Tuesday, November 27, 2007

It ain't easy being...


Today I was chatting with a friend while happily honing his knives and listening to his dog's tag clink as it pattered around his feet, and I started yammering on about this article I had read in the NY Times about Chicago's new green alleys. The green alleys are made to drain rainwater and runoff back down into groundwater, and they will also keep temperatures more temperate, care for your children and do your taxes. This is the usual sense of green.

Then I suddenly realized I had just read another such green article in the Times, about green holiday gift-giving. This was a more peculiar article, because it started out with what you might expect: people giving homemade gifts from recycled objects, light bulbs, etc. But then it became an anti-capitalist mantra, with people volunteering for charity rather than giving gifts.

That happens to be green. But it's something that people used to do all the time and never think of calling green. It was more like "getting back the true holiday spirit" or "being unselfish" or thinking of the starving children in Africa while pushing your broccoli around your plate. So I ask you, a la Carrie Bradshaw, since when has green meant good?

Don't get me wrong; I'm all for greenness, and have always conserved everything. I got in a very long and complicated discussion about showering once in college. I grew up turning off the shower water while soaping; that is, you turn it on, wet your hair, turn it off, shampoo. Turn it on, rinse, turn it off, soap, turn it on, get out. Let me tell you right now, this takes some fortitude when your parents also believe strongly in conserving the central heating.

My friend's roommate from Slovakia had apparently grown up the same way, and somehow his roommate had found out and they had started talking about it -- perhaps his roommate had heard him. That's how my roommate at math camp found out about my showering habits, because she would keep thinking I was done with a very quick shower and then hear the water come back on.

A long discussion ensued; many found this exceedingly strange, but it's the same logic as turning off the tap while you brush the teeth. I decided that those who grew up where hot water took more work than just turning the dial were a whole lot more conservationist! Conserving work, coal, wood, whatever. It wasn't green, just practical.

In other words, being green now just means being not so luxuriously consumerist as most middle-class Americans take for granted. And therefore, with our true Puritan roots coming out, that self-denial must be good.

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