Treasures in the Trash: A Secret Museum Inside a New York City Department of Sanitation Garage

Like many New Yorkers, retired sanitation worker Nelson Molina has a keen interest in his fellow citizens' discards.

But whereas others risk bedbugs for the occasional curbside score or dumpster dive as an enviro-political act, Molina’s interest is couched in the curatorial.

The bulk of his collection was amassed between 1981 and 2015, while he was on active duty in Carnegie Hill and East Harlem, collecting garbage in an area bordered by 96th Street, Fifth Avenue, 106th Street, and First Avenue.

At the end of every shift, he stashed the day’s finds at the garage. With the support of his coworkers and higher ups, his hobby crept beyond the confines of his personal area, filling the locker room, and eventually expanding across the massive second floor of Manhattan East Sanitation Garage Number 11, at which point it was declared an unofficial museum with the unconventional name of Treasures in the Trash.

Because the museum is situated inside a working garage, visitors can only access the collection during infrequent, specially arranged tours. Hunter College’s East Harlem gallery and the City Reliquary have hosted traveling exhibits.

The Foundation for New York’s Strongest (a nickname originally conferred on the Department of Sanitation's football team) is raising funds for an offsite museum to showcase Molina’s 45,000+ treasures, along with exhibits dedicated to “DSNY’s rich history.”

Molina’s former coworkers marvel at his unerring instinct for knowing when an undistinguished-looking bag of refuse contains an object worth saving, from autographed baseballs and books to keepsakes of a deeply personal nature, like photo albums, engraved watches, and wedding samplers.

There’s also a fair amount of seemingly disposable junk—obsolete consumer technology, fast food toys, and “collectibles” that in retrospect were mere fad. Molina displays them en masse, their sheer numbers becoming a source of wonder. That’s a lot of Pez dispensersTamagotchis, and plastic Furbees that could be cluttering up a landfill (or Ebay).

Some of the items Molina singles out for show and tell in Nicolas Heller’s documentary short, at the top, seem like they could have considerable resell value. One man’s trash, you know...

But city sanitation workers are prohibited from taking their finds home, which may explain why Department of Sanitation employees (and Molina’s wife) have embraced the museum so enthusiastically.

Even though Molina retired after raising his six kids, he continues to preside over the museum, reviewing treasures that other sanitation workers have salvaged for his approval, and deciding which merit inclusion in the collection.

Preservation is in his blood, having been raised to repair rather than discard, a practice he used to put into play at Christmas, when he would present his siblings with toys he’d rescued and resurrected.

This thrifty ethos accounts for a large part of the pleasure he takes in his collection.

As to why or how his more sentimental or historically significant artifacts wound up bagged for curbside pickup, he leaves the speculation to visitors of a more narrative bent.

Sign up for updates or make a donation to the Foundation for New York’s Strongest’s campaign to rehouse the collection in an open-to-the-public space here.

To inquire about the possibility of upcoming tours, email the NYC Department of Sanitation at tours@dsny.nyc.gov.

Photos of Treasures in the Trash by Ayun Halliday, © 2018

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Although she lives and works inside Nelson Molina’s former pick up zone, she has yet to see any of her discards on display. Join her in NYC on Monday, October 7 when her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain celebrates the art of Aubrey Beardsley. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Bob Odenkirk & Errol Morris Create Comedic Shorts to Help You Take Action Against Global Warming: Watch Them Online

My beach house must be somewhere around here. I used to be able to see the ocean from it. I should be able to see it from the ocean. Ooo, that looks familiar. Lady Liberty. Ha ha! Hellooo! All the best to you.     —Admiral Horatio Horntower

Are there any Better Call Saul fans among the global warming deniers?

A scenario in which one can simultaneously pooh pooh the melting of the polar ice caps and embrace The Thin Blue Line?

Director Errol Morris and his star, Bob Odenkirk, may not change any minds with their Global Meltdown spots they produced in partnership with the Institute for the Future, but hopefully the emphatic end cards will stir some fans to action.

The absurdist 30-second shorts feature Odenkirk, encrusted in epaulets and naval insignia, as the fictional Horntower, “an admiral of a fleet of one and perhaps the last man on Earth.” Marooned on a small block of ice, he rails against the inexpertly animated wildlife encroaching on his domain.

(“You don’t even have the facility of language!” he tells a penguin, and later threatens a walrus that it will “get painted out” of the final cut for “complaining all the time…”)

Certainly a documentarian of Morris’ stature could have taken a lengthier, more serious approach to the subject, but as he notes:

Logic rarely convinces anybody of anything. Climate change has become yet another vehicle for political polarization. If Al Gore said the Earth was round there would be political opposition insisting that the Earth was flat. It’s all so preposterous, so contemptible.

Odenkirk also has some out-of-uniform concerns about climate change, as expressed in "Where I Got These Abs," a 2011 Shouts & Murmurs piece for The New Yorker:

The middle ab on the left (not my left, your left, if you are looking at me) is called Terrence. It’s a dignified ab. It tenses each time I read an op-ed article about global warming. The article’s point of view is immaterial; simply being reminded that I can do nothing to stop the horrific future of floods and catastrophe gives this ab a taut yank that lingers, burning calories in my well-creased forehead at the same time. 

Watch all of Morris and Odenkirk’s Admiral Horntower spots, currently totaling nine, with ten more to come, on Global Meltdown's YouTube channel.

via Kottke

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inkyzine.  Join her in NYC this Monday, September 9 for the new season’s kickoff of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Secret Language of Trees: A Charming Animated Lesson Explains How Trees Share Information with Each Other

Shel Silverstein’s bittersweet classic The Giving Tree paints an inaccurate view of trees as simple, easily victimized loners.

If only the titular character had had a same-species best friend around to talk some sense into her when her human pal started helping himself to her branches… You’ve Gotta Be Kidding Me Tree, or maybe No Bullshit Tree.

You’ve Gotta Be Kidding Me Tree could’ve passed some vital nutrients to The Giving Tree, whose self care regimen is clearly not cutting it, via the mycorrhizae system, a vast network of filament-like tree roots and symbiotic soil fungi.




That same system could serve as the switchboard by which You’ve Gotta Be Kidding Me Tree could alert the extended Tree family to the dangers of prolonged association with cute, but needy kids.

Imagine the upbeat ending, had Silverstein gone light—The Giving Tree N’ Friends.

Not as poignant perhaps, but not entirely inaccurate from a scientific standpoint.

As forest ecologists Suzanne Simard and Camille Defrenne point out in the animated TED-Ed lesson, "The Secret Language of Trees," above, trees have large family (forgive me) trees, whose living members are in constant communication, using the mycorrhizae system.

Hosting multiple fungal species allows each tree to connect with a wider network, as each group of symbiotic shrooms spreads information to their own personal crews, party line style.

On the other end, the receiving tree can identify its relation to the tree of origin, whether they are both members of what we humans refer to as a nuclear family, or much more distant relations.

And while this giant subterranean system for sharing information and resources is specific to trees, when we consider how many other forest denizens depend on trees for food and shelter, the message system seems even more vital to the planet’s health.

Defrenne and Simard’s full TED-Ed lesson, complete with quiz, customizable lesson plan, and discussion topics, can be found here.

Simard delves more deeply into the topic in the 18-minute TED Talk, "How Trees Talk to Each Other," below.

View more of animator Avi Ofer’s charming work here.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Watch the Meditative Cinepoem “H20”: A Landmark Avant-Garde Art Film from 1929

We all stand to benefit from a bit of hydrotherapy, but in these hectic, trying times, it's challenging to find the time for a bath, let alone come up with the dough for a tropical vacation or soothing spa experience.

Given the circumstances, the nearly hundred-year-old experimental film above may be your best option.

In 1929, photograher and filmmaker Ralph Steiner turned his camera on a number of watery subjects—hydrants, waterfalls, streams, raindrops disturbing placid puddled surfaces....




The result was H20, an 11-and-a-half minute cinepoem, considered by film historians, The New York Times noted in Steiner’s obit, to be “the second American art film.”

(Have a look at James Sibley Watson and Melville Webber’s impressionistic 1928 adaptation of Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher if you’re curious about the first.)

Photoplay magazine bestowed its first prize for amateur filmmaking upon H20, praising Steiner’s pure abstract patterns and astonishing tempo, and gushing that "the picture is bound to attract wide attention and a great deal of discussion wherever it is shown.”

He revisited the subject two years later with Surf and Seaweed, above, though his fascination with movement was not limited to the natural world, as evidenced by 1930’s Mechanical Principles.

The hubbub may have died down a bit in the 90 years since H20’s release, though Steiner’s spirit lives on in a number of young experimental filmmakers—witness Norbert Shieh’s award-winning Washes, Dave Krunal’s Waterbomb, and Jaden Chen’s A Cup of Water, below.

H2O has been preserved for posterity by the Library of Congress’ United States National Film Registry. The original piano score in the version featured on Open Culture was composed by William Pearson.

Download a free copy of H20 from the Internet archive for use in future trying times.

Steiner's films will be added to our collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc.

via Aeon

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  See her onstage in New York City in February as host of  Theater of the Apes book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

NASA Captures the World on Fire

"The world is on fire. Or so it appears in this image from NASA's Worldview. The red points overlaid on the image designate those areas that by using thermal bands detect actively burning fires."

The image and caption above come from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. On a related page, they go into some more detail, explaining why good parts of Africa, Chile, Brazil and North America are aflame this summer. Droughts, extreme temperatures, agricultural practices--they're all part of a worrying picture. View NASA's picture in a larger format here.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

Also consider following Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and sharing intelligent media with your friends. Or sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

via Atlas Obscura

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A Map Shows What Happens When Our World Gets Four Degrees Warmer: The Colorado River Dries Up, Antarctica Urbanizes, Polynesia Vanishes

Humanity faces few larger questions than what, exactly, to do about climate change — and, in a sense larger still, what climate change even means. We've all heard a variety of different future scenarios laid out, each of them based on different data. But data can only make so much of an impact unless translated into a form with which the imagination can readily engage: a visual form, for instance, and few visual forms come more tried and true than the map.

And so "leading global strategist, world traveler, and best-selling author" Parag Khanna has created the map you see above (view in a larger format here), which shows us the state of our world when it gets just four degrees celsius warmer. "Micronesia is gone – sunk beneath the waves," writes Big Think's Frank Jacobs in an examination of Khanna's map. "Pakistan and South India have been abandoned. And Europe is slowly turning into a desert."




But "there is also good news: Western Antarctica is no longer icy and uninhabitable. Smart cities thrive in newly green and pleasant lands. And Northern Canada, Scandinavia, and Siberia produce bountiful harvests to feed the hundreds of millions of climate refugees who now call those regions home."

Not quite as apocalyptic a climate-change vision as some, to be sure, but it still offers plenty of considerations to trouble us. Lands in light green, according to the map's color scheme, will remain or turn into "food-growing zones" and "compact high-rise cities." Yellow indicates "uninhabitable desert," brown areas "uninhabitable due to floods, drought, or extreme weather." In dark green appear lands with "potential for reforestation," and in red those places that rising sea levels have rendered utterly lost.

Those last include the edges of many countries in Asia (and all of Polynesia), as well as the area where the southeast of the United States meets the northeast of Mexico and the north and south coasts of South America. But if you've ever wanted to live in Antarctica, you won't have to move into a research base: within a couple of decades, according to Khanna's data, that most mysterious continent could become unrecognizable and "densely populated with high-rise cities," presumably with their own hipster quarters. But where best to grow the ingredients for its avocado toast?

Anyone interested in Parag Khanna's map will want to check out his book, Connectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization.

via Big Think

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Google Street View Lets You Walk in Jane Goodall’s Footsteps and Visit the Chimpanzees of Tanzania

As mentioned here last month, Dr. Jane Goodall is now teaching her first online course through Masterclass. In 29 video lessons, her course will teach you about the three pillars of her lifelong work: environmental conservation, animal intelligence, and activism. But that's not the only way you can digitally engage with Jane Goodall's world. Over on Google Maps, you can take a visual journey through Gombe National Park in Tanzania, where Goodall conducted her historic chimpanzee research, starting back in July, 1960. As Google writes: this visual initiative lets you experience "what it’s like to be Jane for a day." You can "peek into her house, take a dip in Lake Tanganyika, spot the chimp named Google and try to keep up with Glitter and Gossamer." Completed in partnership with Tanzania's National Parks and the Jane Goodall Institute, this project contributes to an effort to use satellite imagery and mapping to protect 85 percent of the remaining chimpanzees in Africa. To get the most out of Street View Gombe, visit the accompanying website Jane Goodall's Roots and Shoots.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

Also consider following Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and sharing intelligent media with your friends. Or sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

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