The Recycling Program

We built a house from the unused phonebooks left on the doorsteps of the city.

Book by book, block by block, we stacked ourselves a quaint little two-story Victorian in the lot of an abandoned gas station.

We boiled down more phonebooks into a sticky paste to use as mortar so the place would sit airtight, and used the plastic bags the books came wrapped in to cover the roof and to make the sinks and toilet-bowls. A ball of rubber bands became a perfectly good front doorknob.

When we were done and settled, the air smelled terribly of dry paper and made our noses bleed, but a humidifier was out of the question, as were scented candles. You quoted the old axiom “People in paper houses shouldn’t light candles.”

When the rains came, the fall leaves started to rot in the plastic-cup gutters, and the doorknob started to grow bigger as more and more takeout menus were left by zealous restaurant promoters.

In the winter, we papered the walls with junk mail and debated the merits of officially changing our surname to “resident,” while the cat pawed around inside the flatscreen TV box.

In the spring, the paper beetles found us; their constant gnawing filled the house with a Vesuvian layer of paper-soot and the incessant hum of their digestions became the white-noise soundtrack of our dreamscapes.

By summer the roof had too many holes to mortar up. At nighttime, purple-black light shined through the little bug-eaten holes. Stars polished the darkness with tempting bits of silver, so we fashioned a telescope from paper towel rolls and looked up the constellations on our smartphones. But all we could see were satellites, arcing slowly through the night in their twisting orbital ballet.

When the layoffs came, we boiled down another round of books and fashioned a sludgy alphabet soup that wasn’t too different from the mortar holding the whole place together.

We ate the Aarons and the Abramsons first, and by the next winter we were having the Smiths for both Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.

On New Year’s you grimaced, pushed your plate away from you and said, “If I never eat another Smith it will be too soon.”

When summer vacation came back around, our feet started to itch on their bottoms, and construction started on a new gas station in our lot, so we built a car out of a second round of unused phonebooks.

We gave the car a bio-diesel engine, of course, and after dumping used French Fry Oil over everything, all those Smiths didn’t taste quite so bad anymore.

With some clever rearranging, our phonebook house became a phonebook trailer, and we hitched up our wagons and headed north up the 101 towards the towering Redwood high-rises of the forest.

In Laytonville we stayed with a friend in a treehouse built from unread catalogs. In the guest bedroom we read through our Bed Bath & Beyond pillowcases and ordered what tempted us online with our smartphones.

In Arcata we met a man named Jeremy Anderson and you muttered to me “I think we might have eaten him once.”

You might have been right, but there were over 40 Jeremy Andersons in the phonebook, so we’d never really know which one he was, now would we?

Jeremy told us he was building a spaceship from the plastic packing shells of printer cartridges and batteries and children’s toys and iPod headphones and anything else that needed to be hermetically sealed from the world before it could be purchased.

You looked at me and wondered “now why didn’t we think of that?”

When we left for the depths of the forest, Jeremy asked us if we’d like to subscribe to his newsletter, to keep updated on his spaceship project. We both politely declined; our email inboxes were already too cluttered with spam as it was.

“Now spam,” you said as we made our way deeper into the forest. The trees shot up all around us, misty with fog and dew, while thin shafts of golden light cut throught he canopy and dappled the bark-strewn floor. “There’s something we should really figure out how to eat!”

We settled our trailer-home in a secluded grove of redwoods and ferns that got plenty of afternoon sunlight. You trekked back into town for supplies and returned with a new printer, because it was cheaper than buying a new printer cartridge for the old printer—even though you knew this would make Jeremy Anderson sad, wherever he was.

We printed out the last three month’s worth of spam and prepared ourselves a feast.  For appetizers, we sautéed some “Cialis Without Prescription only $1.55 – USA Express Delivery!” over a bed of shredded “Let’s grow your smallDick with this Effective PenisEn1argement pill xlxa.”

For the main course we roasted some “Rep1icaCartier watches ensuring the highest quality and excellent,” and for dessert, we top everything off with a mélange of messages from disposed African royalty.

After the meal, wiping your mouth with “Pfizer – 80% now,” you looked chagrined and said “I hate to admit it, but I’m kinda craving some good ol’ Smith…”

We snuggled in under our tabloid covers and listened to the song of the paper beetles.  The rainy season was coming, and in the morning we’d have to boil some more phonebooks down to fill all the holes they’d chewed.

But for tonight, we laid on our backs and read the starlight through the tattered the ceiling; the trees above us framed the night sky with their inky shadows and seemed to curve oddly inward, as if they were reaching across the yearning void to touch each other.

We found that old telescope we made and looked up into the sky again and still only saw satellites, blinking solemnly as they spun through their crisscrossing trajectories.

They circled us and circled us and eventually would be sucked back in by the gravity of the world, only to burn up once they came too close and started to enter the atmosphere.

You said, “If I were to die in a tragic accident, I’d like to be crushed by a falling satellite.”

I looked up and wondered if Jeremy Anderson had finished his spaceship yet. We never did get his email address, and he told us he wasn’t on Facebook. I thought that I’d like to get in touch with him, if only there were some way how.

Maybe one of those satellites was really he and his spaceship blasting off into the great, unknown vacuum of space like a modern Icarus with wings of post-consumer plastic and the earth just a shrinking blue-green dot in his rearview mirror – nothing more than another pin-light fleck in the vast, bug-eaten ceiling of the universe.


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