Maggo says that she doesn’t want to leave me after all. She says that being with me is the only thing she wants in her life. It’s interesting to think about that kind of single-mindedness, but it’s ultimately not my style. My interests are many and varied. For example, they just found a plastic bag at the bottom of the Mariana trench last week. I wonder if it’s mine? I lost one just the other day. It blew out the back of my car window when I opened it for my dog—foop, there it goes.
Looking back on it now I suppose I should’ve gotten out of the car and retrieved it, but at the time I had other thoughts. Plastic is called plastic because it’s actually plastic, which is an incredibly interesting way to think about material: as being plastic. Maggo doesn’t agree that this correlation between the material and its nomenclature is exactly interesting. I asked her to repeat the word plastic over and over, to familiarize herself with it until it was fully satisfied in her mouth, and she accused me of double entendre.
It was a single entendre, though, as straight-to-the-point as single-use plastics. I’ve always been a big fan of single-use plastics. All the silver in Attica, all the turquoise in the Sinai, all the neodymium in China couldn’t produce a single shopping bag, drinking straw, strip of Scotch tape—strong, light, impermeable, and manufactured in minutes on the most high-tech machinery ever assembled by the brightest minds in the system only to be thrown away after a so-called single use. Humans are excellent at so many functions, and we invent the most marvelous things, but some of our most intricate designs can be surprisingly single-minded.
I’ve spent a good deal of my life collecting a sample of such an incredible material. My single favorite piece of plastic is probably the Boba Fett action figure I’ve had since I was a little boy. Most toys are made out of plastic; they are plastic for fun, plastic for play, like steam engines in Alexandria. My second favorite piece of plastic would have to be the rotating blade in my standing fan, which I shoplifted from Wal-Mart because there was no one guarding the self-checkout knowing full well that Maggo would probably leave me if I got caught doing something stupid like shoplifting, and which keeps me comfortable in the heat of the summer (which gets hotter ever year). Well, I didn’t actually steal it, but I thought about it, and I probably should have. We used to keep cool using A/C but, with the world ending at such a brisk pace, it seems hubristic to stay that cool.
Maggo’s collection of plastic is equally impressive. It’s not why we’re still together, but I would certainly miss it if it left. She has a plastic boat that she bought on the internet for $80 which, for posterity, is about the price of four good books. It came with a plastic high-capacity air pump and a pair of plastic snap-together oars, which cut through the water with ease. This ship, which we have styled The Last Resort, is a valuable piece of plastic, and if treated with care it will last us the rest of our lives. She also a plastic water pitcher, molded to accommodate a specific kind of plastic filter, which make our water tasty and safe for human consumption. Maggo and I, like most couples, have a special fondness for drinking water.
I alone have a special fondness for the plastic sleeves that my individual mints come in, because it keeps each one fresh and clean. What I do when I consume a mint is this: I rip the sleeve into two unequal pieces and pull the piece of candy out with my teeth. I then deposit the sleeve in the nearest trash bag, which is usually inside the nearest trash can, which is eventually transported to the nearest trash bin, which is eaten up by a trash truck and taken away to the top of the nearest trash mountain, which is filled to the brim.
I even kind of love the orange bottles that my pills come in every week, and I have a special thing for the foam peanuts that protect my valuable merchandise in the mail, and I always smile when I think about the bristles on my toothbrush that scrub the sugar from my gums—but I do often wonder what would happen to all of this plastic if the trash cycle didn’t exist. Would I store my unwanted plastic in the river, or in the ravine? Would I try to turn it into something useful, or maybe carve it into something nice? I would like to carve something nice for Maggo before I die, something to put a smile on her face, but I can’t for the life of me imagine what that would be.
We humans are very creative people, but sometimes our imaginations, in all their splendid excess, let the rest of us down. The earth didn’t have something as interesting as plastic on it until we humans dreamed it up, and then we coated the planet as if with Saran wrap. Our drinking straws entered the water supply, where they broke down into colorful, sparkling particles that resembled plankton, which is the basis of the whole ocean food web, and sponged up all the toxins in the water. Animals ate the plastic until it filled their stomachs and they starved, dying almost all at once; humans starved to death shortly thereafter, and then bacteria came along and ate up all the valuable plastic. Insects flourished, and plants reclaimed most things. No major meteors of any significance crashed into the earth, and the sun petered on for a good while longer before it, too, burned out.
At least that’s how Maggo and I imagine it could happen; our imagination has let us down before.
// "Plastic Love" originally appeared in Pastel Magazine No. 3, New Zealand