Saturday, January 14, 2012

Paper or Plastic?

Here I go, in my pepaw-on-the-porch voice:

I remember when food stamps were actually stamps. And by stamps, I mean perforated pieces of paper you tear out of a book, not stickers you peel off a coated backing. As a teenager, I was a grocery store checker, and people would pay with these stamps, which were a little bit dollar bill-like, only in non-green colors: ones were rust, fives were purple. If the total came out to a non-even number, I’d give back regular old change. People who were smart and diligent and wanted to buy something that wasn’t food—generally drugs or alcohol—would return time after time, paying for twenty-five-cent packs of gum until they’d collected enough change to buy what it was they really wanted.

It was a pretty good scam. Back when scams were still somewhat possible, before everything became plastic. Like, literally, everything. It’s how we prove ourselves now.

And yes, plastic existed when I was a teenager. Plastic bags were very popular. And those bags are still out there somewhere, I promise you, and always will be, no matter how much we wish they never were.

But food stamps, they were just stamps. They were paper, they had leeway, they were ephemeral. Who knows where they might have ended up?

All my life, I’ve heard whispers of a national ID card. Just when I think it’s been long enough—that the rumors were paranoiac, that it’s a scheme that’s impossible to implement, that there are other, even more sinister ambitions to preoccupy the powers that be (indefinite detention, internet censorship)—just when it seems like something not worth worrying about, it rears its head again. The Real ID Act of 2005 required state IDs to be in accord with standards set forth by the Department of Homeland Security (The ACLU—who really seems to have their hands full these days—explains why this is a bad idea). The act has met with widespread resistance from the states, and its future is currently in question. In a recent debate, however, Mitt Romney endorsed a national ID program as a solution to the “threat” of illegal immigration.

If you’re going to exist in America, Romney insists, you’d better fucking exist.

Anyways, those plastic bags? They’re still around. I probably have a pound of them under my sink.

Just over four years ago, the city of San Francisco made plastic bags illegal. Large grocery stores are prohibited from using them. The city council’s reasoning was that not only were the bags clogging SF’s storm drains and taking up landfill space, they had also gathered together to create an enormous oceanic clot of plastic—the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Some reports estimate the size of this trash vortex as being up to twice the size of the continental US.

This shit is not going away. This shit is only getting bigger. It’s our shadow, this shit, only it’s real. How long before it taps us on our coastal shoulder?

When you walk out of a store and the security guard sees that white flash of plastic, you can feel secure. You’ll be okay; no one’s going to keep you from leaving with your groceries. You’re proving yourself with plastic.

Receipts? Receipts disintegrate, receipts just blow away. Think of how well—and how permanently—we can prove ourselves once everything we’ve bought is contained on a plastic card. Think of how crime rates will plummet then, how every last scam will be scanned into oblivion. It is only then that we will truly exist, once we can track each and every item we’ve ever removed from the shelf. It is only then we will live forever.

I live in Oakland, a city that attempted to ban plastic bags in 2007, and was forced to reverse its ordinance when plastic bag manufacturers threatened a lawsuit.

I step outside to get some air. I sink into my pepaw chair, which is a rocker. A plastic bag floats by, and it’s beautiful, something we’ve learned from American Beauty. A plastic bag floats by, and though we cannot catch it, we don’t panic.

We’re safe here on our porch, as long as we don’t need to eat. As long as we never leave again, here on our porch we have nothing to prove. 

1 comment:

  1. The only thing made up of palstic which is not harmful is Plastic card, it brings ease and comfort in human life.....