July 12, 2004
The Noticing of Bags
Ian Frazier and his buddies Tim and Bill McClelland used to spend their free time enjoying a round of golf. Now they pay attention to bags. In trees. And when they see them, they get them. Notice what needs to be done. And do it. They don't exactly say that. They just do it.
It started about five years ago when Ian noticed twisted and tangled remnants of balloons outside his apartment window in New York. He couldn't reach them, but his friend Tim designed a hook and they were able to snag the balloon carcasses with it. After that they began traveling around and removing bags from the branches of trees.
"It's got the thrill of vandalism, but it's the opposite of vandalism. You look back there and that looks great. There are no bags in there now. Just to see a landscape that you've changed on a large scale like that is really satisfying," says Ian.
Finding bags in trees requires attention. But it's not only about looking.
"When I'm walking around I can hear them. I don't even look for them. On a day like this, they luff, you know, like a sail, and you'll just hear this rustling," reports Ian.
Tim is the one who designed their main tool—a carbon graphite pole which culminates in a flat steel blade with three prongs. The blade can cut the bags while the prongs can twist and wind it. The pole can interlock with other poles which allows them to get into the highest branches of almost any tree. Sometimes they'll have nine poles locked together which allows them to reach up to 70 feet!
Snagging bags has its risks. Once Ian went for a bag in Queens that seemed to be sagging in the middle. "Kind of strange," he thought. He cut a hole in it and something black came rushing out. "It was a rat. And the rat came running out of it, right down the pole, directly at me. I just went totally insane, going 'Whoooooooa!' Tim thought I had been electrocuted.
Even in New York, it's hard to be inconspicuous when you're walking around with a 70 foot pole and reaching into trees to grab bags.
Ian reminisces, "When we were doing it in Prospect Park in Brooklyn, a guy, who was out jogging, said 'Well, that's a lot of trouble to go to to get a bag out.' And I said, 'Well, doesn't it make more sense than just running around in a circle back to your own house?' He didn't really see it like that."
"On another occasion a woman passed by, looked at us, and said, 'Oh, it's the bag removal guys.' Then she asked us to go to her house and remove some bags from the trees in front. She carefully gave us her address. After she walked on, Tim said, 'She doesn't know—there are no bag removal guys.'"
"We walked all over my neighborhood plucking bags. The snagger worked great... in just a few hours we had removed scores of bags. Old, shredded ones took a lot of monkeying around with, but new fresh ones sometimes came free in a single motion. The sensation was like having your arm suddenly extended 16 feet, and the satisfaction like getting something out of your eye."