Sunday, June 18, 2006

Ziploc Bags

We were a recycling kind of family. V-8 juice cans didn't just become bread baking tins. With a hole punched in each side near the top and a string run through they were instant stilts. We spent Saturdays hauling a wagon around the neighborhood to pick up everyone's newspapers, and family walks always included a plastic bag so we could score empty soda cans and beer cans along the way. I even learned to tell at a glance if the cans were 'good' or not by checking the bottoms. metal with smooth lines through it was fine, grainy looking surfaces were not. That's a skill that has served me nearly as well as a BA in History.

We were also a dishes-by-hand kind of family. I remember seriously telling a baffled but almost convinced neighbor that dishwashers were against our religion. Made sense to me - everything else was. I hadn't yet grasped the difference between religious and socio-ecological-economic convictions. They all manifested in my life with the same force so I didn't stop to consider the source.

But hand washing dishes and recycling met in a way I found exceptionally irritating - the Ziploc bags. Every evening my sister and I would slog through, starting with glasses and plates, moving on to the heavy stuff - pots and pans - and then inevitably rounding out with several crumb filled plastic bags. By now the dish water was luke warm, the disguising layer of bubbles had evaporated leaving a few yellow and greasy patches floating on the surface and exposing the grey, floater filled sink beneath. The bags had to be turned inside out and swished vigorously in the water. We used to fill them right up and hold them over the sink, hoping that a squirt or two, or even a dribble would say that finally this bag at least could be thrown away.

The ritual didn't stop there either, because the bags had to be carefully dried, first on one side, then turned right way round again and left out again. Even in our desert climate this took a bit of time, so our kitchen always had four or five bags draped around it. My mother eventually constructed a miniature line for them, and they would be pegged out over the sink.

I found the whole thing deeply humiliating. Not only did I have round sandwiches in scratched and wrinkled plastic baggies, but the evidence of this shame was stretched for all the world to see.

I deeply envied my best friend who lived in a pristine and modern-convenience filled house. She didn't eat crackers out of a black-and-white generic box, she got the really impressive ones with the elves on the package. In her home when you finished your school lunch you were expected to throw away what they considered 'trash' and no one stopped you at the door and demanded the return of your wrappers. I was sure she thought we were completely insane with our juice-can toys and plastic bag rescue center.

Recently I went to lunch with this friend - now with three kids of her own. We met at a local duck pond so her small son could terrorize the waterfowl with huge chunks of badly aimed stale bread. I watched as she carefully sorted out her trash and rescued anything that could be reused.

'I used to love going to your house,' She said, absentmindedly saving her son from an early and algae-infested bath. 'Just the other day I was thinking about how I thought the coolest thing in the world was to have your own plastic-baggie clothesline.'

Took a few years, but I suppose that small childhood wound can be counted healed now.

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