Encounter in Graniteville

by

03/28/2021

Neighborhood: Staten Island

My Covid-19 project has been to drive to one of the many Staten Island parks that I haven’t previously visited and walk around, usually alone, and take pictures on my phone. I try not to think about the future too much. A few months ago, I drove to Graniteville Quarry Park—not to be confused with the nearby Graniteville Swamp Park, from which I was chased by mosquitoes at the end of summer.

The park is small, about the size of one and a half city blocks. It slopes downhill from Wilcox Street to Forest Avenue, just across from Pep Boys and the Harley-Davidson dealership. Bennett Quarry has been closed for over a century. Despite the park’s name, it wasn’t granite they extracted there but trap rock, a much cheaper stone used for paving stones, rail beds, and concrete mixes.

A few long, grooved outcroppings of the gray rock testify to a more productive, if not nobler, history for the scrubby grounds. About halfway down the slope, there is a bowl-shaped indentation edging on to a large, nearly flat, surface of the rock. There are empty Beck’s bottles, cigarette packs, and scattered take-out containers, a perfect hangout for local kids and, perhaps, some “grown-ups” too.

The day was cloudy but bright. I was barely 20 yards from Wilcox Street and deciding if I wanted to descend into the bowl, when I heard footsteps trampling on the leaves behind me. I turned to see a Latino man moving rapidly in my direction.

A shadow of suspicion crossed my mind. Was he going to ask me something? Demand something? Instead, he made a quick vertical gesture with his hand to show he was just cutting through the park. “Good morning, my friend,” he said as he approached. I gave a small wave in return. “No problem,” I said.

He passed by me, with more than sufficient social distance, following a well-trod path through the bowl. With his heavy hooded sweatshirt, boots, baseball cap, and backpack, he had the look of a day laborer. Most likely, he was making his way to one of the spots along Forest Avenue where workers wait in hope of being taken on by a contractor. Or perhaps he was on his way to work at one of the car washes or another business along the avenue.

He had wanted me to know that he posed no threat. I had wanted him to know that I hadn’t felt threatened or suspicious. What right did I have to be suspicious? After all, he was the one on his way to work—and not the remote kind that I had been doing safely from home. I was the guy in the woods taking pictures of fallen trees, stones, and beer bottles, while feeling vaguely conspicuous.

Do we have a right to our suspicions? They stretch below our normally complacent surfaces like ribs of trap rock. We cannot ever fully extract them but we can at least expose them to the light of self-reflection.

I took a few more photos and returned to my car. I looked for my friend among the day laborers waiting along Forest Avenue as I drove past, but couldn’t make him out.

***

David Allen is a professor of English Education at the
College of Staten Island. His wanderings on the island can be seen on
Instagram @dallennfa

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