Not that long ago, the question of my age surfaced anew in one of my more challenging junior high classes. For one reason or another, it would seem that many adolescents are genuinely intrigued by their teachers’ years and, besides, the subject will surely add some spice to their otherwise stodgy classroom experience.
My response, as usual, was succinct and bristly: I am so old, I told them, that by the word “consumption” I still understand “tuberculosis.” After a brief moment of unexpected silence, several startled scholars asked me if I were all right. With an ironic smile, I reassured them that I was, and then ardently related to them this rather brief narrative.
A few days ago, while picking up a pizza from a rather reputable downtown establishment, I noticed that stapled to the amply thick pizza box was the bill. I could not help but observe it curiously as something about it struck me.
Nevertheless, while nimbly stepping outside to my double parked vehicle, I then noted regretfully that, for the first time in a very long time, I had received a ticket for a parking infraction. In itself, it was nothing too serious, I suppose – just a gentle, yet costly reminder of the pecuniary perils one assumes in ignoring the rules of the big city’s roads. Again, however, as I perused the document inquisitively, something about it bothered me, but at that moment, what it was, I was not sure. In spite of all this, with pizza in hand, I headed home with the evening’s grub, along with some unanticipated food for thought.
It was only after a rather pensive dinner that it occurred to me what it was about the food bill and the parking ticket which disturbed me. In both cases, it was their considerable size. The tab for the pizza measured an astonishing foot in length and was quite significant in width as well. It contained a litany of information, from my name (picked up through caller I.D.) to the very command to create the bill (“make ticket”). Also found on the voucher were other tidbits of lore deemed essential to life in the twenty first century – the GST number, date and time of call, all of which was followed by the now requisite “Have a nice day.”
The parking contravention, when unravelled, was about the size of a popular weekly news magazine and, like the latter, contained its own repertoire of more or less relevant information. Having received an ample number of similar tickets for various road and traffic violations during my much-lamented youth in this city (at this point, class interest revived somewhat), I could not help but observe that the contemporary version was about three times the size of the ones issued in the 1970’s. This, when you think about it, is a remarkable achievement given the fact that the data found on them is essentially the same as thirty years ago. Be all that as it may, I could not help but wonder why – why has so much, so suddenly, become so large? From election posters to household utility bills, from glossy, multi-coloured dance club flyers placed on automobile windscreens to the weekly publi-sac , everything seems to have become larger and so much more substantial. As a result, as we all have noticed, waste and recycling bins in the downtown area cannot keep up with the generated refuse.
At this point, I glanced quickly at my students hoping for a reaction to this dramatic assertion, only to catch several of them tinkering relentlessly with their cell phone or staring blankly at the classroom clock.
Whatever the answer to that question may be, I persisted, one result of our collective fixation with consumption (and the rubbish which it frequently yields) is a much greater demand today for paper than in the past. The public sector, like private institutions, is equally guilty. For example, in my rather lengthy teaching career in this province, I have seen high school leaving exams metamorphose in size from the single-sheet document of the late 1960’s to the current booklet style exam, almost equal in size to a village telephone directory ! In short, I concluded, the exaggerated and quite often unnecessary expenditure of paper in this the onset of the twenty-first century is simply appalling.
Having once again astutely sensed that my fortnightly homily was over, the class sat dumbfounded before me. No further reference to my age was made. Their amazement was only broken when one entranced pupil stirred suddenly.
“Sir,” he inquired, “should we take out some paper to make notes?”