I have 3,296 paper grocery bags now.
Last January, I might have had one or two around the house. Perhaps I forgot to bring the reusable tote and grabbed a paper bag because I hate plastic bags. You put a plastic bag in the trunk, the cantaloupe gets out and rolls around every time you take a corner and makes jam of the blueberries. Paper bags stand up. Paper bags behave.
Extra paper bags, in that long-ago-and-far-away time called January, would be used for recycling. It was a recyclable recycling container, although what they could make out of the already recycled paper seemed unclear. Perhaps there was some karmic cycle at work, where Cub bags that had lived a good life — they didn’t split open or have the handle detach because the glue had the adhesive properties of spit — came back to life as Lunds bags.
Or the other way around: Lunds bags that were used only for Brie and caviar were sent down to be reborn as Cub bags, that they might learn humility.
I remember a time when paper bags seemed like a throwback — a telegram in a world of texting. You had 47 reusable totes in your trunk, each one broadcasting some message to the rest of the world about yourself. The world, of course, couldn’t care less.
No one ever saw you snap open your Trader Joe’s bag from Washington, D.C., and think, “Now there’s a fascinating fellow who has his finger on the pulse of the nation’s turbulent political scene.” No one ever saw a bag that said “Love the Earth!” and felt a surge of complex emotions because they’d survived a natural disaster and, frankly, had mixed feelings about the Earth.
Perhaps you liked reusables because they were sturdy. So you managed to ignore all the grot that accumulated at the base. I had one bag that suggested I had a side job at some GrubHub version for organ transplants, and another was full of mysterious green stuff — were the vegetables weeping when I took them home? Was this asparagus flatulence?
Well, I’ll wash the bags when we get home.
After emptying the bags at home: “I’ll wash ’em later.”
Next week: “I think that’s penicillin down there.”
These bags are now verboten under the new assumption that every object has the viral load of a Times Square bathroom floor on Saturday night. The sign outside the store that said “Forget your reusable bag?” now has an addendum: “Good, because we will hit you with a flamethrower if you get closer than 5 feet with one of those things.”
So now we’re back to paper. Good, ol’ dependable brown paper. But you can’t reuse it, so now the people who laughed at those who had a drawer full of plastic bags containing more rolled-up plastic bags that were stuffed into larger plastic bags — these people have a stash of a dozen paper bags neatly folded into one paper bag.
What to do with them? Use them as yard waste bags, put them on the boulevard, then play “Ding Dong the Witch Is Dead” when people walk past. Maybe people will think your house is occupied by munchkins.
Speaking of which: Someone ought to use digital tech to draw social-distancing marks on that Yellow Brick Road. Those guys were waaay too close together.