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Former apathetic undergrad undertakes green mission

It’s unlike me, but I’m going to speak for the trees for a moment. The last time I tried to write about trees I was an undergrad at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash. One day I mistakenly ventured into a sub-universarian town where real people actually lived; furthermore, not uncommon, their entire economy relied on the logging industry. As a newcomer to the Pacific Northwest, I had no idea what any of this meant. What I did know was that Evergreen was, well, green. In that, it was crucial to catch on to the green mantra that spawned the tacit obligation that students double major in PC 101.

I had nothing to lose. I hopped on the peace train and lectured friends back home in L.A. about their need to compost. It was all I could do to make up for the first night of college where I was nearly deported for owning shampoo rumored to be used in animal laboratories. I tried to save face by making some crack about how the little mice would at least smell good before checking out of Moushwitz, but that only made things worse. Mortified, I started shopping at the co-op where my dad’s money inevitably went to the same use as it does here at Byerly’s.

However, that all changed the day I stopped in Shelton, Wash., to fill up my Japanese import (that I am certain exploits somebody, somewhere). Like most women who lived in any community outside Olympia, the woman working at the station looked like a cross between Bigfoot and rigor mortis. Apparently, this archetype of apathy bred in the wilds of Washington. For the first time in my life, I was exposed to women who wore flannel, carried vinyl cigarette cases and weren’t on television.

However, loyal to “mission green,” I flashed my Geoduck coffee mug and asked what the policy was on free refills. She said there was none. I don’t remember exactly what happened after that, but let’s just say she put me in my place. I had deliverance nightmares after that. Ever since then, I have stayed away from political topics about which I know next to nothing.

This was 10 years ago. To my surprise, the PC movement is still exploiting “causes” in order to make a buck. Back then it was the spotted owl. Today it’s Sept. 11. This is about as politicky as I get, mostly because I can’t even pretend to converse about these issues with authority. If I want to be heard, I’d rather rant about what went wrong in the fashion industry that explains why I’m wearing polyester again. But, really, what do I know about politics?

To me, every last bit of it is nothing more than a means to fit in somewhere, not unlike the social cliques we chose in high school. And I don’t blame anybody. It’s human nature to want to fit in; without others, we die. Unfortunately, the contemporary buffet seems to be lacking in nutrients; way too many people are waiting in line for the Nutra-kill. It occurs to me that only a few, a lucky few, will get out of line and break bread in the shade. Those will be the ones who really figure out that fighting for a common cause is just a desperate cry to find someone they can talk to. Take away the language and the stuff, and all you’ve got is a gaggle of sublingual species fighting and laughing over whether or not Godot is going to show up.

Again, I only speak from the sheltered perspective of a gal who was raised in a country where I can get anything I want with a piece of plastic. Anyway, back to the trees.

The double-bind that American culture shovels out is nothing new. On a daily basis, we are instructed to be kind to the planet by purchasing a paper cup full of Starbucks every morning. We are told cars are safer than ever, as long as we speed carefully down the highway while talking on our cell phones. We are told to respect our fellow Americans, as long as those fellow Americans are clean. We are encouraged to express ourselves, as long as it isn’t too loud. We are actually told that it isn’t guns that kill people, but people who do that. We are told that there’s nothing sexy about booze even when we see lethally beautiful humans stretched naked across billboards, depicted as happy drunk people sitting in a hot tub on the beach drinking beer.

I understand that this is not an excuse. However, this clever marketing is of no help to slackers like me. I don’t know how to recycle anymore. It has gotten more complicated over the years. Again, back at Evergreen, my roommate hung her cloth pads on the shower curtain; every month our bathroom resembled a meat locker. Even weirder was that we were a household full of vegetarians who were so careful about what we ate, how we composted and where we shopped, yet a couple of us were bulimic at the time. If that’s not about belonging, I don’t know what is.

Still, even though I don’t recycle, I don’t think anyone needs to exploit my laziness. Let’s start with junk mail. Let’s look at today’s, for example: The latest thing is newsletters. These grassroots endeavors assume they’ll coerce me into buying their revolutionary newsletter if they begin by sending me a few thousand free copies. I also have been getting a lot of invitations – usually good, but not when you are invited to a hotel ballroom and expected to show up with $250 and a commitment to take part in a study. Still, ever since I got a credit card 11 years ago, my mail arrives in clumps. I get more applications to apply for credit than I’ve got hours left to live. I also get a lot of catalogues – the result of a little problem I had with J.Crew in my early 20s. But how does an upscale clothing firm invite a catalogue of porcelain statuettes of cows into my mailbox? Is this the same train of thought that leads to the belief that someone out there really buys those T-shirts that say, “I’m with Stupid?” I think if I ever gave my grandma a T-shirt with “World’s Sexiest Grandma” written across the breast line, she’d probably not recover.

Am I going to recycle any of this? No. Once in a blue moon, I might use the Old Navy ads for wrapping paper, but most of the time they end up in the trash, keeping company with the extra packaging that keeps my groceries safe. And yes, I might come home at 3 a.m., drunk, and read the Cub Foods catalogue or contemplate purchasing a fence or subscribing to a monthly newsletter full of advice about how I might be a better parent. However, the chances aren’t good. So whoever chops down trees so I can finally have my very own return address labels with my name in cursive next to an owl’s nest, thanks, but no thanks. Perhaps you should take a little drive to Shelton.

Roxanne Sadovsky’s biweekly column appears Thursdays. She welcomes comments at [email protected]. Send letters to the editor to [email protected]
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