Jeff Vrabel: Choice of papers rubs some the wrong way
I went with paper bags at the grocery store the other day. It was an impulse, a last-minute decision, a what-the-hell sort of thing and one powered mostly by latent guilt: my green aspirations generally outweigh my green activity by an embarrassing margin. Last week I was suitably mocked by a buddy for throwing a plastic bottle into a trash can that was DIRECTLY NEXT to a recycling bin, which was silly, but in my defense, the nuclear runoff in my drinking water has rendered me largely blind.
My point is, I did it less because of an overarching green stand and more because it seemed like a nice thing to do and because, yes, I got to feel extremely pleased with myself for doing so. So when the cashier asked if plastic was OK, I replied, “Actually, can we do paper?” and she looked me as if I just announced my intention to produce an adult chicken out of my mouth.
Forgive my redundancy, but it’s hard to overstate the look I got at this point. The cashier and the bagger looked at me like I just divulged the code word, like I said something about Darth Vader in front of their football friends, like I wiped my mouth with the Sacred Parchment and all as if to say: Um, you know we only ask that as a formality, right?
As such, the remainder of our transaction unfolded with an aggressive awkwardness that you might expect if you were testifying in front of Congress, or through some random twist of fortune, ended up driving the prom queen home. I am not kidding when I report that these two people did not so much as make eye contact with me for the subsequent four minutes, which was the length of time it took them to bag my stuff because they were TOTALLY DAWDLING. Nobody talked. Needless to say, there’s not a lot you can do to remain an icy cool exterior in the face of such discomfort, although I’m happy to report I know more now about Angelina Jolie’s purported anorexia than I did before, and I’m frankly a little worried about her.
But also, during this time, I became something of an aggressive environmentalist with a sudden and all-encompassing desire to organize a march, boycott something and start a Facebook group. It’s not much like I asked these people to spend their afternoon scrubbing oil off abandoned dolphin embryos; I asked them mostly to not place each of my groceries in an individual bag. Has anyone else noticed how grocery stores — well, stores in general — bend over backward to send you home with as many bags as they possibly can? I bought my son a shirt at a Large Retailer last week, and they put it in a bag with which I could have conceivably vacationed in Europe for about three months, so that the shirt didn’t, I don’t know, spontaneously burst into flame during the long and treacherous walk through the parking lot, or so that it wasn’t attacked and consumed by a wild boar. This is true — at the grocery store the cashier asked me (sneeringly, I suspect) if it was OK to put my gallon of milk in a plastic bag, and I replied, “That’s OK, I’ll just take it,” and she LOOKED RIGHT AT ME AND PUT MY MILK IN A PLASTIC BAG, which I took without a word, because when it comes right down to it I’m a sissy.
All of this means two things: that I spend entirely too much time ruminating on my trips to the grocery store, but also that American business appears to harbor an irrational reliance on the Plastic Bag, as though the entire thing is funded by a giant silent lobby.
In fact, I think while everyone’s been all worried about the pharmaceutical and oil industries, the tendrils of Big Bag have infiltrated our stores, schools and churches.
Watch next week during any of the 400 scheduled presidential debates: Will any of the candidates have an answer if asked about the startling and nefarious reach of the Sack Lobby? I think not! Well, maybe Gravel.
Jeff Vrabel is a freelance writer and can be reached at www.jeffvrabel.com.