Guilty of “Bag-ism”

June 9th, 2012
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Should I be unfortunate enough to visit Toronto, I’d like to forestall being subjected to re-education, or some other retroactive penalty imposed by its ever-expanding municipal government. Maybe this confession will suffice.  Yes, I have been guilty of Bag-ism, the irrational desire to place recently purchased objects into a plastic bag.

Blame it on my age, lazy habits, or my unreconstructed ignorance of our world teetering on the edge of an environmental precipice. Whatever it is, I continue to blindly, unthinkingly enter stores assuming that the vendor will provide me – free – with a bag to carry my items.

I had that experience over a year ago when I made the mistake of going to the University of Calgary’s bookstore. With the good intention of cataloguing 30 years worth of fossil specimens, I needed some acrylic paint, a couple of small paintbrushes and some indelible markers to mark up the samples. I knew the bookstore would have all this stuff, and at a reasonable price – likely already subsidized by my taxes.

Cradling these small, awkwardly shaped items, I arrived at the cash. Admittedly, I had caught in the corner of my eye some bags hanging on the wall behind the registers. After ringing up the items and me paying, the clerk laid the receipt carefully on top of the stuff. A difficult moment followed.

“May I have a bag?” I asked innocently. “Well, I have some small paper bags” said the young lady. These were about the size you might put a greeting card in. I pictured myself carrying three or four of these. “You don’t have anything larger?” I parried boldly. “Yes, you could buy one of those”. She motioned up to the rough-hewn, organic-looking sacs hanging behind her. These were priced from between $3 and $10 if I remember correctly. They had the U. of C. logo on them.

In that moment I was defeated. All my items together had cost less than $20, and now I was to spend another $5 on a bag – one that I knew would end up crumpled in the back of the pantry? Nope. Paying a five cent sin tax for a plastic bag was not even an option. She stated flatly that they “didn’t have any”.

My sparse ingenuity was the only recourse now. I thrust the paint brushes and markers into my pockets and held one jar of paint in each hand. Done. With these I limped dejectedly back to my car, the brushes jabbing my thighs with every step.

On one level I can understand the rationale for re-using bags. Everyone has seen the same plastic bags unfurled in the limbs of winter trees, year after year, like banners of a dystopian culture. Post-moderns must have a romantic ideal of sturdy European grandmothers trundling off to market with their cloth shopping bags. These might still bear the fading visage of Hermann Goering, having been distributed during the five-year-plan of 1935.

One unexpected result of the habitual re-use of cloth bags is, as recent reports indicate, that they become wretched bacteria traps. Gosh, I’d sure rather feed my kids out of one of those than one of those awful, convenient plastic things. Or maybe I can re-cycle the old cloth bags into practical children’s clothing? Yeah, there’s the ticket.

I’ll get right on that. I’m sure Goering would have approved.

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By John Weissenberger