By Mark Ready
“What do you do with the empty bottles?” I asked Lyndon, the manager of the little convenience store in the dining center where I work.
“You put them in the recycle bin,” he answered, pointing to a counter with cutouts.
“But these could be reused!” I replied. “They’re made of glass, and they use the kind of caps that need an opener. All you have to do is sanitize it, refill it with pop and stamp another cap on it. Why, when I was a kid we used to return these and get a nickel.”
Lyndon is a barely thirty something millennial with a degree in psychology. He looked at me like I’d just told him the earth was round. “Really?”
“Yes, really,” I replied. “We returned all kinds of bottles when I was a kid. Beer bottles were worth anywhere from 1 to 3 cents. Quart pop bottles were worth a dime! That’s how we got our spending money. If we wanted to go to the store and buy some candy or something we went looking for bottles.”
“Wow! You were really into saving the environment. Imagine, walking around picking up old bottles.”
“Oh no, we didn’t have an environment when I was a kid Lyndon, the environment wasn’t invented until the 70’s. We just didn’t like throwing things away that were still good. Plus, we got money for doing it.”
“But, that’s recycling,” he insisted.
I thought for a second. “I guess it was…, but that’s just the way we were raised. You know, we recycled a lot of things when I was a kid. When my older brother outgrew his Sunday shoes Mom gave them to me. If they had a hole on the toe, or in the sole, she would take them to the shoe shop and get them fixed. My younger brother got them when they were to small for me.”
“We did the same with clothes,” I continued. “I remember my aunt bringing over a huge box of clothes. She and mom went through it and found new things for all of us to wear. Well, new to us anyway. Mom even made pillow cases from a dress that had nice embroidery on the hem, but was too big for anybody in the family.”
“Oh, yeah. There’s a shoe shop over in Moscow,” Lyndon replied, arranging the 5 Hour Energy Drinks. He looked down at his athletic shoes. “These can’t be repaired. I just throw them away when they’re worn out…It’s neat your mom made pillow cases out of that dress.
My mom doesn’t know how to sew.”
“Yeah, I throw my shoes away too.” I admitted. “My wife can sew, she made curtains for our house out of bedsheets. She’s from South Africa, she used to make all her own clothes too. It was cheaper than buying them.”
He nodded his head. “Maybe I should learn to sew?”
“I’ve thought about it myself.” I replied, nodding. “It probably wouldn’t be a bad idea.”
I looked at the pop bottle, it had ‘made with pure cane sugar’ hi lighted on the label. “Pure cane sugar, that’s all we used to have,” I explained. “Well, sugar anyway, but it could’ve been made from sugar beets, not just sugar cane. U & I Sugar, that’s what mom bought. It was made from sugar beets. U & I stood for Utah and Idaho, just like C & H stands for California and Hawaii.”
“I know about C & H Sugar, but I didn’t know it stood for California and Hawaii.” He paused “I’ve never heard of U & I Sugar. It’s pretty much all hi fructose corn syrup now,” Lyndon noted. He pointed to the pop bottle. “That’s throwback Mountain Dew. They make it in Mexico. I think it’s healthier than the stuff with the corn syrup. It tastes better too.”
“We used to have Karo Syrup in the cupboard, that was corn syrup. I think mom used to mix it in baby formula if one of her babies was constipated. “
Lyndon looked up from the order form he’d started working on. “Constipation?”
“Yeah. I think that’s what she used it for.”
He paused from ordering and looked like he was thinking. “Like a laxative?”
“I guess so,” I replied.
He raised his eyebrows, pursed his lips and went, “hmmm.”
“You know, my dad didn’t let us buy colored toilet paper.”
“Toilet paper”, Lyndon shook his head. “Why’d you think of that?”
I shrugged my shoulders. “Constipation, I guess. Dad said the dye in colored toilet paper wasn’t good for the environment.”
“I thought there wasn’t an environment when you were a kid?”
“This was the seventies.”
He looked at me and shook his head. “Sure, the seventies,” he replied skeptically. “You know, I’ve only ever seen white toilet paper.”
“I think doctors said colored toilet paper could also irritate your skin.”
“I can see that,” he answered nodding his head. “Wouldn’t be a good place for skin irritations.” I nodded in agreement.
“It’s funny,” I changed the subject. “My baby pictures were black and white. But when my youngest brother was born in ’69 they were in color.”
“What year were you born?”
“My dad was born that year too. He looked up from his work. Why’d you start talking about baby pictures?”
“I don’t know,” I replied. “It just seemed bizarre that toilet paper was colored, but my baby pictures were still black and white… A lot has changed.” Lyndon nodded and turned back to the form.
“Our tv was black and white too,” I added. “It was a seventeen inch diagonal Zenith. Seventeen inch!” I shook my head in amazement. “I have a fifty five inch flatscreen at home, I can’t imagine watching a seventeen inch tv. One thing about it though, if it broke down you could fix it.” I laughed.
“What’s so funny?”
“I remember once when the tv didn’t work and Dad took it apart and pulled all the tubes out and put them in an egg carton. We took them to the drug store and used their tube tester to see if one was bad.”
“Vacuum tubes, right?”
“Yeah, vacuum tubes. One was bad. Luckily the tester had the one we needed in its little supply cupboard. I think it cost about five bucks… I’ll probably have to throw the fifty five inch away when it quits working. Oh well, that’s progress I guess.” I looked at the pop bottle in my hand. “It seems ironic though.”
“Yeah, ironic. Today everyone is talking about sustainability and locally produced food but here’s a pop bottle from Mexico made with sugar from I don’t know where. We used to reuse pop bottles and the sugar we bought came from Utah and Idaho. Most of the time sugar isn’t even used anymore! It’s all hi fructose corn syrup, and my mom used corn syrup as a laxative. I shook my head. “I throw away my old shoes when they used to be repaired and passed down. Well, then there’s tv’s…, all electronics actually.”
“They recycle electronics,” Lyndon volunteered. “Besides, technology changes so fast there’s no point making things repairable like your old Zenith.”
“I know. I think they ship our old computers and such to China. I saw an article in National Geographic about it. The peasants burned and broke away the plastic, then melted the components loose in the same woks they use for cooking. Their children have very high lead levels in their blood. The lead affects their ability to learn and dooms them to a meager future, their children too.”
Lyndon looked up and shook his head. “Yeah, that’s too bad.”
I set the pop bottle down and took a deep breath. “Sometimes I wonder if we’re really advancing, or actually going backwards… Well at least there’s toilet paper.”
Lyndon squinted his eyes and looked at me. “Toilet paper?”
“Yeah, toilet paper. At least now it’s all white so colored dyes won’t irritate your skin when you wipe your ass. It also breaks down easier so it’s better for the environment. That’s something anyway.”
Lyndon shook his head and looked at me like I was an idiot.