In August, my efforts to reduce my plastic use further has hit a wall, or a sand dune. The tidbits of plastic I never gave a thought to before make up a shifting hump that I can not seem to pass over. I can’t navigate around the mountain of little plastic stuff.
This month I looked for shampoo that comes in a bar but could not find any, so I bought the biggest plastic jug I could find, one without the luxury of a pump dispenser and associated extra material. I could have researched on the net, but I did not, I gave in to laziness and did the easy thing, picking up the jumbo bottle and putting it my grocery cart. The same trip I also bought a giant plastic bottle of sunscreen. I do all sorts of outdoor stuff, know the awful sound of the word “cancer” in reference to my body, and I share sunscreen with Ed, who burns in the moon light. I chalked that purchase up as absolutely necessary. Those were the only two plastic bottles I brought in the house this month. Bottles are not so hard to avoid except for personal items. No bottled soda, no bottled water, no bottled condiments (unless glass is available), easy and doable.
Having eliminated most of the big, obvious plastic waste from my consumption, if I want to do more I am faced with doing without or avoiding small stuff. The caps, tabs, lids, and wraps are like the grains of sand Mr. Service referred to. I have thoroughly congratulated myself for doing without the packaging associated with sliced or grated cheese, ready-made salad dressing, and passing on purchasing new flipflops, but I continued to wink at the juice box with the plastic cap or the Popsicle wrapper. “Unavoidable,” I rationalized. The small stuff is easy to disregard or justify.
The little plastic things fall into my hands like sand slips into a shoe, collecting in tiny annoying piles. I went to my dentist to get a regular cleaning and found myself afterward in my car looking through a plastic bag with a plastic tooth brush inside a plastic bubble mounted to cardboard, a plastic box of floss, a sample of toothpaste in a plastic tube with a plastic lid and a tiny coupon in a small plastic bag. God forbid that coupon be soiled by touching the toothbrush packaging. I need to brush my teeth, and floss. I get big globs…well you don’t need details. My old toothbrush had bristles that looked like Einsteins’ hair and surely it’s not possible to buy a wooden tooth brush with stiff boars hair bristles wrapped in paper anywhere in my neighborhood. The floss — I bet the floss itself is a polymer. It sure seems plastic-like. The box certainly was. I know there are button-like metal floss containers but if you buy such a thing in the store it is boxed in a fist-sized or bigger plastic clam shell, to keep dishonest shoppers from conveniently dropping the tiny package in their pocket as it is eventually intended. This month I watched as Ed bought a large plastic bag of plastic floss bows with picks. He can’t seem to get the knack of the wrap around the fingers floss. It was a choice of many bits of plastic, or Ed with gingivitis. I opted for the plastic and kept my well-flossed mouth shut.
Digging through my recycle bin and trash cans today, for a cursory pre-report accounting, I noticed all the bits; the lids, tags and wrappers I have tried to discount as not mattering much, but I know they do. I just have not figured out how to keep them from collecting around me as I walk through life. Next month, I will shake out my shoes and work on reducing the use of little plastic things.
For the month of August. I will estimate an avoidance of 12 ounces of plastic “stuff.”
Miguel’s phone walks across the storage chest, buzzing like an over-sized beetle. Cook extracts himself from the galley, grabs the phone and pretends to toss it out the open hatch. We cheer as he follows Randy’s earlier remedy—flips the phone open, then shut—to quiet the frenetic buzz.
Amí is still not feeling well enough to join us for dinner and takes her plate dotted with a few bites to the deck to dine in the fresh air. Only Amí is still seasick, apparently not so much she can not read. She uses her heavy hard cover copy of Cryptonomicon as a tray. Elenore loads her dish and stands alone at the nav station to eat. I’ve yet to see her sit, for any reason except to put on socks.
Five men, Margarete and I squeeze around the large salon table intended for six. Three men compress onto the storage chest against the bulkhead, heavily laden plates balanced on their unmanly held-together knees. Late comers Conrad and John, the old Brit Berkley professor, stand and eat at the counter like bachelors.
It’s the first time so many of us have dined together. None of us need be on deck, except Amí who has anchor watch. It is by far the best meal we have had on the trip. We laugh, tell jokes and stuff ourselves continuing our toasts, even though our dole of wine is gone. We toast the sea and the wind, tossing our heads back and tipping our empty glasses, hovering them above our bird-like mouths open to catch an imaginary dribble.
Dessert is chocolate cake intended for the Coffee Bean birthday celebration. I swirl my fingers around my emptied plate to collect the tiniest chocolate morsel as Sam cranes behind the bench to fetch dominoes. Some of us—like me—have never played dominoes, let alone Mexican Train. Seven of us start up an over-crowded game. The rules seem to be, shall I say, flexible. Each person, who has played before, has personal rules. Randy is the natural arbitrator, laughingly choosing any domino dictate which clearly benefits him. The good-natured interpretations and disagreements heighten our fun. We play unfettered by hard and fast law.
The galley and salon grow muggy, even though it is cool outside, a light breeze swirling around the companionway. Our faces flush—made rosy by the wine, the heat and the mood. I feel incredibly happy.
At this moment we have a magical communal lightness—except for Elenore. Just after eating she ran to throw up over the stern. She’s allergic to wine and Cook used it for the salmon. Now that the offending fish is—let’s say “gone”—she’s fine but steaming mad Cook did not warn her. “He knew!” she spat. We joke about domino rules, scarcely looking up as she tromps through the boat, giving Cook the evil eye. I know we are too noisy for her to get the sleep she obviously needs.
After playing several games, the various Mexican Train rules blend to be a new set made solely for this day and this boat. We play and tell sea stories, scoffing at obvious lies and exaggerations and leaning into the table to steady ourselves during a recounting of a fearsome yarn. We are laughing; hooting, loudly when Miguel’s phone buzzes to life.
John pushes back, stands puffing his chest, struts to the phone, swings it in a wide arc to his ear and puts his hand on his hip. He doesn’t answer, but effeminately holds the still buzzing phone to the side of his face batting his eyelashes. We know something is coming and hold our breath. In an pinched falsetto John feigns answering, “Miguel? Si. Un momento. Miguelito, mi amor, es tu madre!”
We beg him, “Do it! Do it! Answer.” He doesn’t. He plucks out the fully charged battery and drops it into his pocket. We slap the table and roar. This game is over. We’ve sent the dominoes dancing.