January 17, 2018

It's In The Bag

Doubtless you know by now, a new law is being enforced as of January 1 – paper bags at the grocery checkout will cost a nickel each.

If you are like me you've dropped at least one bag of groceries in the last couple of weeks because the bag broke. It wasn't your fault – the bags are thin and flimsy, which means cheap.

In many local communities, including ours, the powers-that-be have also passed laws doing away with plastic bags. The rationale is that plastic bags end up in the water and get caught in outboard motor propellers, which are now an endangered species.

I can see the rationale, though. If I had to pick one or the other I'd side with the propellers every time. I mean, how would we know a Timex watch takes a licking and keeps on ticking if we didn't have propellers?

There is no doubt plastic bags are also harmful to fish, who ingest them thinking they are . . . well, plastic bags. But if you walk into a fish store there is a whole selection of, you guessed it, fish. And they are dead, too, just like the ones that ate the plastic bags.

I submit the more environmentally correct thing to do is to buy our groceries, bag them in plastic, throw the bags in the ocean, pick up the dead fish that swallowed them, and eat the fish.

That's a zero carbon footprint, folks. Ride the green wave on Mother Earth.

Anyway, so I'm in the supermarket the other day. I do all the shopping in our family because my wife, Karen . . . well, don't get me started.

I'm about to pay and the checkout lady asks, "How many bags are you going to use?" I was dumbfounded. It's like when someone over the phone asks you your mother's maiden name. "Lady, you need security clearance for me to answer that," I always say.

The clerk explained that henceforth I am going to be charged a nickel for each paper bag. So, I am expected to gaze upon the piles of groceries, compute the square footage, the estimated weight, the estimated gross liquid weight, and then compute not just the available square footage inside each bag but the tensile strength, which is how much the bag will hold before it breaks – in the case of the supermarket bag, about one pea.

I run my credit card and bag up. "Fifteen cents more," she says.


"You owe 15 cents." Of course, I don't have any actual cash at all, let alone coins.

There is nothing more obsolete in this country than coinage. Remember when we were kids and we could buy penny candy? We could steal a nickel or dime from our parents' bureau for a soda? Nowadays, pampered kids wouldn't even consider the bother of taking a coin from their mother's purse. In fact, they don't even want dollars – they want fives and tens.

Right before I checked out, the lady in front of me spent 20 minutes gathering $28.64 – the exact amount she needed to pay for her groceries. It was the ordeal from hell. First, she literally squeezed each bill from her billfold, making sure two weren't stuck together. And then she opened up a purse and started extracting coins, one at a time. Toward the end she was searching for pennies and pulled up several buttons, a bus token from 1967, and a St. Christopher's medal. "He's the patron saint of travelers," she told me assuredly.

"Yeah lady, but you haven't been past Riverhead in 47 years," I replied.

I say she should have given the clerk 30 bucks and left. If her bill was $23.47, pay $20. It'll all even out in the end.

Of course, I put too much crap in each bag and one ripped while I was trying to unload the truck and navigate the icy path from my car to the door, cursing Karen the whole time because once again she was too lazy to shovel the snow.

The deal is they want us to buy reusable bags for our groceries, which means we have to literally remember to bring them to the supermarket. Between the credit card, the cell phone, the coupons, and the shopping list, that is a lot of memory work for one lousy trip to the supermarket.

The bottom line is Suffolk County instituted the law to reduce the amount of paper we use. I get that. The supermarkets get to keep the loot – shouldn't it be donated to some good cause, someone who can't afford reusable bags, like me?

Rick Murphy is a six-time winner of the New York Press Association Best Column award as well as the winner of first place awards from the National Newspaper Association and the Suburban Newspaper Association of America and a two-time Pulitzer Prize nominee.

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