Vile Blue Shades, and before I left he lent me their last record, the cover of which, designed by Whipple, was covered in abstracted vaginas.


People who've lived in Salt Lake for a while, especially close to my neighborhood, usually know about the Trash Pit or Stale Street. They know about the house shows in summer or they see the pigeons from the buses that pass by all day. Some of them have friends who've lived in the Trash Pit. Once, I decided to find out how well-known Stale Street is, if anybody had ever written anything about Stale Street. I didn't find any reports or articles but I found a blog written by an artist who lived in the Trash Pit for a few years. In a couple posts written during my first summer on Stale Street, he talks about the benefits and difficulties of living in "the TP" – the cheap rent and the harsh winters, the communal atmosphere and the unwelcome visitors. He talks about Don and Robert as hoarders, citing articles and Wikipedia entries to support his diagnosis. Written just before he moved out of the Trash Pit, the posts sometimes exhibit a kind of reluctant affection for the place. "As much as I have enjoyed living in the TP, it is evident that it is time for me to move on. I am looking for a place that I can live in comfortably. A house that has a front door that locks would be an improvement."

Much of the focus of the posts, though, evidences a fascination with hoarding. And without a doubt, Don and Robert are hoarders. Their lifestyle, though strange and often frustrating to me, is a manifestation of a serious mental illness. Charles, the blog's author, respects and even slightly reverences Don and Robert's mental state. He even changes Don and Robert's names to Frank and Dick, a decision I find hard to understand. I've wondered if Charles (if that is his real name) worried about exploiting Don and Robert. His paintings and photos of Don, as well as the very existence of the blog, suggest that Charles recognized the rich story latent in the trash piles and ramblings of Don and Robert. But in each of his five posts, Charles is careful to remain sympathetic and evinces a concern for Don and Robert's well being that I've since tried to adopt when interacting with them.


According to Charles' blog, "on more than one occasion, the city has sent a crew of prisoners" to clean up Banks Court. This was the first I'd heard about any real conflict between Don and the authorities. Don always talked about crooked judges and a "they" always out to get him. But on reading Charles' post I realized the gradual growth of Don's junk pile next door was not a unique occurrence, but was just another beginning in a cycle that had been recurring forever. When the city comes to clean up, Don "tries to protect his belongings as best he can," which "usually lands Frank in jail." And Don has corroborated this.

"They took me away and locked me up," he told me during one of his long rambles as I tried to get my groceries inside and out of the heat. "They took my blood and ran tests on me. Now why do you think they'd need to do that if they weren't up to something? They're trying some funny business and I won't let it happen again."

In one of his arguments with me Don accused me of being part of this conspiracy against him.
"If you keep complaining about the pigeons and complaining about our property," he told me, "the judge is going to call you up there on the stand and you're going to be taking their side against me."

"Look," I tried to explain, "I'm just going to school. I don't have anything to do with what you're talking about. I have a complaint about the pigeons and that's it and I think it's reasonable. But I'm not part of any conspiracy against you. I just want you to think about the other people living around you."

After this argument, the only other time Don talked to me was to explain how he was going to get back at the city and anyone trying to take away what was his. He showed me a horseshoe puzzle, no doubt unearthed from some junk pile somewhere – two horseshoes tangled together and joined by a chain. The object of the game is to untangle the two shoes.

"All you have to do is twist, see."

He twisted the horseshoes and they came apart.

"That's the trick. You just have to twist a little bit. See, that's how I'm going to get back what's mine."

I learned from my downstairs neighbor, Kris, what Don probably meant by his horseshoe demonstration. Don had separated from his wife, Helen, years and years ago and she'd won a few of the Banks Court properties in the separation. But he claimed that the two of them were never actually married, and that he was the rightful owner of the properties she'd acquired, including the house Kris and I live in. Don was also claiming that Michael, his son with Helen, was cheating the IRS and stealing from his mother.

Don believes that Banks Court, the street itself, is his property, and in order to prove it started storing all the junk he and Robert collect all along the alley. Don's reasoning was that when the city came to clean everything up, as they've always done, they'd be taking his property and in effect would be stealing from him. Don would then be able to sue and prove that Banks Court, and Helen's properties, were legally his. This was the twist Don meant to demonstrate.


Kris, who'd moved in downstairs a few years before me, was usually livid about Don and the trash pileup. He loved to tell me all he knew about Banks Court and chat with me about the drama constantly unfolding next door. He's an artist and a Wiccan. Recently he and a friend placed wind chimes outside the house and mirrors in his windows to deflect the negative energy created by Don and Robert. He's one of the best neighbors I've had: quiet, considerate and genuinely nice, and we have a neighborly relationship. Every other week he texts me to ask if I'll run downstairs to check if his front door's locked because he's worried he forgot.

Kris's apartment is filled with stuff – stacks of DVDs, statuettes and trinkets and pictures depicting goddesses and fairies litter his shelves and walls – not to the extent of Don's properties, but enough to feel cluttered.

"I know it looks messy in here but all this stuff has meaning for me. It's not just junk I find on the street," he explained during one of our first conversations.

And he's right, but I can't help thinking his drive to collect and maintain so many possessions, so much stuff, is different from Don and Robert's hoarding only by degree. The same train of thought leads me to survey my stacks of books and movies and my closet full of junk with suspicion.


As the hoarding along Banks Court got worse the situation next door was clearly aggravating Kris's anxiety. Whenever we'd talk, he'd update me on his attempts to get the city to do something about the trash and tell me I should keep calling them too.

"I talked to Carla again, not that it even matters. She just keeps telling me to hang in there but I'm sick of it. It's a hazard. And if they're not going to do something about it I think we could sue."

He wasn't part of any conspiracies against Don but he certainly didn't like him or Robert. He'd tell me how earlier in the week he'd stared Don down or gotten in a shouting match with him. The city knew him by name because he called so frequently, trying to get them to do something about Don and the trash heap growing exponentially on the other side of his walls. I think towards the end of the ordeal he was calling them almost every day.

"I'll let you know if they tell me anything different when I call," I'd say. Really, I only called once to complain about the pigeons. Nobody seemed to have a solution to the problem or an answer to whether or not something was being done, so I figured it wouldn't be worth it to try and stop Don from twisting the system.


But Don's attempts failed. Helen died and her properties ended up with a management company that decided to do something about his hoarding. On my way to catch the bus one morning, an official looking woman with a clipboard stopped me and informed me that a crew from the city health department would be coming to clean up Banks Court. She told me it was important that I not let Don or Robert find out about the plan because who knows what they might've done to stop the cleanup.

The following Monday morning the health department set up headquarters – a tent and a table with a few chairs – on my front lawn. Four police cars lined the street in front of my house and a dumpster was hauled in and placed at the entrance of Banks Court. On Monday alone I watched them fill five of those dumpsters full of junk – bike tires, dolls, brooms, and ceiling fans. And the cleanup crew had to return every day for four more days. They used a small tractor to transport the piles of junk down Banks Court to the dumpster. A tow truck returned every day to tow away several broken down cars and a motorcycle that had been buried under all the stuff. People walking by stared or expressed their gratitude that someone was finally doing something about the mess. The police, when they weren't dealing with Don, had to wave away people stopping their cars in the middle of the street to watch the spectacle. The pigeons circled above, some occasionally landing to investigate, confused and most likely frustrated with whatever it was keeping Don from feeding them.

At the end of the week, reporters from the local news arrived to do stories about the event. They reported on the extent of the hoarding – workers removed ten 30-yard loads of stuff – and explained that the city had taken action because of a neighbor's complaints. They said the mass of junk posed a health hazard over shots of propane tanks and nondescript chemical containers. One channel even nabbed an interview with Don, who looked aggravated and disheveled.

"They come here with guns. They don't come here fair and square like you and I are talking."

Don argued and threatened the official from the health department in charge of the cleanup, shoved papers in his face and promised he'd take them all to court. He took pictures of everything going on with his digital camera to document their unlawful deeds. He was furious and even threatened the official: "You're dead."

And as much as I appreciated the cleanup, watching Don become so enraged and seeing his desperation was difficult. They were taking away all his stuff in such an embarrassingly public way, and he could do absolutely nothing about it. I kept thinking of one of Charles' posts about hoarding. He cites a Time article which says that if hoarders "pick up something and someone asks the question, 'Will you throw this away?' all the attachments to that thing overwhelm any thoughts of being without it." I couldn't fathom the idea that Don had possibly developed attachments to most of the stuff being hauled away. The thought that he actually might have felt that, that every dumpster taken away that week was filled with things Don felt he couldn't be without, was sort of devastating. When I passed him on the way to or from my apartment I couldn't look at him.


All summer long I witnessed the aftermath of the massive cleanup. Police made numerous trips to Banks Court to escort people serving Don legal notices and officials coming to condemn all but one of his properties. Once they came to break up a fight between Don and one of the neighbors, in which he attempted to break through their fence for some reason. Almost every morning Don, dressed in a military coat and carrying papers, would make a trip downtown on his bike, presumably to make an appeal or file a complaint at the courthouse. Thankfully, the health department also forced Don to stop feeding pigeons near the street, although he continued to feed them further down Banks Court. They weren't landing on my roof or flying past my bedroom windows all the time though, so I didn't mind.

After a while a feeling of relative normalcy replaced the squalor and excitement on Stale Street. It was odd not to smell garbage simmering in the summer heat, not to see pigeons hanging around all day every day. Don and Robert moved into the Trash Pit, kept to themselves and stopped collecting stuff as far as I could tell. But I've always thought that ever since the cleanup they've been quietly plotting some kind of coup to reclaim the Banks Court territory and populate it with their trash.


The world of my neighborhood has changed slightly, besides the lack of trash, since the cleanup. I try not to talk to Don because I don't want to argue with him. And if I do encounter him, and I feel a dispute coming on, I walk away. And I still track Don and my other neighbors' movements through my window; I just catalog the events in silence. A new band of musicians has moved in next door, and I've made an effort to be a participating neighbor. When I pass by and they're on the porch I stop and have a beer and tell them the stories about Stale Street that I know. We sit and drink and count the pigeons returning to the power lines overhead.


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Additional Info

  • Location: State Street, Salt Lake City, UT