By SPENCER HOLM
Ralph is a reason to keep hand sanitizer on hand.
I was so green it’s not even funny. No laundry machine, no dishwasher, I didn’t even have a fridge.
-Not even a fridge?
No way man. I didn’t need one. My liquor store had a walk-in beer cave, and I was so green I would get a six-pack there and drink it before it got warm. Oh and God-damn, the number of bottles I returned! What do you think, four thousand? A million? I don’t even know…
-Five cents apiece right? Oh and cans too, those count. Yeah, I used to see you walking up State Street with a grocery cart overflowing.
Say, what are you writing there? Ralph grabbed the arm-rests of his chair but his elbows shook too much to lift him up.
-Oh nothing to worry about, just paperwork I do for everyone.
What kind of paperwork?
-Uh, tallies and yes or no questions. It helps me see trends at the end of each year, or trends in age or race. Like here’s a question you just answered: “Candidate demonstrates appreciation for environment.” You got a five out of five on that one! I haven’t looked at your carbon footprint report, but I’m sure you scored well above the mean. Let’s see, on a scale of one to five, how many times does the candidate exercise per week?
Ralph started to relax in his arm-chair, a simple chrome-painted plastic frame with worn blue pads beneath his butt and behind his back. The rigid frame held his craned neck uncomfortable enough to keep him awake. There was no way he would fall asleep with the blindingly florescent ceiling above him.
So workouts on the weekends don’t count?
-No, no it includes the whole week.
But it’s on a scale of one to five. It would make more sense if it were on a scale of one to seven. What about the workouts on the weekends?
-The weekend workouts count.
Then I’d give myself a seven.
-But it’s on a scale of one to five.
So I should get extra credit? I never took a day off for twenty years.
-Never took a day off of what?
The grocery cart! I pushed that thing from sunrise ‘till…
-But, but that’s not what I mean by working out. I’m talking about going for a run, or playing pick-up basketball.
Pick-up basketball? Are you kidding?
-That’s just an example. I guess, well I’ve never really thought about a grocery cart as a mode of exercise. But go ahead Ralph, tell me about it.
Ralph returned to his semi-relaxed position, his neck draped over the backrest’s chrome-painted plastic frame. Well, I got that cart at a junkyard. By the way, give me a five for theft. I know that question’s in there. But I never stole anything, I swear. Or would you give me a zero for theft? Because I stole zero things in my life. That cart was gonna get scrapped, and fifty others too. They were left over when Wegmans bought Acme. And Wegmans wanted black shopping carts that didn’t get dirty, or look dirty, I guess. So they bought all those new black carts. Man they were slick. They never rusted, and those smooth rolling wheels, dual-pivots in the front. Man, I wanted one of those, but I’m not a thief. I just waited by the junkyard and when those silver Acme carts rolled out, I picked out the smoothest roller. Yea she squeaked, but she was with me for twenty years. Betty had a way about her. I swear sometimes it was me who was getting pushed by her!
-Betty is your cart?
Yea man! Don’t judge me, I just, I mean we had a lot of time together. Oh and I was saying that we exercised a lot of endurance. On Thursdays, we walked all the way out to Varna. You should mark that down as a workout. Me and the owner of a restaurant there had a deal that I could take all his empty champagne bottles if I picked up all the cigarette butts outside his bar. Those champagne bottles man, they’re extra thick so they don’t explode. The glass is so thick that all the pressure from the bubbles in those bottles, all that pressure pops out the cork. You know, the path of least resistance and all. I got a buck a bottle for ‘em when I recycled down at Wegmans.
-Wait, what did you say about picking up cigarette butts?
Oh yea, that’s what I did for the champagne bottles. But hell, I would’ve done it for free because sometimes the butts were half-full. I call them shorties. Like people took a drag or two and realized how drunk they were. Then they toss those short cigarettes into the parking lot, and as long as it wasn’t raining, I found a handful of half-smoked cigarettes every time. Man I made out like a bandit with a cart full of champagne bottles, smoking shorties all the way to Wegmans.
-Ohhh, that explains it.
Ralph watched as his interviewer scribbled frantically in-between glances to a computer screen. Say, man what are you talking about?
-Yeah, hold on one second. I just got your carbon footprint report. While it was loading I noticed a discrepancy. Here, look at this. God turned his computer towards Ralph, who now sat at the edge of his plastic chair. The green spots on the map are all of the cans and bottles you picked up. Oh, those dark green ones look like litter you picked up on the sidewalk. You see, that’s great, that’s what it takes to get into Heaven. Fifty thousand Flower Power bottles, that’s a record! But those red dots, you see, all the way from that restaurant in Varna to downtown by Wegmans. Yeah, those are the cigarette butts you dropped, no you LITTERED, after you smoked them. Once a cigarette it smoked, it becomes property of the smoker. Unfortunately, even though you picked up those butts, you ended up tossing them, LITTERING them. If we zoom in, we can see the quantity. Yea, over six thousand smoked and littered by you, Ralph, in the restaurant’s parking lot. Damn, three-hundred fifty dropped down the road within a fifty-foot perimeter of Belle Sherman Elementary School. This is not good, Ralph.
But that’s right on the way! How was I supposed to know I shouldn’t put them there?
-Because it’s an elementary school Ralph! Damn, you were doing so well until this popped up. All these infractions in a school zone are multiplied by one hundred, and oh no… it looks like twenty times in your life, school-children at recess saw you smoking. Do you know what kind of effect that has on a child’s brain development? And even worse, two of those times they saw you drinking out of a paper bag! Ralph, come on man! Those are multiplied by five thousand!
But what about all my cans and bottles? Don’t those cancel out?
-Yeah, about that. That’s not how the math works on Earth is it? I mean, you get five cents for a bottle, but in New York State a cigarette costs almost a dollar apiece! I wish I could help you out, but that’s just how the math works. At the end of the day, your life just doesn’t add up. But hey, you’re not the one to blame, Ralph. I’ll give you another shot down on Earth. Let me see… Oh perfect, my computer’s telling me a Mrs. Julie Scott is about to give birth any minute. She was sneaking shots and tossing shorties all throughout her pregnancy. Good luck Ralph, I mean, little baby Scott!