Flying the Co-Op
Jill Garcia dropped five pre-approved credit card notices, three neon-colored post cards for “Current Resident,” and one sample packet of Man Sword cologne into the shoebox marked “For Fireplace,” and handed it off to Jose, who set the box on an old postal scale they had picked up off the street.
“Three pounds,” he said. “Light week. But that puts us over a hundred for the year.”
Jill brought the shoebox out into the living room, but the bigger box into which they had been dumping the junk mail was on the verge of overflowing. One more loose leaf and the paper peak would crumble.
The paper shredder, which they were no longer using, was sitting in yet another box, beside the mountain of junk mail, taking up space, specifically box space that could be holding even more junk mail. Jill thought about tossing it on a trash day, but then she pictured the shredder sitting on the top of some junk heap, along with a mental time lapse in which everything eventually decomposes and turns into dirt except for the shredder and some Styrofoam cups.
So the young couple spent the evening deconstructing the shredder and using the sharpest knives in the kitchen to shave it down to thin leaves of plastic paper. By the end of the night they were exhausted, but they had more room for paper, as well as more paper to burn in the cold months, which were just around the corner.
The next day, Jill and Jose were having supper at Jill’s sister Megan’s house. Megan was serving an organic casserole made exclusively from vegetables grown on her windowsill, eggs laid by the chickens that roamed the co-op courtyard, and milk squeezed from her own breast.
“I listen to these podcasts at night that subliminally make my body think I’m having a baby,” she said. “I mean, can you believe people used to drink cow’s milk?”
Jill stopped mid-bite and looked at Jose with wide eyes.
Jose cleared his throat. “Tell your sister what we did yesterday, honey,” he said.
“Well, not only are we gonna burn all the junk mail like you suggested,” Jill said, “But we also shredded the shredder, and we’re gonna put that into the fireplace, too.”
“Not bad,” said Megan, who was the person responsible for Jill and Jose’s eco-conscious lifestyle. Right after she introduced them to the concept of carbon footprints, Jill and Jose sold their pickup truck, which they used to use to pick up logs of wood for their fireplace.
Megan looked at Jill, wriggled her eyebrows and stretched her shirt out in front of her. “You like this shirt?” she asked.
“Yeah,” Jill said, “I was going to say something about it. I love how it changes colors in the light.”
“And it’s so shiny,” said Jose. “Must have been expensive.”
“Let me show you what I’m doing,” Megan said.
She handed Jill and Jose surgical masks made of the same iridescent material as her shirt, and walked them to the back of the apartment.
As they got closer to the back room, Jill and Jose could hear a high-pitched grinding sound. When Megan opened the door, red and blue smoke wafted out towards them, behind which three Chinese women were working on various machines. One was using a loud deli meat slicer, the next woman was using something that looked and smelled like a gas-powered cheese grater, and the third woman was operating a traditional loom.
Megan yelled over the metallic clamor: “Jin One is breaking the plastic down into thin sheets, which she melts in the boiling water at her feet. Once the plastic is all melted down, Chang grates it into fine string, which Jin Two weaves into fabrics that they sew together, and which I wear.”
“You can afford to pay these people?” Jose asked.
Megan walked around the tiny room, inspecting the work being done, and she continued to shout over the machinery. “I found these ladies outside a Sunset Park garment factory. I give them twice the salary they were making at the sweatshop, and I’m still paying less than I did when I was wearing regular clothes. They even brought their own gear.” She circled between Jill and Jose and put her hands on their backs. “Can you believe I used to wear cotton?”
“And what powers it all?” said Jill.
“Only the most environmentally safe energy source available,” she said, and walked them out of the room before they could ask a follow-up.
In the living room, Jill now noticed that all of Megan’s book shelves and entertainment center were free of media. “Where are all your CD’s and DVD’s?” she asked.
Megan pointed at her shirt and at the masks that Jill and Jose were still wearing. “I downloaded everything to my computer. I’m completely digital. No hard media, smaller carbon footprint.”
“And your books?” Jose asked before he spotted a firewood rack stacked with pulpy gray logs.
“Yep,” said Megan, “Those logs there are made of the classics. All of my contemporary fiction and poetry went into the insulation for the walls. Don’t worry, I scanned them all first and put them online.”
Jose and Jill left the co-op in a bit of a daze. “I think I was breathing plastic fumes through my mask,” Jill said.
“Yeah, I think my mask was melting,” Jose said, pointing at a hardened silver glob on his cheek.
When they turned the corner, they saw a man on the other side of the fence run out into the co-op courtyard and vomit. He was a slender Chinese man wearing only jogging shorts. His hair was saturated with sweat.
“Do you think we could get firewood delivered?” Jill asked Jose.
“Yeah,” said Jose. “You read my mind.”
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