Updated: Jun 13
There are few times when you get to feel the heavens fall upon you and even fewer times when you get to feel the raw power of nature in all its naked glory. I dare say in our buttoned-up, sunscreen-covered, peanut allergy, antiseptic world in which we now live there are few people who have taken the chance to let themselves stand before their maker in the very natural form we are all born into for all the world to see.
Oh sure there are lots of people who take their clothes off for money and even more people who take their clothes off for the sake of exhibitionism. But I think there are few who take their clothes off and stand before the angry heavens and let the rains wash them clean as only the good Lord above can do.
There was a time when I did and I was made clean in the dirtiest place on earth.
The day was not just hot and humid. Anyone who has ever walked from an air-conditioned airport into the Florida rain in August knows heat and humidity. But the days of summer in Bridgeport have a certain sticky filth that coats your body with 150 years of dirt, grime, pollution, corruption, and disappointment. And it's all mixed in a vaporized milkshake of an atmosphere that's painted on anyone who walks its streets or breaths its air. The humidity of Bridgeport doesn't just weigh you down, it crushes the human soul.
And in Bridgeport, if you can tolerate the streets, there is one place where all that filth and grime has collected and sits as a big pile of resentment and mediocrity perched on the shores of Long Island Sound, The Landfill.
I had spent hundreds of hours wandering The Landfill. The dust was enough to add ten pounds to your lungs when you breathed it in. The water that lapped its shores bubbled with the escaping methane left over from a century of sewage and rotting debris generated from a civilization still in decline. And the trees grew in odd shapes with shallow roots and would suddenly die and fall over in a matter of days when those roots tapped into the most noxious of pockets in the 60-acre trash heap. Yes, the Landfill was the dirtiest place on earth in a City that wreaked of degradation and neglect and I spent a lifetime there.
That day in particular, the heat and humidity mixed with the air-born filth and by the end of the day my legs were black, my nostrils caked and my spirit hung from my body like greasy wilted lettuce on a fast food hamburger. I was as worn down as I could be and the weight of Landfill had consumed me whole.
That day I gave yet another bit of myself to the City, as I waded in the waters, rolled in the dirt and trod the dusty roads. My only companion was my devoted dog who despite the life shortening effects of the Landfill, loved the place almost as much as I did. Most days she would tear up and down the shores chasing birds, digging for clams and eating the sweet macerated toilet paper that washed ashore from the sewage treatment plant. The mixture of musk and sugar made the sewage slurry a delectable treat to a half starved dog and she feasted on the limitless supply that came in on the tide. The Landfill was her paradise.
But even that day was so hot the dog could only lay listless in the shadow of the trailer we called home. She tucked herself beneath the shadow of the stairs that lead up to the recycled mobile classroom turned office trailer we lived in and stood guard against the darting homeless people who ripped along the dusty path on bicycles. But today the humidity and heat were too much for even them.
The sun, a steamy ball of light that shown through the creamy smog, grew a pink fire of streaks across the setting sky as it slid into evening. The hottest part of the day was supposed to be over, but the pile of trash filled earth emitted a steamy life of its own that held the heat and radiated all night long.
The nights spent there were oppressive enough with the oozing heat, but the mosquitoes were something of a marvel. The clouds of 22-pound aerial bloodsuckers would come in just before sunset and carry off small children and cats if you did not watch them carefully. I always assumed I would not need a security system in summer because as soon as the darkness crept in, mosquitoes took care by eating any errant straggler alive. The Landfill was an ecosystem unto itself that bred the most vile creatures and monstrous creations.
The Dog Digging Clams in the Landfill
To curb the bug population I had tried to woo bats to the mountain of trash by having bat boxes installed. the natural predators could eat thousands of mosquitoes and bugs in a night I was told, but I never saw a bat my whole time there- I think the mosquitoes may have eaten them all. But in addition to the mosquitoes we also had a tick problem.
My dog would wander in after a romp in the brush with nothing short of 1000 feasting parasites attached to her ears, stomach and legs. I even had to pick ticks from her nose and eye lids at times as they ran out of free spots to suck on the 70 pound canine. And if removing ticks from the dog weren't enough, when I would shower, I could hear the ticks fall from my hair and body like tacks dropped on a wood floor one at a time. The only thing worse than the mosquitoes were the endless supply of ticks.
To remediate the ticks, I had a couple options. Napalm was one, but I was sure no one would allow me to exfoliate the giant pile of trash no one wanted to look at. The other option was chickens. A chicken can eat hundreds of ticks in a day and a flock of free ranging birds can devour a forest of ticks as quick as they can hatch. I had a flock of six assorted breed birds who lived in my former residence, a shipping container with windows cut in it. At sunrise they would set out to devour the bugs of the landfill and at sunset would return to roost in the container in a set of roosting boxes I had made from a set of old shelves I found discarded in the Landfill. Every morning the dog would be treated to eggs from the scavenger birds as I thought eating products from that tainted place might tip the scales in favor of systemic poisoning- I ate enough of that dirt everyday that I didn't need to supplement it with tick-fed chicken eggs.
And it was the chickens that first gave me notice of the storm that was working its way in.
The day had long since ended but the night was still going. I had a head full of liquor and my body was covered in dirt, bug spray and salt. The heat made my clothes stick to my skin and my dog who often slept with me and was closer to the dirt than I was, had rubbed against my sweaty leg and smeared muddy filth across half my body. Between the booze and the dirt, I was feeling like I belonged in that cesspool and I needed to be made clean.
The chickens heard it first and let me know by cackling in the night as if an intruder had made its way into the coop. The birds normally were silent in the evening but the electric in the air must have woken them from their egg laying slumber and they were wide awake and on edge. The dog too panted and whined as if nervous, but I could hear nothing at first.
I notice the rumble of thunder far off about the same time the heat lighting started. Sheets of light shimmered across the hazy night sky and it was clear that this storm would be one to enjoy. The air was still and the bugs swarmed like clouds across the dirt path. But with each flash of lightning, the path lit up as if day were breaking only to be doused by night and following rumble of thunder.
My first relief came with the wall of wind. The downdraft felt like it had come strait from the North Pole, but the weather fan in me knew it was from about 120,000 feet aloft. It hit the water and flowed out in front of the rain that was soon to follow. I did not know how long the storm might last, but I knew this was my chance to get clean.
Usually I showered at the local gym. I never used a single piece of equipment, but a hot shower first thing on a January morning was a welcome break from the Landfill. However at Midnight, no gym was open and my night at the bar had run late. I either had to sleep in the filth or find an unattended hose somewhere in the Harbor. But with this, I could use soap and really be clean, not just move the dirt around.
The first drops fell on the tin roof of the trailer and echoed throughout the structure. The first drops of rain are always the largest I imagine because much like tears that come when emotion can no longer be contained, so too must rain fall when clouds can no longer hold their water. Its the first drops too that are always the sweetest.
The initial "pat pat pat" of the storm soon turned into a roaring onslaught. I envision each mosquito being washed down the hill and ticks clamoring for higher ground as rivulets began to form and wash down the dusty road turned to mud. I instinctively ducked inside with the dog when the roar began and I now stood in the door feeling the rain drops splash on the wood deck against my blackened ankles. My legs immediately felt cool and wet and I could see the dirt running down into my shoes. The dog sensing the relief stuck her head out the door and began to lap at the drippings from the roof.
I looked at her and said, "I need a shower, how about you?" She looked back as if to say, "I thought you might never ask."
I always kept a bar of soap on hand even though I never had water for bathing. I usually brushed my teeth with the remnants of whatever water bottle I was drinking from that day, but there was never enough water to bath. I half considered taking the bar into the Sound with me once in a while but knew that was only a way to get sandy, not clean. So it was fortunate as the skies opened that I had a bar of soap on hand. My thoughts were grab it and get cleaning, you don't know how long this will last?
Taking off my shorts and shirt, I stood there in my underwear. I considered going outside to shower with them on, after all someone might see me. I also did not like the idea of baring my all in the place where so many visitors would be expected the next day. How could I look the landscape in the face knowing I had defiled it with my bare skin? That is where the drunkenness helped. I stripped down, stepped out the door and said to myself, "Before all the world I will show who I am!" The dog followed me out.
The rain pounded on my delicate flesh and the lightning screamed across the sky. The crack of thunder gave me pause feeling my tender skin was no match for the rugged world around me. I closed my eyes and looked up feeling the pouring skies start to wash away the filth and corruption. The earthy smell of freshly soaked soil wafted up from the ground and the sweet unsalted water from the heavens ran across my sun-burnt lips and into my dusty mouth. I stretched out my arms and felt the stinging rain kiss my white bare chest. This was more than a rain, and a shower, it was in a way a christening.
I felt the day wash away first and then the fear of my nakedness. The thunder and lightning rattled my soul and lifted my spirit. The fragrant smell of soap mixed with the floral smell of grasses gave me a feeling of Spring in the dog days of summer. Nothing stood between the heavens and me and I was allowing all the natural world to wash over me and take control of my being. I ran my soapy fingers through my greasy hair and could feel a lightening from deep within my chest. The wickedness, grime and filth of this awful place flowed away from my body, down the hill and into Sea, never to be seen again. I rinsed my face and body time and time again and wished that the rain would wash this whole mountain of trash away from the world and leave only the marsh grasses that once made their home here. But I knew, only a biblical flood could take away this sin, and there was not nearly enough water in these clouds to clean it all. I had to start with me. The end of the shower came slowly. At first the roar slowed to a chatter and then the chatter to a mist. I took care to ensure in the last few moments that all the soap had washed away and that no trace was left for morning. The rumbles of thunder could still be heard in the distance and the horizon flashed as the storm worked its way to the east. A peaceful calm settled over the Landfill and the sound of crickets could be heard soon thereafter. The dog and I retired inside and looked down at my filthy clothes hung across the chair. My underwear lay in a pile as if I had jumped from them and they collapsed with no body to cling to. I fiddled in my bag in the dark looking for a flashlight, my eyes still unadjusted from the lightning to the new found darkness. I came up with a new set of clothes and an exhaustion set over me. Checking the clock on the wall the time was now well past 1AM.
My bare feet felt the grit and filth once again on the floors of the classroom walked in from the outside and the smell of corruption and wet dog hung in the air. The shower was over and I was clean. But the filth of the Landfill could not be washed away that easily and by morning I would be covered in the filth again. I knew this was no way to live and the rain would not last forever.