I know a guy named Al whose assigned duties include doing the dishes after dinner. (Stay with me, it gets better.) The other night, as usual, Al stacked plates in the dishwasher while ambidextrously whistling the Woody Woodpecker song. All at once, a profound thought jumped through the window, threw him up against the fridge, punched him in the gut and left him blowing tuneless air.
You can compare it to the gut punch that gave Henry Ford the brilliant idea to invent a glove compartment. Or the one that gave his trusted assistant Fred Carr the idea to build a 4-wheel, gas-powered vehicle around the glove compartment and then call it a car.*
At the moment, Al was having difficulty finding dishwasher space for the plates used in that night’s vegan stick surprise. The problem: Mrs. Al had already tossed in 11 plastic containers, mostly empty but each still a-wiggle with piquant eau de leftovers.
Eau de yes, including re-re-refried refried beans (technically, a weapon of mass disgustion); quinoa delight with so much delight it had sprouted polka dots; steamed trouser pie with crust made from Durham’s rock-hard water putty; and steel-cut oatmeal bogwort (an acquired taste that Al tried to acquire on eBay but was outbid by a biker gang seeking breakfast and tattoo removal.)
The containers gave Al’s olfactory sensibilities a beating, causing him bitter regret at donating his gas mask to the girl scouts’ gas mask drive. Then, up against the fridge, Al realized that plastic containers were grabbing more and more of the really prime spots in America’s dishwashers.
Once upon a time, those spots belonged exclusively to dinnerware made from 100% American organic material such as clay or wood or melmac and cheese. In other words, honorable materials that wouldn’t kill you unless they were smashed over your head. But while plastic’s big selling point has always been its worthlessness as an assault weapon, it’s not without its own inherent lethal properties.
Plastic, as Al told friends (he scored a still-talked-about 76 in reform school chemistry) was invented by the third Polymer of Styrene. He hung out in the cellar of a dank and drear compound near his fairytale castle in the black forest region of Besphynol.
There, the Polymer (his friends called him Polly; so did his enemies) mixed hydrogen and carbon with politics, oil of dead-skunk-in-the-middle-of-the-road, and flubber. The ingredients were stirred, not shaken, then boiled until a thick, scary looking cloud billowed over Besphynol, blotting out the sun (quite harmless, unless inhaled).
The resulting goop was used to produce everything from dinner plates to nerf guns, to the sweat-inducing mattress covers so popular in no-tell motels — and even sweat-inducing presidential candidates with moral compasses of 100% plastic.
“All well and good,” said Al, “until plastic junk started crowding our dishwashers. Suddenly there’s no room for grandma’s porcelain gravy boat, or grandpa’s ceramic hoohah, or Uncle Ned’s cracked earthenware bong.”
Al, not usually the rebellious type, alarmed me when he pulled out a 5-string banjo and started to sing and plunk:
“I don’t care if it rains or freezes,
long as I got my plastic Jesus
ridin’ on the dashboard of my car…**
Oddly (or evenly) (Personally, I’d posit extreme ironicalness) I couldn’t help notice during his playing that Al’s head was made of plastic. That is, the head on his banjo was plastic. Not sure about the other.
“What, then, are we to do?” Al had pleaded pluperfectly, post-plunking. “It’s almost as if no one cares anymore about eating off plates made from good old dirt. Everything today is plastic. What’s next, plastic food?”
I had never seen Al so distraught, so I let the comment about plastic food pass. He’d find out soon enough.
*Ford talked Fred into calling it a “Ford Car With Handy Glove Compartment,” a name that proved too long for the patent form. It became known simply as a Ford. To avoid hard feelings, Ford gave Fred a free pair of gloves, provoking the inconsolable Carr to attempt to fit Ford’s head into the glove compartment. (Hence, the origin of the term “glove compartment head.”)
**Thanks to Ernie Marrs and to Coolhand Luke’s failure to communicate.
©Patrick A. McGuire and A Hint of Light 2013-2017, all rights reserved.