taking care of the place

the plastic to drown us in

the plastic to drown us in
Written by Cathoel Jorss,

Last week on the market I spoke to the girl queueing before me at the fruit stall. She had said to the cashier, Could I have a bag for that too please? which focused my attention from its dreamy perusal of the mountains of plump and glossy fruits. She had put her single lemon, her three apples, her two mandarins and her kiwi fruit each in separate plastic bags lest they contaminate one another. When the guy turned away to change her fifty dollar note I spoke.

Excuse me. I’m just so distressed by the… amount of plastic you’re consuming. Could you, I mean.

Her expression helped me. Goofy, caught out, unblaming, sprung. I gathered pace. Couldn’t you please think about bringing your own bags? I know, she said, looking down. I know I should. I said, pleadingly, They drift into the oceans. They sort of fly about. If you are a turtle or a fish they look like food, jellyfish.

I know, she said again, I should. Please, I said, please do. It’s really really time. And we smiled at each other and she walked away carrying her kilo of petroleum byproducts and once I’d paid for my bouquet of greenery and come out from under the awning into the wintry sunshine, so pleasurable, my partner was standing there opening wordlessly his canvas shoulder bag and as I fed the spinach and fennel in feet-first I was aware of the plastic bags girls passing us, seeing this transaction, maybe taking it home and owning it: we can normalise what seems a chore. However tonight standing at the checkout of a grocery store I felt unable to address the woman standing in front of me in line who had put every morsel of fruit and every mortal vegetable each into its own noxious, off-gassing solitary confinement. Bad, naughty vegetables, you suffer in there until you learn how to behave. I looked her over from her wood-heeled boots up to the leopard scarf that was slung so perfectly casually across her sleeves. I thought how I might say, Couldn’t you consider, and how she might say, It is none of your business, and how I might say, But it is my business! I have to live on the planet you are desecrating.

In between I visited the nut store in West End where everything is in tubs or big sacks, and you point and say, I’d like a half a kilo of those please, a wedge of that. The good-looking and ordinarily bearded man who came out from behind the counter cheerful and broad said to me, Would you like a bag for those? I said, No thanks. See I think I’ve already used up my lifetime’s…. quota of plastic bags. A laugh of surprise spurted from him. I think I probably have too, was all he said. After the grocery store lady with her terrifying scarf I walked home in a kind of fugue. The moon hung like a slim segment of moon high in the blackened and starless sky, a plastic bag drifting in a bottomless trench. How can we have come this far without catching on to ourselves, I thought. Is the water just too dark and warm? Are we asleep?

9 comments on “the plastic to drown us in

  1. Thanks Sandra!

    Cathoel Jorss July 4, 2014 at 8:05 pm
  2. Thank you Jameela! It is a skill I have had to hone through many, many years of practise. The turning point came when I realised one day – d’oh – that I too have plenty of destructive and selfish habits therefore was addressing people as one acolyte to another. It embarrasses me that this took so many years of ringing righteousness to work out.

    Cathoel Jorss July 4, 2014 at 11:50 pm
  3. Not a big fan of the written word (unless it’s clever) or preachy activists; this is awesome…I shall share

    Tim Hackett July 5, 2014 at 2:02 am
  4. Preachiness is off-putting, Tim, I agree. I guess the written word can be so much more portage and durable than spoken… it feels like something you can tuck in your pocket, or in your mind, to brood over, or argue with in private.

    Thank you for sharing! Appreciate it.

    Cathoel Jorss July 5, 2014 at 10:50 am
  5. I usually say to the cashier, too many plastic bags already. I know, they say, rolling their eyes. Customers behind me give indulgent smiles as this outspoken little old lady offers her assortment of hessian and cloth bags. Whatever you say, people respond with a guilty “I know”, and carry on in their old patterns. We need wake-up pills FFS!

    Alison Lambert November 5, 2014 at 11:04 am
  6. That’s so true, Alison, the infuriatingly inactive self-forgiving eye roll. Often people respond to me with their own little excuses – invariably the tone is, Yes, I am aware that this is selfish behaviour and unacceptable, BUT what you don’t realise is, I am excused by my own special circumstances… running late, forgot to bring my bags, etc. No one seems aware that we are all making exactly the same excuses.

    I like playing with the stupidness of it. I’ll say, Thanks but I’ve already used up my lifetime’s quota of plastic bags. Or, buying fruit or juice: No, thanks, we’re planning to use our gullets. This reminds me of a pelican and makes me laugh, very mildly, time and again.

    Cathoel Jorss November 7, 2014 at 1:17 pm

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