Serious Recycling


Recycling started in Berkeley, California in 1973. It’s serious business there. If ever you put plastic bottle in the trash by mistake you’ll get an earful. The townspeople would burn you at the stake if they could. They would stone you to death. Failing to recycle in Berkeley is like watching Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery” come to life. If you haven’t read that story, go read it now. It’s short. I’m not joking. Then come back and read this.

What’d you think? It’s good right??… okay, back to this:

I made a trash/recycling mistake once. It happened when I first moved to Berkeley from Texas (take a step back and imagine that transition]. I got yelled at for it. I don’t actually mean “yelled at” because people in California don’t yell. They bitch. They passive aggressively pop their neck-veins and calmly tell you, eyes-rolled-back, tongue half out, how stupid you are. They take this treatment very seriously, like they are doing you and their city a social service. Honestly, they feel like in treating you like a moron they are doing volunteer work: a passive aggressive service to their city.

Now, I am an avid recycler. I recycle and reuse and re-reuse. I wash all plastic Ziploc bags and use them until they get holes. I haven’t bought Tupperware in years. I just use leftover sour cream containers. How can you have enough Tupperware just out of sour cream containers? You can if you love sour cream as much as I do.

I am not the enemy!

My fatal mistake: mistaking the garbage bin for the recycling bin one afternoon. I threw out the crusts of my peanut butter and honey sandwich into the recycling bin. I didn’t do so out of ignorance. I didn’t do so out of malice. I seriously thought it was a trash can. In Texas (bless its soul) recycling bins are blue or green. The state of Texas makes it VERY clear. Stuff is color-coordinated. That’s because Texans hate recycling. They hate the idea of having to think of the environment at all. Such a bummer, they say. So making everything color-coded makes waste disposal into kind of game, like pin the tail on the donkey but you are not blindfolded and the donkey is a recycling bin and the tail is a plastic or glass bottle. Sure, that doesn’t stop people from misusing the dumpster for the recycle bin, but still, color-coding is a must.

In the city of Berkeley dumpsters, recycling, and composting bins are black, brown, green, or blue, all interchangeable, all the time. My mistake occurred outside the public library, where a dark brown recycle bin stood idly. In went my crust.

As soon as my residues fell to the bottom of the dumpster, a man popped out, as if the earth had just birthed this creature. He was a silly looking man who frantically tapped me on the shoulder. He was silly looking because he wore a navy tuxedo vest over a light blue, tight-fitted Aerosmith t-shirt. Immediate thoughts: (1) Who still thinks Aerosmith is t-shirt worthy to wear in public (2) If you are wearing it ironically then what’s the irony? (3) I don’t really have to deconstruct the problem with the tuxedo vest right?

“Excuse me Miss, this is not a garbage can.  Did you seriously just throw in garbage?” he asked. I emphasize seriously because he did. His seriously is the kind of seriously I would use if someone punched me in the boob or threw an entire can of soda out of their car while driving on the highway at seventy-miles per hour, hitting the car behind them. Also, I hate it when men call me “Miss”. I get kinda crazy.

I wanted to tell him: Bitch, you don’t know me. Back your shit up and don’t touch me ever.

Instead I said: “Oh, sorry had no idea this was the recycling. It’s brown not green or blue.”

At which point he retorted with: “Why does the color of the trash bin matter? Ya, sure just don’t do it next time.”

I wanted to say: Did you just make this about race somehow? Are you the fucking garbage police?

Instead I said: “Ok.”

I learned quickly. Always read the labels on the waste bins. I spent so much time reading those labels. Other times, when the labels aren’t clear, I open the bins to see what each one contains. When in Rome I guess….

Long Live Parking Lots…

Asphalt Parking Lot

I’m a woman so I can say this: what is up with women in parking lots? What happens to our brains when we park our car? Do they shut down? Do we go into a stage of unconsciousness? Do we think, “Ok, now, right before I park, I can begin ignoring everything around me.” Something happens deep within. We park. We forget. The end.

I have stood in a parking lot convinced that my car was stolen about twenty-two times. I am thirty years old. I started driving when I was 18. That means about twice a year, every year since I started driving, I found myself standing in a parking lot, about to call the police. The thing is, that doesn’t count the number of times I found myself in a parking lot, confused, roaming around and wondering where my car is…no. This is the number of times I found myself CONVINCED that the ONLY possible explanation was that my car was stolen. Not that I didn’t remember. Not that I didn’t pay attention at all when entering the parking lot. Those were not options. Not for me. The only option was that someone took my 2003 green Honda. Let me tell you in 2015, the last time it happened, not even a thief would look twice at that car.  It had over two hundred thousand miles and looked like the present-day version of Sylvester Stallone.  Except penniless, and with a black eye.  But even that was more realistic than me (me!) forgetting where I left it.

Dude, where’s my car? Not a comedy. A sad drama for womankind.

When I lived in Texas parking lots were huge, like amusement parks for cars. All these levels curling up toward the sky. I never had a problem parking anywhere. I used to joke that San Antonio was like one big parking lot where cars go to find love. Seriously. I used to joke and joke about how the city was being covered up with parking lots.

I was naïve. I was young. I was lucky. Now I live in Oakland where finding a parking spot is like finding a venue for your only daughter’s wedding: demanding, fight-provoking, and emotionally draining.

I miss parking lots. I miss getting lost in them. I miss knowing that I can jump in the car and go anywhere without budgeting an extra thirty minutes for “finding parking.” Street parking sucks. No sugar-coating. No cherry-on-top. S.U.C.K.S!

Street parking is a form of mental punishment I am forced to endure on daily basis.

First of all, people “shark” you, they honk, the flick you off and scream absurdities. They are like rabid animals, upset that you found something while they continue their search. I have been cussed out on a weekly basis.  By old ladies, young men, new mothers with infants in the back seat. You name it.

But, honestly, the desire for limited parking spaces changes you.

I’ve thought awful thoughts while parking, while waiting for someone to come out of a spot, while watching someone take a spot I dreamt was mine… thoughts that, if karma did exist, would greatly compromise my “being a good person” idea of myself. Parking spots are rare artifacts for me now. And I miss them. And I want to go get lost in them. I want to lose my car inside them. I want to be a good person again knowing that I won’t lose my sanity, that spots are always available.

If I could never parallel park again in my life, I would consider my life a success. Paralleling park is the most difficult thing I’ve had to learn. I say “learn” loosely. Very loosely. Like the-pants-I-wear-when-I am-bloated-loosely. I use a “one-turn-one-move” method when parallel parking. That literally means that I toss my car inside what I consider to be the spot. I’ve never been good at geometry. Shapes don’t make sense to me. I can’t envision squares and rectangles, let alone understand how big my car is in comparison to the parking spot.

Frankly, those are life lessons I never learned. My parents immigrated to this country for a reason. Better life for their children. What’s up with those children having to squeeze themselves into those tiny spots? What better life choice is that honestly? We should’ve stayed on the other side of the Atlantic.

The way I parallel park is exactly the way you would toss a basketball with both hands from mid-court hoping to make it in as the last seconds count down. Not gracefully. Not like Tim Duncan.  It’s like Cookie Monster playing basketball.

Also, what’s the deal with charging people to parallel park?  The trauma is enough. Why must I pay for feeling stupid? Why should I pay for leaving my car in the middle on an exposed alley on Monday afternoon? Those meters stick out like sore thumbs, outlining streets for miles, sucking up your coins like bandits. They’re like garden gophers coming to claim their carrots even though they didn’t do any of the hard planting work.

I need parking lots. I miss them like one misses a crazy one-eyed aunt who constantly gives you gifts. I promise to never make fun of them again. I promise to respect them. I promise to always remember where I park my car and never call the cops in a panic. One time I called the police and an officer named Hank came to the mall parking lot to file the police report and take me home. I was in tears. But he knew. They always know. He told me that I should just walk around the structure with him. “Often,” he said, “car burglars park in the same structure.” That is such a load of crap. But as a poor nineteen year old, convinced someone took your car, you’ll follow any train of thought.

We found the car in fifteen minutes on level D-12, spot F. The officer did not laugh. He didn’t make me feel bad or stupid. He just went on his way.

Even that experience is better than parallel parking. Long live parking lots!


Beers and Pomeranians

guineapigPeople spend a lot of money on their dogs. Like a lot of money. Like oodles and oodles on their poodles. Ya, that was a crappy rhyme, ignore it.

I am writing this in a beer garden. It is 85 degrees outside, which for Northern California means it’s hot. As hot as it gets. This is it, the only day of the year where I can rock shorts and flip flops.

A strong, beautiful yellow lab sits next to me at this large community table where five other people are chugging beer at 4 in the afternoon, soaking up the only sun they have seen in days. Mark Twain once said that the longest winter he spent was a summer in California. What a wise man. People that think this state is all about sunny boardwalks and palm trees are mistaken. Sadly, mistaken.

Next to the beautiful lab sits a small, recently shaven, as I have come to find out from his overly chatty owners, Pomeranian. I love dogs. I love them badly. But this little dog is a mini-devil. An odd absurdity, yapping like a little…..(fill in the blank with whatever you want). What a little …..

He is wearing, yes wearing, a vest and a bowtie. His name is Thomas. That’s an actual human name. I know two men named Thomas. One kind looks like the Pomeranian. Now, sure Thomas the Pomeranian is cute. I won’t lie and deny that I sat here, at this particular table, to admire him and his brave companion. But that’s beside the point.

Let’s backtrack a bit. What do you think the great societies, the Incas, the Romans, the Ottomans, the Greeks, the Aztecs would say if they were privy to this moment of human history? What would Einstein say? What would Nelson Mandela say? What would Amelia Earhart say? Hell, what would my grandmother say?

Thomas won’t stop barking.  Yapping rather. Let’s not call that nails-on-a-chalkboard-squeak a bark. The Lab, however, sits quietly, pondering existence. Looking curiously at this yappy mother…..(fill in the blank….plucker?) who dares call himself a dog.

When I see a dog, I immediately detach the dog from the human leashed next to him. On walks, on the beach, at beer pubs, every time I sight a dog, I say hello to the dog and not the owner. This causes a bit of confusion. But you see, the thing is, I understand the dog. The owner less so. Humans are funny.

It’s not Thomas’s fault he is wearing a bowtie. I’d bark my ass off if my parents forced a bowtie on me when I was a baby and couldn’t defend myself. I’d probably turn out to be a sociopath. Just like Thomas, the Pomeranian sociopath. I’d be the baby version of that.

But seriously, back to business…. so much money, every year, thousands upon thousands of dollars on silly dog clothing, organic treats, fancy leashes, pedicures, doggie weddings (sure I’d go to one, but this is not about me).  Americans are crazy about their dogs. Dogs and beer. But it’s not only America; it has expanded all over the globe. I’m not upset about it; I say do what you want with your money. I say buy your dog the Halloween costume that he hates wearing. I say stuff your Chihuahua in small rain boots when it drizzles outside. Put your Maltese in a raincoat. Spend seventy-dollars, spend one-hundred. Whatever you want.

BUT… if you are spending $1230 (fact!) on hiring an artist to draw a portrait of Mimsy, your weenie dog (did you know, btw, that Hitler loved wieners, I mean weenie dogs…. Just sayin’), then you might want to reconsider your status as a… how shall I put this….., a civilized being….

I want to say I am better than that. I want to say that I would donate the ridiculous amount of money I would spend on doggie rain boots to a humane society or homeless shelter. I want to say that I’ve evolved passed all of these silly expenditures. But I know myself. I have that level of introspection needed to know that I would definitely, most certainly, buy those boots and decide year upon year that I’ll stop. I don’t have a dog, that’s the thing. I do have a guinea pig though. His name shall remain anonymous, to protect his privacy. He has, we have come to find out, many illegitimate children and we don’t want to draw attention to him as a “player.” I have bought him a Halloween costume. I have bought him countless treats, beds, toys, and knickknacks. Our holiday card this year featured him. He sends my mother grandmother’s day cards for mother’s day. Yes, I am that person. I love the little guy. So I get why people spend so much on their pets. I can argue it, I can be frustrated by it, I can make fun of it. But deep down I get it.
I love my guinea pig. We love our pets. People love their dogs. Dogs are our friends for life. Or for 10-15 years. Whatever gives first.  They really are like our children. We share a home with them. They are shitty to us sometimes. We yell and them. We cuddle with them. We are proud of them. They embarrass us. We clean up after them. We feed them. We have faith in them to do the right thing. They do it sometimes and sometimes they don’t. They even start to look like us after a while.