It was less of a polite sales offer and more of a violent ethical challenge. And it must have been the 30th time I’d heard the same brutal question in the same brutal tone that week.
As you know, the Western shopper should always answer, “No”. He will then flourish a sustainable hemp sack, an item ideally imprinted with a slogan like “Powered by Tofu”. The clerk and shopper will then smile in a moment of benign conspiracy and wordlessly congratulate each other for saving the Earth.
One should never simply answer, “Yes” to the offer of a plastic bag. Before accepting a poison petrochemical pouch, you must qualify your evil. You should say, “Well, as I’ve left my renewable Hessian ‘Act Local, Think Global’ shopping bag in the bio-fuel tractor back at the organic avocado collective from which I recently cycled with my pals at Critical Mass, I guess I’ll have to say yes.” You might want to add, “I really like dolphins, you know”.
You never, ever answer, “Yes. I’d like a plastic bag”. Because, of course, you wouldn’t like one as they’re slowly choking Gaia. Plastic bags have become an emblem of self-assertive consumer greed. Their use will make you a social pariah. There is no place for plastic bags in our evolved and earth-loving culture. The only acceptable use for a plastic bag is as a shitty metaphor in cinema.
But. Still. I resent the tone of the question almost as much as I resent the sight of “Green” shopping bags tumbling from the back of a luxury four-wheel drive stuffed with children each attached to at least three power-hungry portable media devices.
So. At the bookshop in the nice suburb full of four-wheel drives and compassionate intent, I broke. When the clerk asked me “Would you like a bag with that”. I answered, “Yes. And could you possibly make sure it’s plastic.”
The words flew out of my mouth like chemical waste from a developing economy. I thought, “Stuff you, Kyoto protocol” and I looked at the wealth that surrounded me on all sides and thought, “Well, why shouldn’t I commit a little environmental offence, too?” In this way, I was very much like China.
By the look on the face of the attendant quite used to selling ladies in four-wheel drives “literary” books about How Hard It Is To Be a Muslim Woman (why do white, middle-class women adore these books so? Is it because they quietly resent the shackles of tennis bracelets, lunch and nicely pressed trousers?) I’d done something terrible. I may as well have said, “No. I don’t want a bag. But do you mind if I take a dump in the fantasy section?”
Once I’d started, I couldn’t seem to stop. “Make it a double bag. Two plastic bags, thanks. I wouldn’t want to drop my book.
“Better make it three. I’m off to McDonald’s after this and I find that they rarely provide me with sufficient packaging.”
A rarefied life of servility spent in the company of posh ladies tends to toughen up the average sales clerk. I may have been the most morally offensive customer she’d seen all week. But, no doubt, I was not the most difficult.
“Do you know what plastic bags are doing to the environment?” she asked.
My blood sugars must have been careening. Because I mumbled something about her, really, not having to worry as I would shortly dispose of the plastic bags somewhere safe. Like Orca’s blow-hole.
Lest you decide to kill me or hack my Twitter account, I should advise: I generally do employ re-usable bags. But I’ve had almost too much of this conspicuous compassion.
It’s enough to make me bury myself in the biodynamic dirt.