Thursday, September 18, 2008


“Paper or plastic?” at some point became a punch line in our culture because it was a question heard everyday at grocery stores. The customer was in control; we had options; everyone was happy. Then, I don’t remember when it started, there was a subtle shift that the stores hope we didn’t notice. “Is plastic okay?” is the query posed now at Kroger. It appears that we still have a choice, but the bagger is standing there, a smile on her face, your beans in her hand, hovering over an open plastic bag; how can you say, “No, I want paper” and crush her youthful enthusiasm? It is a psychological ploy by Kroger to force the plastic bags upon us.
I don’t know why Kroger is doing this, but I fear that I am the only one who sees it and I am trying to fight back on my own. (VOICEOVER: In a world gone mad, with people slowly being forced into plastic bags, one man dares to….). And for some reason their choice of agents to spread the plastic dogma is a cadre of 14-year-old baggers who have taken to this mission like a Facebook groupful of Obama internet supporters..
I fix my gaze on the young woman and politely pronounce, “Paper please.” There is no overt reaction but I see the quick glance between checker and bagger. I know one of them is pressing a secret button that flags my Kroger shopper card with the label “troublemaker.” I have no environmental, do-gooder, green freak reason for demanding paper bags. I do it to fight the creeping fascism of floppy plastic bag pushers whose agenda is surely driven by some unholy, faceless, corporate corrupt motive that I have yet to ferret out - but I will.
One day I went to the pharmacy counter to buy some Sudafed (actually I bought Kroger Nasal Decongestant, which is psuedo-Sudafed). They copied down everything on my drivers license and called the local police to see if I’d ever been convicted of making meth (I’ve been exonerated every time). Then I paid for the stuff and they put it in a small paper bag, put the receipt on it and triple-stapled the bag shut so I couldn’t get the pills out and start cooking them up in the deli section. I finished my shopping and went to the checkout. There was the usual checker and bagger, but, as I approached the aisle, a third worker came out of nowhere and started helping me load my groceries onto the belt. She cleverly diverted my attention by putting eggs and bread precariously in front of applesauce jars and whole melons. Then she grabbed my psuedo-Sudafed, which was already paid for, bagged, receipted and stapled and said, “Do you want your medicine in a bag?” I was dumbstruck; then I manged to mutter, “yes, I mean no, er, no, I don’t.” So she took the paper bag and stuffed it, all by itself, into a plastic bag. Then I swear I saw her glance at the checker and bagger, place her index finger on the side of her nose
and flick it forward ala Redford and Newman in “The Sting.”
The next time I went into the store, I visited the meat counter where I picked up some hamburger packaged in a foam tray and thoroughly sealed in plastic. I put the already wrapped meat into one of those clear plastic bags they keep on rolls at that counter. I finished my shopping and went to the checkout. As usual I told the bagger, “paper, please.” But, as my groceries went down the belt, the checker in the next lane reached over and started to help bag my stuff. She grabbed my meat and started to place it in a plastic bag. “I’d like paper, please.” I said firmly. She paused briefly, “Oh…”, but then recovered and said, “well, let’s put the raw meat in a plastic bag, okay?” The raw meat was already double covered in plastic, but, obviously, if I went against her, I was trying to spread e-coli to the checkout team and probably the entire store population. I meekly nodded and submitted myself to her will. Emboldened, the bagger stuffed my beer, which comes with it’s own carrying box, into a plastic bag. The bagger and the checker high-fived each other, not even trying to mask their glee.
Yesterday I was back in Kroger, determined to get nothing but paper bags. As my groceries went down the belt, I planted my feet, squared my shoulders and faced the bagger, anticipating the “Is paper okay” mantra. But he had a new line. He placed his arm around my shoulder.
“I want to say one word to you. Just one word.”
“Yes, sir”
“Are you listening?”
“Yes, I am.”
I blinked.
He nodded and stuffed my sweetmeats in a plastic sack. "'Nuff said. That's a deal."
The terrorists have won.


Susan said...

There's a great future in plastics.

Jenny said...

I hate getting plastic bags. I always ask for paper once they're already assuming that I want plastic (I shop at Ralphs, a Kroger chain) and I swear I get this look of "Can you believe this girl?!" I'm glad to know that I'm not the only one who gets this!

JohnnyB said...

Yes, Jenny, we must be strong and spread the word. The medicine incident and the hamburger incident both happened as written (except maybe the signals and high fives).
We're trying to remember to bring our own reusable bags more often and reuse the paper bags also.

Susan said...

I'm working on bringing reusable bags too. I've even put my cart by the door at TJ's telling the cashier I'll be right back and run out to get my bags. I don't want them to restock the shelves with my stuff while I'm gone. :-)

Jenny said...

I have tried to use reusable bags, but it's always so difficult for me to remember, even if I put the bags in the trunk of my car. The few times when I did use reusable bags, though, I did enjoy the experience.

But I suppose if I totally used reusable bags that we'd then be pressed to buy actual garbage bags...

Bill Brohaugh said...

I fear the day when I go into the men's room toilet and find two dispensers with a big sign saying "Paper or Plastic?" and then, three days later, just one dispenser and a sign saying "Plastic OK?"