Alleys are probably the least appreciated public work in our village, yet they contain so much richness. Well, at least on garbage day, when so many treasures are being thrown out. I’m friends with some Forest Parkers who are avid ” isn’t there a more dignified term for garbage-pickers? Anyway, their backyard is like a sculpture garden of castoffs. The centerpiece is a bathtub that serves as an elegant planter.

One day they spotted the tub in the alley. People were sitting in the backyard at the bathtub location but they didn’t pay them any attention. But, when they tried to budge the tub, these spectators exploded in laughter. It seemed they had a bet on how long the tub would be out there and the people in the 15-minute pool had won.

My friends are amateurs, though, compared to the guys who fill their beat-up pickups precariously high with scrap metal. In my book, these scavengers provide a valuable environmental service. One day, I saw them on the street pulling pieces of metal out of a dumpster, only seconds after demolition workers had deposited them.

Alleys aren’t just for picking, of course. In my childhood, they were long narrow playgrounds, dotted with basketball hoops. When we moved to Forest Park, we mounted a hoop on the garage. It wasn’t long before my neighbors were offering me money to take it down. It seemed we were attracting hoopsters from miles around and most of them had car stereos with subwoofers. I finally did take it down, not due to neighborhood pressure but because all those airballs were denting my overhead door.

Even if you’re not using the alley as a basketball court, you can appreciate it. I have another friend who prefers alleys to sidewalks, because he enjoys the foliage from backyard trees. However, we don’t want too much untamed foliage in our alleys. It would also enhance the alley-strolling experience if we fixed our garages.

I was dismayed to read on our local website that someone didn’t like the appearance of the alley behind my house. They used the word “ghetto” to describe it and said it was no wonder there were unsold houses on the block. I almost took it personally, because I couldn’t think of a garage worse than mine. However, I’m going to do everything within the power of my checkbook to fix the garage before winter sets in.

By the way, I’m glad that the village is repaving some of the alleys that flood. Having an alley flood your basement sounds like a New Orleans-type problem.

Getting back to my alley, I was there on haul-away day, when I found a woman going through our garbage, pulling out bags of discarded clothes. She wondered why we were throwing away such “great” clothes but, frankly, they were worn, torn and worse, out of style. I wished her luck with her new wardrobe. But she didn’t have time for chitchat. The clash of gears and hydraulics was getting louder. Without pausing in her procuring, she repeated the immortal motto of garbage pickers everywhere ” “Got to beat the truck.”

John Rice

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.