I have found my tribe in Manhattan. I didn't know it until now, but I discover that I am a disciple of mongo. A mildly eccentric band, we work furtively, often under the cover of darkness. We rummage in the gutter and are not averse to plunging fully clothed into reeking rubbish skips. We have never been to Ikea.
Mongo is not a church or cult. It is the stuff that people throw out of their homes and leave on the pavement for other people - like me - to take away and make use of. Smelly sofas, hat-stands, that sort of thing. I thank The New York Times for attaching a name to this treasure. "Mongo," an article in the Real Estate Section recently informed me, is "late-20th-century slang for retrieved and repurposed garbage."
My worship of everyone else's rejects goes back only a year so, roughly to when I fled the suburbs and took my apartment in the city. I had a mongo-mentor - Carlos, a cousin of my partner. Through him I have become a magpie of the Manhattan streetscape. No indignity will block my path if I my mongo antennae begin to twitch. If quarry beckons, I will grab it. Never mind the funny looks from strangers.
Prime hunting time comes at the end of each month, when leases finish and tenants must up sticks and move. What are they to do with the bed that won't fit in their new place? Or the television set with the flat screen that isn't flat enough? Bonfires are out of the question. And the nearest municipal dump is in Arizona. Well, maybe New Jersey. But really they have no choice but to leave this stuff on the street.
Not all of it is worth taking. There was a triple-seat sofa outside my apartment all last week, begging to be adopted. It was in good condition, too. Barely a stain on its shiny green velour. And, if you must know, I really did climb into a rubbish skip once, after spying what I thought was a rather handsome dining table. It was literally broken in half, but I was sure it was salvageable. It took me a few weeks to acknowledge that really it wasn't. And it went straight back into the same skip it came from.
I am pretty proud, though, of what serves as a coffee table in the sitting room. It is just a pile of Architectural Digest magazines dating back to 1990 and beyond. I found a mountain of them, neatly stacked and tied, outside Gramercy Park last winter and grabbed as many as I could carry. My newest acquisition is even less ambitious - a bunch of those contorted willow twigs I spied leaning against a lamppost on my block. Interior designers like these things, I reasoned. They are in my dining room now.
Carlos is the best of all mongo-men because he pursues it purely for the sport. He has not heard of Ikea either, but that's because he works in an investment bank. For him, this is about the pleasure of discovery. And he discovers often. The provenance of those modern-art canvasses hanging on the walls of his Hamptons rental this summer? Let's say they are more crap than Christies. But this crap looks great.
Better still, he seems to derive particular satisfaction from donating his finds to us. This entails making regular trips to his West Village home to pick up each new consignment of goodies. Last week, it was a very fine and exceptionally heavy fireplace grate. Over the months, he has found us chairs of all descriptions, both upright and upholstered. The little French boudoir table, with tiny drawer, is currently home to our fax machine. He gets most excited when he finds plants. But those he won't be parted from.
You should never take these things too far, of course. I regret the night I found a restaurant doggy-bag abandoned on the back seat of a taxi. No, I did not eat it. But my rather intoxicated friend did. Greek food, she pronounced happily, a pale liquid dripping down her chin. Then she threw up.
It was lucky that just a few nights later, I found another little bag in the back of a different taxi. This time the smell was much better. It contained what evidently were freebies from some fashion event or other, fancy lipstick and expensive perfume among them. I gave these to the same friend and I think I have been forgiven for the moussaka debacle.
Failure to scoop - a capital offence?
Former mayor Ed Koch has never been known for his understatements. And there he was last week, celebrating the 25th anniversary of arguably the most transformative law that was ever passed during his watch over late-Seventies New York. Acknowledging that there are still people out there who flout it, he suggested that anyone caught in said act were "the vilest of people who deserve to be hanged".
This must be the most serious of crimes they are committing, you would think. Well possibly, but the embarrassing truth is that I have been guilty of it on a couple of occasions. It is called "doubling-up" when your dog does his morning poop and then, five minutes later, settles down for seconds. And you, the responsible dog-walker, only have one plastic bag. Hey, it happens sometimes. OK?
We are talking, of course, of the "Canine Waste Law" - better known as the "Pooper-Scooper Law" - that obliges me and all other dog lovers in the city to clean up after their pets. I am as much a fan as anyone else. As Mr Koch so delicately put it: "If you've ever stepped in dog shit, you know how awful it is. You can't get rid of the stench and you track it through your apartment".