Collecting bottles, tossing leftovers, taking out the garbage
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A network of rational and skilled human beings has operated in perfect tandem across space and time to hatch, raise, slaughter, pluck, clean, season, cook, and sell me an entire chicken at Costco for $5. It’s called a “rotisserie chicken,” and they’re so popular that Costco has bought out hundreds of farms in Iowa and Nebraska to process about 2 million birds a week. Film director Werner Herzog once said the eyes of the chicken reveal a “bottomless stupidity, a fiendish stupidity” of the most “horrifying, cannibalistic, and nightmarish creatures in the world.” I have to say I was surprised by Herzog’s naivete. I believe in the personhood of animals, and there’s no worse animal than a human, which Herzog should know.
Are you thirsty? Do you like to drink water? Are you from a generation that thinks it’s OK to drink water out of single-use plastic bottles? Then the world works for you! Maybe you prefer the flavor of that fresh, mountain-spring water. Maybe you enjoy the convenience of never having to replace a filter or fill up a reusable bottle. Maybe you like the feel of plastic on your lips. Try Arrowhead, the great California spring water by Nestlé! Sucked from the mountains by a network of subterranean concrete pipes, trucked across the desert, purified in the same filtration plants that process all of LA’s tap water, bottled in carbon, and then shipped off for your consumption. They say that Nestlé is hurting the environment, that water rights are frequently violated in this country — but where’s the harm in this beautiful clear bottle, this life-giving potion of thirst-quenching thrift?
If you want to buy a bottle of fresh Arrowhead water for $1.50, then you have to pay the state of California a nickel, which you can get back if you carry your empty bottle across the road to the Mexican grocery, and if the recycling machine there isn’t broken. They used to brick the bottles up and ship them to China on container ships, but the Chinese are no longer interested in recycling our garbage. So, many of our bottles are going into landfills, to sleep out the next few thousand years.
Cable was too expensive, so people started pirating movies from the Internet, until Netflix offered an affordable streaming service. The popularity of streaming inspired content providers to pull their properties from Netflix and create their own services, fragmenting the market and raising the cost for consumers back to cable-like levels. So people started pirating again. Then an Australian named Adrian Leatherland began tracking their IP addresses and sending them infringement alerts. To pirate in peace, a person now has to use a VPN, or “virtual private network.” For around $12 a month the VPN lets you route your Internet traffic around the world at will, making you appear to be browsing from India, Russia, or Denmark. Last night I downloaded forty-eight hours of anime and then deleted it, because who has time for that much anime anymore?
In the late 1700s, when the French colony of Haiti tried to throw off its European oppressors in the name of human liberty, slave owner Thomas Jefferson refused to support the revolution. After all, if Haiti freed its slaves, what would that mean for slavery in the United States? But Haiti liberated itself without Thomas Jefferson’s help, virtually expelling France from the Americas for good. The French republic was so disheartened that it sold the entire territory of Louisiana to the U.S. for less than $.03 an acre, doubling the size of our country.
It feels like everything on Amazon costs $19.97 these days. Nobody knows why. If you ask the Internet, it will just try to sell you more things that cost a little less than $20. The price has something to do with economics, sellers’ fees, shipping costs, profit margins. It has something to do with human psychology. It has something to do with the logic of capital. These are just guesses — I’m not an economist. My mind doesn’t work very well when it comes to money.
Speaking of Amazon, I bought some face lotion the other day for my partner. She said, “Don’t get me any,” but I got her some anyway. Amazon mailed it to me in a sturdy cardboard box filled to the brim with plastic bubbles of air, and I presented it proudly to my partner, who didn’t want it, who became upset with me. I went to the Amazon site to return the face lotion. When the return form asked why, I could have lied and said the product was damaged, but instead I told the truth: that I just didn’t want it anymore. They refunded my money without even making me send the lotion back. Capitalism makes this possible; goods are so cheap, they can just be thrown away. Large swaths of Earth’s oceans are practically dead.
Bang! That’s the sound of a plane crashing into a skyscraper. Bang! That’s the sound of a second plane. Bang! That’s the sound of a helicopter crashing in Abbottabad. Bang! That’s the sound of a cell phone, keys, and a belt clattering into an airport-security bin. Bang! That’s the sound of the bin hitting the airport conveyor belt. Bang! That’s the sound of the congressional gavel: the 9/11 Security Fee will be increased to $11.20 per round trip. The failure rate of the TSA: 80 percent.
The sand scientists — and please understand that I’m not one myself — say that sand is too cheap. It costs about $30 per ton, and a ton of sand is a pretty decent amount. I used to get my sand out of the Yocona River with five-gallon buckets from Home Depot. I took it home, panned as much trash and feces out of it as possible, and then mixed it into concrete to make sculptures. Concrete is a disaster, responsible for more than 8 percent of global CO2 emissions. Cities are made out of concrete and glass, both of which are made from sand, and many cities, like Singapore, are built on sand. To mine all that sand, they literally rake it off beaches and out of riverbeds, destroying entire habitats, which is illegal in a lot of places. So most sand is mined outside of the purview of the law. As I said, I’m not a sand scientist — I’ve never even looked at a grain of sand underneath a microscope, though I have seen a photograph of that very thing on the Internet — but you have to believe, now that I know all of this, that I’ll never steal sand from the Yocona again.
Speaking of the Yocona River, Mississippi had a $2 poll tax until 1966, the same year that James Meredith was shot by a white man on a highway outside of Hernando. Meredith was the first black person ever to enroll at the University of Mississippi, also known as “Ole Miss.” There’s now a statue of him in front of the library, where I spent most of my time when I was a student there around ten years ago. I was there when someone put a noose on the statue. I saw people burning Obama signs in front of the Lyceum on campus in 2012 and yelling the N-word. I saw the school band play “Dixie” after every touchdown. I saw someone put on a slaver’s costume and dance around on the field in a white beard. Some of these things don’t happen anymore, but some do.
According to the government, a human being can’t be rented for less than $7.25 an hour, which is about the cost of an hour of parking downtown. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that a human being is one of the most improbable, sophisticated constructs in the known universe — and that’s not just me being egotistical as a human. You can pay someone $7.25 an hour, and any value they create over $7.25, you get to keep. If they generate $50 in wealth, they take home $7.25. Explain that!
I got gas again today. The price has gone up a dime since last week, so it’s $4 now — and that’s at ARCO, if you pay with cash. Don’t love that. It’s too much — and too little. An old socialist back at Ole Miss taught me about external costs, and gas is one of those products that have a lot of external costs. Dad always said it should cost ten times more than it does. My dad’s dumb about a lot of things, but he was right about that from day one. He used to drive a three-cylinder car that got more than fifty miles per gallon back in the nineties. That was cool. Once, after he’d picked me up from day care, we got a green arrow instead of a green light to go forward at a stoplight, and I giggled and said, “What does that mean: Go up?” And my dad said, “Yep, we’re going up!” And he pulled back on the wheel like he was flying an airplane, and in my mind the road disappeared beneath us, and we rocketed straight up into that eternal blue sky.
A black man named Gregory Vaughn Hill Jr. was listening to music in his garage in Fort Pierce, Florida, when a white sheriff’s deputy named Christopher Newman arrived to ask him to turn it down and ended up shooting him three times, killing him. Mr. Hill left behind a fiancée and three children, who filed a wrongful-death lawsuit. The jury in the case denied that Newman had used excessive force but acknowledged negligence on the part of the sheriff’s office. They awarded the family $4: $1 for the funeral and $1 for each child.
I bought a cheeseburger today. I’m not supposed to be eating meat, and I’m definitely not supposed to be eating fast food, so I had to buy it while walking the dog and finish it before I made it back to the apartment. I also had to leave enough time for the grease odor to dissipate, or my partner would smell it on me, and I’d be dead. I’ll probably die young anyway. If my heart doesn’t get me, then climate change might. Then again, nothing is for certain. I love fast food so much, I must be addicted. It makes me feel better when I eat it. I feel like a whole human being. I lean against the counter looking incredibly cool and use a credit card to purchase my burger with cheese, hold the pickles.
I finished my cheeseburger and threw the bag in a trash can next to a homeless guy reading Vanity Fair. I don’t actually know that he was homeless — I try not to make assumptions about people — but something about him made me finger the coins in my pocket: two quarters, a dime, a nickel, and three pennies. It was an impressive assemblage, but nothing that could make a meaningful difference in this man’s life. I think it was the Vanity Fair that made me lift the coins out of my jeans like a pickpocket and offer them to the man. “I don’t mean to make any assumptions,” I said, “but could you use some change?” He took the money, smiled, and kept reading.
I rushed to my calculator the instant I finished Daniel Uncapher’s essay in your March 2020 issue. How, I wondered, could such random sums of pocket change and folding money add up to the title “100 Dollars”?
Sure enough they did — and I did the addition twice. No fuzzy math on the part of Uncapher, who stated modestly, “My mind doesn’t work very well when it comes to money.” Perhaps he would consider helping me with this year’s taxes?