I published a fictional dialogue not too long ago on the dangers of heroism. In that piece, Justin fell victim to a food delivery bike while pondering having saved his friend, Justina, from the same fate not too long before. Lest that content has deterred any readers from donning the mantle of heroism, I will report on a personal hero story wherein I suffered no ill-fate for a heroic deed. Below, after some brief thoughts on heroism, I present the story of the time I rescued a fallen trash can in Gowanus.

Rescuing a Fallen Trash Can in Gowanus

I was on a long walk around Brooklyn when I ambled down a stretch of Smith Street in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Gowanus. The stretch of Smith Street I was walking on sat under elevated Subway tracks with residences few and far between. Starting at Smith and Huntington Street, there are two small playgrounds, sitting immediately under the train tracks. As I approached the second playground at Smith and Nelson, I noticed a sorry site – a fallen City trash can right on the corner.

I had set out to take some pictures on my walk. Since this was but a mere fallen trash can at my feet, I opted for the Open Camera app on my BlackBerry instead of using my camera. Sadly, I took a bad picture, but this is about the story, not creating a poster.

A fallen trash can on a street corner in Gowanus.
I took this blurry picture of the fallen trashcan on the corner. Victor did his best retouching it to make it amenable to publication. For the record, I do not know what was leaking from the trash can. Ignorance is bliss.

Having taken a picture of the downed trash can, I considered it sorry state. The poor thing – which had likely been toppled by some nefarious actor – gave me material for an article. I could hardly just leave it laying sideways in front of a playground. Assuming that someone else would do a good deed would have left the trashcan in its diminished state for days and weeks to come.

Resolved to take action, I gripped the handle of the trash can with my left hand and pulled it up. After righting the trash can, I took a second picture – this one even fuzzier than the first. Again, this is a morality play, not an art book – although we do discuss those here at The New Leaf Journal.

A standing trash can on a street corner in Gowanus.
I took this very blurry picture of the fallen trash can. Victor again cleaned it up just enough to publish.

Why Are You Telling Us About Your Rescuing a Fallen Trash Can?

A wise man once said the following:

If you do something heroic but don’t tell every person you know, did you do anything heroic at all?

Someone, probably

If no wise man said it before, let it be said that I said it now. Heroism is not about the deed itself, it is about telling people that you are responsible for a heroic deed. While video or photographic evidence is preferred, oral recitation can suffice. Or so said Homer.

If you doubt this principle, consider people who go on diets or new exercise programs. Have you noticed that these people have a tendency to tell everyone about their new diets or exercise programs in excruciating detail? They do this because of a particular kind of subconscious intuition – they recognize that without telling others about their diet or exercise program, they are not truly dieting or exercising.

Upstanding Upright Concluding Thoughts

Facetiousness aside, I was happy to rescue the trash can. In so doing, I did my small part to ensure that the corner had a functioning trash can and people going to the playground did not need to take a moment to wonder whether the heavy trash can had been toppled by vandals or run over by an inept driver. The lesson that I applied was that one should not assume someone else will do something that needs to be done, there is a good chance that the toppled trash can would have rested in place until it was next frequented by a City custodian.

Of course, there are limits to my heroism. Had the trash can been overflowing, or of the variety that did not have a handle, I would have sadly had to leave it for someone with gloves and a higher tolerance for things that offend the olfactory senses. But since the stars aligned, I was able to rescue this particular trash can.

Let the story serve as a reminder that we can help keep our neighborhoods clean even when not doing official community service. If you find a downed trash can, consider lending it a hand if doing so would be reasonable. In the event that it is reasonable for you to rescue a trash can and you do so, do not forget to take before and after pictures of the rescue and tell every single person in your life about what you did.