Yes We Can
On the streets and digging through trash with New Yorkers who make their living half-a-penny at a time.
Paula, a 72-year-old Dominican woman pushing a blue collapsible shopping cart, turns the corner onto Moore Street in Bushwick. She takes in Roberta’s, the popular pizzeria and restaurant where Brooklynites are known to wait upward of two hours for pine-nut-and-Brussels-sprout-topped pies. It’s the Saturday before Halloween, and just outside two young women are selling pumpkins; in Roberta’s garden, two guys are carving them. Paula turns to the restaurant’s trash bins. She sifts through the garbage bags inside, but finds nothing.
She zigzags across the street to a dumpster outside a residential building in a former warehouse. The dumpster is largely empty except for a promising-looking white plastic bag tantalizingly out of reach. Paula, a retired home attendant who is five-foot-nine and solidly built, can’t reach it, even on her tiptoes. She scans the sidewalk, and finds a seven- or eight-foot-long wooden stick across the street. As she heads back to the dumpster, s…
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