Johnny America


Fly­ing the Co-Op


Jill Gar­cia dropped five pre-ap­proved cred­it card no­tices, three neon-col­ored post cards for “Cur­rent Res­i­dent,” and one sam­ple pack­et of Man Sword cologne in­to the shoe­box marked “For Fire­place,” and hand­ed it off to Jose, who set the box on an old postal scale they had picked up off the street.

“Three pounds,” he said. “Light week. But that puts us over a hun­dred for the year.”

Jill brought the shoe­box out in­to the liv­ing room, but the big­ger box in­to which they had been dump­ing the junk mail was on the verge of over­flow­ing. One more loose leaf and the pa­per peak would crumble.

The pa­per shred­der, which they were no longer us­ing, was sit­ting in yet an­oth­er box, be­side the moun­tain of junk mail, tak­ing up space, specif­i­cal­ly box space that could be hold­ing even more junk mail. Jill thought about toss­ing it on a trash day, but then she pic­tured the shred­der sit­ting on the top of some junk heap, along with a men­tal time lapse in which every­thing even­tu­al­ly de­com­pos­es and turns in­to dirt ex­cept for the shred­der and some Sty­ro­foam cups.

So the young cou­ple spent the evening de­con­struct­ing the shred­der and us­ing the sharpest knives in the kitchen to shave it down to thin leaves of plas­tic pa­per. By the end of the night they were ex­haust­ed, but they had more room for pa­per, as well as more pa­per to burn in the cold months, which were just around the corner.

The next day, Jill and Jose were hav­ing sup­per at Jil­l’s sis­ter Megan’s house. Megan was serv­ing an or­gan­ic casse­role made ex­clu­sive­ly from veg­eta­bles grown on her win­dowsill, eggs laid by the chick­ens that roamed the co-op court­yard, and milk squeezed from her own breast.

“I lis­ten to these pod­casts at night that sub­lim­i­nal­ly make my body think I’m hav­ing a ba­by,” she said. “I mean, can you be­lieve peo­ple used to drink cow’s milk?”

Jill stopped mid-bite and looked at Jose with wide eyes.

Jose cleared his throat. “Tell your sis­ter what we did yes­ter­day, hon­ey,” he said.

“Well, not on­ly are we gonna burn all the junk mail like you sug­gest­ed,” Jill said, “But we al­so shred­ded the shred­der, and we’re gonna put that in­to the fire­place, too.”

“Not bad,” said Megan, who was the per­son re­spon­si­ble for Jill and Jose’s eco-con­scious lifestyle. Right af­ter she in­tro­duced them to the con­cept of car­bon foot­prints, Jill and Jose sold their pick­up truck, which they used to use to pick up logs of wood for their fireplace.

Megan looked at Jill, wrig­gled her eye­brows and stretched her shirt out in front of her. “You like this shirt?” she asked.

“Yeah,” Jill said, “I was go­ing to say some­thing about it. I love how it changes col­ors in the light.”

“And it’s so shiny,” said Jose. “Must have been expensive.”

“Let me show you what I’m do­ing,” Megan said.

She hand­ed Jill and Jose sur­gi­cal masks made of the same iri­des­cent ma­te­r­i­al as her shirt, and walked them to the back of the apartment.

As they got clos­er to the back room, Jill and Jose could hear a high-pitched grind­ing sound. When Megan opened the door, red and blue smoke waft­ed out to­wards them, be­hind which three Chi­nese women were work­ing on var­i­ous ma­chines. One was us­ing a loud deli meat slicer, the next woman was us­ing some­thing that looked and smelled like a gas-pow­ered cheese grater, and the third woman was op­er­at­ing a tra­di­tion­al loom.

Megan yelled over the metal­lic clam­or: “Jin One is break­ing the plas­tic down in­to thin sheets, which she melts in the boil­ing wa­ter at her feet. Once the plas­tic is all melt­ed down, Chang grates it in­to fine string, which Jin Two weaves in­to fab­rics that they sew to­geth­er, and which I wear.”

“You can af­ford to pay these peo­ple?” Jose asked.

Megan walked around the tiny room, in­spect­ing the work be­ing done, and she con­tin­ued to shout over the ma­chin­ery. “I found these ladies out­side a Sun­set Park gar­ment fac­to­ry. I give them twice the salary they were mak­ing at the sweat­shop, and I’m still pay­ing less than I did when I was wear­ing reg­u­lar clothes. They even brought their own gear.” She cir­cled be­tween Jill and Jose and put her hands on their backs. “Can you be­lieve I used to wear cotton?”

“And what pow­ers it all?” said Jill.

“On­ly the most en­vi­ron­men­tal­ly safe en­er­gy source avail­able,” she said, and walked them out of the room be­fore they could ask a follow-up.

In the liv­ing room, Jill now no­ticed that all of Megan’s book­shelves and en­ter­tain­ment cen­ter were free of me­dia. “Where are all your CD’s and DVD’s?” she asked.

Megan point­ed at her shirt and at the masks that Jill and Jose were still wear­ing. “I down­loaded every­thing to my com­put­er. I’m com­plete­ly dig­i­tal. No hard me­dia, small­er car­bon footprint.”

“And your books?” Jose asked be­fore he spot­ted a fire­wood rack stacked with pulpy gray logs.

“Yep,” said Megan, “Those logs there are made of the clas­sics. All of my con­tem­po­rary fic­tion and po­et­ry went in­to the in­su­la­tion for the walls. Don’t wor­ry, I scanned them all first and put them online.”

Jose and Jill left the co-op in a bit of a daze. “I think I was breath­ing plas­tic fumes through my mask,” Jill said.

“Yeah, I think my mask was melt­ing,” Jose said, point­ing at a hard­ened sil­ver glob on his cheek.

When they turned the cor­ner, they saw a man on the oth­er side of the fence run out in­to the co-op court­yard and vom­it. He was a slen­der Chi­nese man wear­ing on­ly jog­ging shorts. His hair was sat­u­rat­ed with sweat.

“Do you think we could get fire­wood de­liv­ered?” Jill asked Jose.

“Yeah,” said Jose. “You read my mind.”

Filed under Fiction on April 9th, 2009

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