Perhaps I should envy Henry James since he saw such a different Washington Square than I see today. His was much more interesting I guess and I could never dream of even coming close to his talent of story-telling.
What I can do however is tell you what I see in my time when I visit Washington Square. James may be my superior for imagination but Iíll give him a tough contest for reporting reality.
From out of the 8th Street station on the Broadway Subway Line you do not get any immediate sense that you are entering a University Campus. Several chain type stores and other commercial establishments devoid of even a trifling amount of architectural thought scatter themselves at the foothills of the grand old stone NYU campus buildings.
I usually walk across Waverly toward University Place and enter at the NE corner of Washington Square.
It is clear that there was certainly some effort to furnish the park with fixtures to distinguish it from the less affluent neighborhoods and to reflect some tribute to the colorful history of this famous park.
Even so, there is still a blandness to the benches and fences and the streetlights, even if it is evident the Washington Square fixtures are a cut above the common wooden slats benches and rolled wire fences and generic aluminum pole mercury-vapor lamp heads of other less prominent parks. Yet fancy benches, ornate fences and decorative streetlights cannot conceal the unhappy sight of the dispossessed souls encamped on lawns or just wandering around the park with no defined destination or purpose.
Garbage over-spilled from their bins and empty food containers discarded without care along the paths and around the benches tell many stories of thoughtless patrons and their activities from the night before where the park was used to host exciting meetings and fun filled hours of whiling the late night hours away.
Come morning with the sunlight filtering through the grand buildings on the east side of the park all the grubby signs of last nights frolicking stands out to make for an unpleasant walk through those paths.
To really make the best of Washington Square some level of blindness must be engaged. Pretend that youíre not seeing this and avert your eyes to that and you may come away with an experience which you can relive with pride at dinner later that night, with some pardonable embellishments.
But I am not blind, and I do not feel any obligation to not observe what I see--Washington Square is filthy!
Lift the line too high and the park becomes devoid of character, boring and sterile. Let the line drop too low and you get a seedy unpleasant place to enjoy a pleasant moment.
Who is to say that a wayward character or two couldnít inspire a brilliant idea in a passerby, or a wandering musician couldnít touch your soul with a few bars on an imperfectly tuned instrument.
Why canít an ambitious performer make a few dollars to see her way through a meal or two or even to help make her rent this month.
I mean what will there be to admire in squirrels if they all had exact mealtimes and perfect table manners and did not possess the boldness to climb up a personís tripod leg or poke their heads into a lunch bag? What a bunch of un-amusing little creatures they will be.
And so I do not expect any dissimilar behavior in humans. I believe that allowing the human spirit to be free is imperative. Nevertheless there are some things that we can certainly purge from our society. Selfishness must be somewhere high on the list of things to purge.
Drugs; legal, illegal, pending legalization, recreational, pain killers, waker-uppers, waker-downers, color makers--I donít care! No type of drugs must be allowed in a public park! Go home and get high and leap out of a window if you like, just make sure on your way down you do not injure any tree branches in any nearby public park.
And here is where someone like Henry James will forever have more popularity over me. Heís not a party pooper.
Good God! If I came into Washington Square and the drug users showed themselves to be responsible people who had some redeeming qualities I may not even feel the need to speak out against them.
Drug users and drug peddlers in Washington Square are filthy, self-seeking humans who creates an unsavory atmosphere in what is meant to be a mutually comfortable park. Sometimes I believe the drug users gets more satisfaction to act in ways to defy the law rather than altering their minds. These are a pitiable class of citizens which must not use the public parks to practice their weakness.
There are sufficient proponents of substance abusers who can collaborate and arrange appropriate places to practice their drug use without disrespecting people who do not wish to participate involuntarily in their bad habits.
If the sexually perverted patrons of Washington Square conducted themselves in a manner so as not to disrespect other park patrons who are not entertained by lewd behavior and instead used the park in a manner that did not impose their habits without consideration that it may be offensive to other patrons and especially children, then I may not even think that it was an issue to address. But I believe that for some people it is not about satisfying their sexual desire which makes them use the park but rather to do something daring and risky and most of all defiant to one and all.
My opinion aside, Washington Square is a beautiful place with potential for a universally inoffensive yet character filled experience of New York City. This park can offer patrons a wonderful experience on every visit with activities that are in tune with all the parkís history.
Drugs, lewd conduct and overbearing noises; if these things were notable historical activities in Washington Square there are no worthwhile reasons to preserve them. And just like public slayings, gang wars and discriminating practices they can be purged out of our society without feeling any shame.
Public opinion aside, there are defined laws in existence presently, and no vote is required to have our Police and Parks Enforcement departments simply do their job. Thus far the performance of these two departments are inadequate and some demands must be made on them to start doing something about cleaning up Washington Square.