When the dust mask is covered in soot I take it off and add it to the sack slung over my shoulder. The rubber straps have left imprints all across my face, sore to the touch. I take another one out of the box and put it on anyway, trying to change the angle enough so it doesn’t dig into the same grooves as the last one. The seal fits poorly over my beard but I already used my last razor and I haven’t made it to the store yet.
I’ve been making progress, though. For example, I’ve almost caught up to whoever is on the road in front of me. I haven’t actually seen them yet, just their sack. Judging from the size, I’m guessing whoever’s pulling it must be twenty, thirty years older than me. For every time I manage two or three steps, they’re lucky to move an inch.
I’m doing my very best to keep from sharing their fate. I’m big on reduce and reuse. If the recyclers wanted any of my stuff I’d give it to them in a heartbeat. I got real lucky. They took most of my car as salvage before the steel industry shut down. Still have bits of the interior trim back in the sack, though, if you have any interest. Used tires are ok for making sandals. I slept on the floor mats for a while, but now I mostly rotate between cardboard that hasn’t composted yet and wadded up polyester clothing from when I was a kid. Cotton rots, thank goodness.
A lot of what’s in my sack isn’t even my fault. I mean I didn’t ask to use disposable diapers. Those get real heavy if they get wet, so back when this was all getting started I spent a couple weeks drying them out and wrapping them up in cellophane. Lots of toys, too, to make up for the divorce. Of course none of them are in good enough condition for the collectors market. I met a guy once who had hundreds of New In Box Barbies slung over his shoulder. The PVC is leaching out of most of my childhood, which isn’t great. I think this is what’s been giving me headaches, but I can’t be certain. Lego toxicity. Nintendos with all the solder and wires pulled out and sold for scrap. Synthetic stuffed animal fluff.
After about ten, though, it’s kinda hard to argue that I’m not responsible. At least I liked books as a kid. Paper is really useful stuff. You can wipe things. Or daub. Staunch. And if it can break down in the soil, you’re allowed to leave it. I don’t though. Paper is one of the few things people will actually trade for. I give them a book and something else from my sack. Maybe a VHS? Done deal.
Technically you can burn things to lighten your load, but I don’t advise it. First off you have to carry the incinerator unit, which isn’t nothing. Then you have to hook up the mask, of course, so that you catch the smoke. The rule is everything you burn has to go through your lungs at least once. It’s basically the worst cigarette machine ever. Not for me, personally, but some people swear by it.
It’s hard to find food to eat that doesn’t come wrapped in plastic. That’s my main problem, now. It doesn’t weigh much, but every bit adds up. Some people eat their plastics with their diner after breaking it up into small pieces. I found this guy, though, and his belly was distended something awful. He’s probably dead by now.
I went through a phase of heavy drinking, as I’m sure you did, too. I mean look around for christ’s sake. Anyway, I’m past that now I hope. Still, those bottles. My sister had a rock tumbler as a kid. I mean, I’m sure she’s still got it, but it used to be functional back then. Anyway, I’ve got this apparatus I built out of my old bicycles that I set up whenever I need to take a break from walking to the store. When I turn the crank it tumbles the glass. You just put the bottle in a grocery sack, throw it at the asphalt, then empty the bits into the tumbler. After a little while they shine like jewels. If you ever get to the beach maybe you’ll find pieces of sea glass that’ve been puked back up by the water.
Remember back when you used to get that special feeling? You know the one. A little magic feel-good tingle when thoughts of that special something flitted through your neurons. Ah, a new thing! How happy it’s made me! Where did that mental circuitry come from? Was it always there, trickling down through all those evolutions we took to get from that common mammalian ancestor to what we are now? More nuts more nuts more nuts. Is it Organic? Universal? Or has this pathway been Colonized by Capitalism? Why is feeling good so fleeting?
Come on. Fuck this negativity. I’m not going to blame something that makes us happy for everything that happened. Getting that cool special something isn’t the problem. The problem is ignoring all the bullshit that happens alongside the consumption. Needless, harmful overages. The unintended, invisible choices ratified by our dollars.
You think we couldn’t have done a lot better with a few tweaks fifty years ago? I present evidence A: my bottle problem. What happened to returnables? I remember Mountain Dews that must have been refilled hundreds of times. Why did that go away? Sure, drinking out of vessels that have already touched other people’s lips sounds like hipster nonsense from this end of history, but once upon a time it was just The Entirely Wholesome Way Things Were Done Goddamn It. Now, instead of that, we have disposable bottles and the great Pacific Garbage Patch and still almost nobody’s getting the message in those bottles. There used to be jobs and infrastructure solving a problem nobody new would exist. Poof, gone. Export that responsibility (read: guilt) onto the consumer. Plastic made people disposable. More than they already were, I mean. How convenient.
McDonalds stopped using styrofoam containers for its sandwiches in 1990, just after the Berlin Wall came down. I remember watching it on TV. The Big Mac protestors. Mr. McDonald, tear down this Clam Shell. Hamburgers come in cardboard now. No, the clown isn’t perfect — styrofoam cups are just now going in 2018? — but who the hell is. There are people who want more styrofoam. ‘The condensation from global warming is making my drink sweat!’ they cry. ‘It don’t stay cold in Regular Plastic.’ As If That Were The Dichotomy. Maybe they could knock their corn sugars back a little more quickly? Perhaps they should have taken better care of the styrofoam cups they were already given? Wash them out, feel their indestructible fragility? Then those myopic morons could still have their drinks just the way they want them, and stop mumbling about being hung up on big foam crosses.
You’re going to look me in the eye and tell me there are too many people, not enough resources? Before we even really try to clean up our act? Ok, you and yours first, then. Off you go.
I’ve got my responsibility sack just like everyone else, bud.
What do I want. What do I want. What do I want.
I want education. I want a home. I want good shoes and clean food. I want civics, not toxic politics. I want to make new friends, and value my own capacity to love. I want self-improvement to be a respectable occupation. I want so much respect being generated in all quarters that we end up with a Great Pacific Respect Patch. I want art to pay a living wage. I want to be remembered fondly, not as a miserable prick. I want my simple, quiet life to be free of unintentional, unknown harms. I want world peace, prosperity.
I will admit it seems a long way off.
For now, I just want to pick up my pace and see who is struggling with that sack up ahead. Maybe I can show them how to turn their drinking problem into jewels.
Dustin Kennedy lives at works in the DC Metro Area. He writes and does reviews on Ionic, a New Flag Media blog. You can follow him on twitter @thinksominously
featured image: Bob Modem