A single chocolate-covered mint bounced off the hotel room’s geometrically made bed.
I remembered not bothering to later find it — the mint, that is, surrendering it to the gap between the headboard and queen-size mattress. I did, however, make an effort to rendezvous for a dinner party I had earlier agreed to. The party, albeit a casual get together, was merely a small reasoning why I paid $457 for a last-minute flight from DFW to San Francisco International Airport.
“Are you vegan,” a singular high-voice pierced through the still quiet surrounding the food table. It’d later prove to be a safe assessment based off her biologically impractical skin color and chemically altered hair that she was in her late-twenties, childless, engaged to a man in tech who worked in either Downtown San Francisco or Silicon valley, paid for out-of-state tuition for her communications degree at Stanford, and lived somewhere in Hayes Valley. She stood about six-feet off the ground — five or so of those inches stilted by high-heels.
Evenings where food is offered continue to occupy a gray space in my life. For one, it’s an evening of complimentary dining — which is welcomed padding to my wallet of nine-years. But then, lo-and-behold, the platter atop of which those morsels sit is garnished by lukewarm, under-seasoned, overcooked small talk.
“No, but I am conscious of my animal product consumption. America’s infatuation with cattle is pushing us toward a hotter and drier and wetter future. I’m sure you’re aware methane’s a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, right?”
I’m an environmentalist, after all. I know these things.
I own two pit bulls, one boy, one girl./ I own two fifteen foot asiatic pythons, both girls./ I camp allot./ I hike allot./ I publish academic articles on amphibian conservation every quarter./ I cringe when I can’t find a recycling bin./ I rejoice when I’m able to compost./ I allow myself $20 to spend at Whole Foods every week./ I drive an ‘08 Prius that was rear ended on Mission Street./ I finally got around to wrapping the tail light in clear duct-tape about a month ago./ I’ve made complete meals out of free samples at Safeway.
I’m a growing population of frugal consumers — so I’ve, thankfully, come to learn.
Being an environmentalists—or someone who touts around a Mastercard sponsored by WWF and will opt-out of taking a picture with a three-month-old bengal tiger—shifts the tries to shift conversational epicenter from frugality to a management of sustainable resources every chance I can.
We, conscious consumers with a green spending trail, try not to waste things. Anything, really. Because it’s expensive to consume. And rent’s by no means affordable in San Francisco. Or approachable. Being green, as it so happens, is merely a response to our current economic situation.
We can’t afford to leave much materialistic waste behind, as it is. Waste, of any kind, is expensive. Especially food.
Her tone softened; she ceased screaming over an auto-tuned chorus. “Oh, I wasn’t aware of that,” attempting to slip her Louis Vuitton wallet beneath her pilates-toned underarm. I wondered how much her gym membership might have cost her a per-month. Where was the studio, could I feasibly adopt another financial commitment? Would I be willing to leave Whole Foods with a bit less produce, or no produce at all?
“We’ll, I’m glad I brought a vegan option! How’d you like the sandwiches?”
I cleared my throat of organic tomatoes coated lightly with a vegan mayonnaise. “They’re fantastic, and I actually mean it! The focaccia bread is out of this world!”
“I’m glad you like it! Well you’re than welcome to take home the tray if you want! Looks like things are winding down here…and I bought them, anyways. I hate throwing away food!”
She gestured her hand, absentmindedly, toward the near-full tray as if to politely sign please take them, I don’t want to have to lug this gargantuan tray back down five flights of stairs.
“Absolutely, you bet! I’m staying in a hotel in Japantown, so maybe I’ll even pass out a few sandwiches to the homeless on Turk!”
I near as soon after receiving the rounded, black, room-temperature tray that I began sectioning off a small corner of the stacked sandwiches for myself, alienating three or so from the larger cohort to eat later in evening; the vast majority were to be graciously, inclusively offered to any man or woman wedged between a store wall and the dirtied sidewalk.
Neglect smelled of stale urine, abandonment lay dirtied, bare, undignified atop flattened cardboard boxes. Hands clenched, fingernails hydrophobic. There are no well-cut rubies to be seen here; scavenged, rounded rhinestones adorned but a few sun-aged female wrists. Welcome to Turk Street — the place where one swindles Jacksons for cocaine.
We’re not sure when the city gave-up on Turk Street, but there’s no denying the fact they have.
A man offered me ten-milligrams of oxycodone in exchange for five sandwich halves; he thought I was selling them. He crossed the intersection of Turk and Franklin fed, happy, “[thanking me.]” I continued to walk along the urban squabble, ambivalently sober.
I recalled being shadowed by a stark, unfiltered, relatable paradigm as I went along offering what would have otherwise been tossed away: nothing here has been left to listlessly decay. Everything had a place, everything had an order. Every man and woman, dog and cat and pigeon existed atop cold concrete, estranged to notions of surplus or comfortability.
These types of city settings beg — literally and metaphorically — the question: how could this happen in a culture of abundance?
Greed. It’s human greed. That’s it. Simple.
A line from Mahatma Gandhi is, truly, worth repeating again-and-again in bouts of such philanthropic thought: This planet can provide for human need, but not for human greed. This planet can support our shared humanity. But we can’t to listen to opulent musings; air on the side of consciousness; be willing to dance with uncomfortability and vulnerability. Be charitable when it’s appropriate, be mindful when it’s not. Give yourself the time to answer the question on how much you actually need, give when you find yourself with more than you need.
It’d be a waste no to.