Commentary: Compost This
Submission by Katie Liederman, TNG contributor. Katie has written for Nerve, GO, Curve, Rap-Up, Velvetpark, Penthouse Forum, V, V Man, Lumina, The Archive, and was a resident blogger on Showtime’s Ourchart.com. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in English from Cornell University and an M.F.A. in Nonfiction Writing from Sarah Lawrence College.
There is nothing more embarrassing than a trip to the farmer’s market. It’s like a pseudo-zen circus, comprised of all the worst stereotypes listed on stuffwhitepeoplelike.com, the brutally incisive website that reminds white people that everything they do is cliche. Tan, sinewy women sauntering around in ballet flats, 30-something couples in cutoffs and canvas Tom’s slip-ons, new parents pushing fancy strollers with tattooed arms, everyone perusing the row of stands with a collective mission to buy whole foods harvested at quaint, local farms — it’s the equivalent of sitting down to eat apple pie on a gingham picnic blanket with a giant pink bow in your hair. The gentle smiles shoppers share as they fork over twelve dollars for a grass-fed trout wrapped in recycled paper, which they then calmly tuck into their hemp shopping bags. It’s almost too much to stomach.
The other night, I was sitting at a table with Chloe and Megan, two of my best friends. We all had work to do and our laptops were out, glaring at us like confrontational, open-mouthed clams. The plan had been to get together to “write.” This translated to eating a giant block of cheddar cheese, drinking several gallons of coffee, and plotting which of our Facebook friends we could trick into having sex with us. Mostly, though, it just involved talking about how dorky the farmer’s market is.
We go to the farmer’s market every week. We are the stereotype we deride. We slink around Williamsburg in undersized shorts and oversized glasses with loosely-packed totes of earth-friendly groceries flapping against our thighs like overgrown testes. It’s on par with showing up to school naked with your pubic hair shaved into the shape of a dragon. It’s not cool. We go anyway.
Most people ease into an amiable mood in the presence of hormone-free chickens and brightly colored produce, freshly plucked from the unsuspecting ground. It’s a mood that’s conducive to cruising. Chloe regularly tries to convince the market’s elfin, half-Japanese mushroom vendor to go to dinner with her, whereas Megan likes to hit on the aloof, corn-shaped straight girl who sells jugs of milk towards the entrance, always capitalizing on the acquaintance they have in common as an easy conversation-starter.
Recently, I’ve adopted an alternate routine, one that deviates from my traditional habit of staring at most of the short-haired, vagina-sporting market-goers like a salacious fiend. There was a time when I’d sidle up to roughly any queer with a pulse, armed with lame queries about how turnips compare to parsnips when pan-seared with sage. Now, I simply dedicate the bulk of my time to trying to impress the compost lady with how much compost I bring in each Saturday.
The compost lady is short and pink, with long, dust-colored hair. She bears a striking resemblance to the actor James Cromwell, best known for his moving performance as kindly farmer Arthur H. Hoggett, who shares the screen with a lovable pig in both Babe and Babe: Pig in the City.
When I learned about the composting program about a month ago, I was really excited about it because I don’t get out much. Online it said that if you keep your compost in the freezer, it’s not odorous. So I took the biggest roasting pan I could find, inserted it onto my freezer shelf, and over the course of a week, composted everything– banana peels, grapefruit rinds, the bushy green part on the top of carrots that no one cares about, egg shells, etc. You name it. Come Saturday morning, I lugged my giant bag of compost garbage to the farmer’s market with a shit-eating grin on my face, proud that I had taken the initiative to do something for the planet besides recycle the occasional water bottle or Diet Dr. Pepper can. When I arrived, the compost lady was checking her cell phone. She looked annoyed. “Hello!” I exclaimed. “I brought a huge bag of compost from home! Should I put it in this bin here?” I asked, pointing to a giant bin of rotting produce with a sign mounted above it that read, “Put Compost Here.”
She snapped her gum and continued texting. I’d never seen a woman in her 70s snap gum or send a text, and I was taken aback. Regardless, I braced myself for the warm, appreciative smile that I was sure I’d receive for my efforts, as she would affirm the fact that I should, in fact, dispose of my compost in the clearly marked bin. Instead she said, “Yeah,” without looking up from her Blackberry.
I was crestfallen. It reminded me of a bit in comedian Louie CK’s stand-up act that I’d seen at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade a few months prior.. He told a story about how one time he was browsing an aisle at the supermarket when a woman with sizable, eggplant-colored birthmarks all over her face had asked him if he could reach something on a high shelf for her. He casually handed her the item, and she half-heartedly thanked him. As she moseyed away, he was filled with rage. He thought he should be granted some award for not flinching at the sight of her affliction. It felt unjust that he wasn’t rewarded for his goodness.
I felt the same way about the compost and was determined to win over the weathered curmudgeon. Over the course of the next week, I went into compost-overdrive, salvaging every last thing I could get my grubby hands on– dime-sized shreds of onion skin, wet, grainy clumps of coffee grounds, droopy little tea bags, one caper that had fallen on the ground, and at LEAST six apple cores. I actually considered composting edible food, just to be able to present her with a showier bag, but ultimately refrained because I realized it was counter-intuitive, deeply weird, and actually not green at all. Regardless, I had a goal, and it was to elicit something along the lines of a hearty “Thank you!,” from her pinched, lipless mouth. I’d even settle for a simple nod, recognizing that we were on the same eco-friendly team. So the next week, arriving with a Chaz Bono-sized sack of compost in tow, I positioned myself in her direct line of vision. Then, with the garbage cradled in my left arm, I gracefully gestured to it’s girth and length with my free hand, the way that ladies on QVC do with dolls, Bea Arthur jewelry, or whatever other kinds of undesirable shit they’re trying to sell.
This time, the compost lady wasn’t texting. Her eyes were on me as I theatrically dumped it all in the bin. “There you go!” I said, not even attempting to veil my desperate dig for a few appreciative words. She stared at me blankly, saying nothing, crocheted vest flapping against her waist-length bosom, paisley jeans doing nothing for her squat figure.
Besides the compost bin there was another receptacle, meant for the bag that you’d just emptied. Entrenched in defeat, I tossed the wet, empty bag in its intended bin, and turned to walk away.
“Wait!” she said.
I spun around, expectantly. “Yes?”
“You know you could take that bag home and rinse it out. No need to be wasteful.”
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