Republican City Council Member Max Morano was taking a Diet Coke break with Irma Jansen, his chief of staff. “I can’t believe the city’s Democrats passed the plastic bag ban. Totally counterproductive. The plastic bags I take home with me from the supermarket become garbage bags. Paper bags are harder to carry, and I have to throw them out right away because paper attracts roaches. Which forces me to buy plastic garbage bags. Same harm to the environment, lots of added costs for everyone. Environmentalists and their Democrat enablers have no common sense.”
Irma said, “It’s like the environment-friendly toilet we had to install when Mike and I renovated our apartment. It reduces the amount of water in a flush, so instead of flushing once, you end up flushing five times, and still you have to clean the toilet twice a day minimum.”
“Democrats,” Max said, “ever in search of government solutions to life’s little problems.”
“Well, there’s a rumor the governor will veto it,” Irma said.
“The governor’s a Democrat,” Max said, as if Irma didn’t know.
* * *
Democratic City Council Member Gavin Kane threw his stapler at the opposite wall, just missing the head of Tina Millette, his chief of staff. The state’s governor had used his untoward power to veto the plastic bag ban, even though it had been passed by the City Council and signed by the mayor.
Acting as though nothing had happened—not even turning around to look at the damage—Tina sipped her coffee and made a mental note to pick up the stapler’s remnants on her way out and buy a replacement with petty cash.
Gavin said, “How did it come about that the governor, that posterchild for ego, has the authority to interfere with the city’s decisions? It was hard enough to get the law enacted. Can’t he get it into his thick head that plastic basically doesn’t biodegrade?”
“I keep picturing the Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” Tina said, “that Sargasso Sea of plastic floating in the ocean.”
“If the Republicans had gone along, the Governor wouldn’t have been such a wimp. Republicans decide by anecdote. When it comes to science, they’re in the Middle Ages,” Gavin said.
“I think it’s less about politics than about stacking his fiefdom,” Tina said. “Our law would have allowed supermarkets to add five cents per paper bag to help them recoup transition costs and as a long-term incentive to comply. But the governor says that five cents shouldn’t go as profit to the stores. He wants it to be a tax that goes to his state government.”
Gavin said, “You’d think he was a communist.”
Tina rested her cheek on her upturned hand. “Why kill an idea he’s always claimed he believes in? Besides, he’s supposed to be on our side.”
“Those chemical-hugging Koch brothers must have gotten to him,” Gavin said.
But his mind had shifted to another track. “I’m counting the minutes before Max Morano makes the most of this.” He turned the smartphone so they could both see it and brought up Morano’s Twitter feed. Just in time.
“Governor trashes Kane plastic bag law. Victory for environment.”
Gavin stabbed at his smartphone’s keyboard. “Plastic wins, environment mourns.”
“Don’t send that,” Tina said, leaning around to see the screen. “You need the governor on your side.”
“Fuck the governor.”
“Please don’t. Imagine Morano’s tweet storm if you did.”
“Okay, I won’t send it. Not yet anyway.” He made a copy and put it in a separate file.
After Tina returned to her desk, just outside his closed door, Gavin withdrew from his jacket’s inside pocket his wallet-sized electronic talking United States Constitution with the image of Lady Liberty at the top.
“Libby,” he asked her, “I don’t suppose you have anything to say about all this?”
“Tina’s right. Quit it with the sexual fantasies about the governor.”
“You’re so damned literal.”
The screen dimmed.
“Sorry, Libby, that was harsh. I apologize.”
The screen lit back up. “What’s this about being literal?”
“Well, according to Republicans, we’re supposed to read you literally.”
“There’s literally and there’s literally.”
“Actually, that’s encouraging. So again, I’m sorry. Now, will you help me with this plastic bag thing?”
“I have nothing to say about plastic bags.”
Gavin bit his tongue. “How about the environment?”
“Look at the ‘posterity’ clause.”
Libby stayed silent, but she didn’t switch off.
“All right, I’ll do a search.” He typed the word “posterity” on her tiny keyboard and found the Constitution’s preamble in the display:
We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
“I see,” Gavin said, impressed, as he always was, by the graceful sentences those guys had spun out two centuries earlier. “Like it says here, there’s no posterity if we wreck the environment and make these United States uninhabitable.”
“That’s the argument,” Libby said.
“What do you mean, ‘that’s the argument’? That’s what you say right here in this paragraph.”
“So you say.”
“And you agree.”
Why couldn’t she give him even a smidgeon of encouragement?
Hoping to catch her before she did what she always did—end their conversations before he was ready—he added, “You can go back to sleep now, Libby.” He looked down, only to see the screen already dark.
He decided against consulting his chief of staff before sending: “Plastic wins, environment mourns. To self-proclaimed Constitutional scholar Morano: Read the ‘posterity’ clause.”
* * *
Max Morano yelled, “What the hell’s the ‘posterity’ clause?”
No response. However, it took his chief of staff, Irma Jansen, only two minutes to knock on the door and come in with a printout.
“What’s this?” he demanded.
“The preamble to the Constitution.”
“I know that. It says it right on top.”
“Read. It won’t bite.”
“I don’t see any… Oh here. ‘… secure the blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity…’”
“You have to read the whole paragraph to get the whole meaning, but you’ve found the crux.”
“Nothing about plastic bags.”
Knowing he was trying to get her goat, Irma said, “Nor ‘environment.’”
“Right. There’s ‘justice’ here. Oh, and ‘domestic tranquility’—my wife better not find out about that one. ‘Defense.’ And look at this—‘welfare.’ So that’s where Democrats get off coddling the good-for-nothings. And last but definitely not least, ‘liberty.’ Like you said, nothing about environment.”
“You have to read ‘environment’ into it.”
“I have to do no such thing. Read something when it isn’t there to be read?”
“In that case, I read ‘endless sex and booze’ here.”
“I don’t think that’s what the founding guys had in mind.”
“Nor did they have environmentalists, that plague on posterity.”
“You’re letting your irritation with Kane get the better of you.”
“How could it not?”
“Don’t say anything stupid, that’s all I ask.”
“But when I do, it rattles his cage so bad you can feel the earth shaking all the way from four blocks away.”
Irma shrugged and left.
Max tweeted: “Plastic bags get holes/ripped after third/fourth use. No posterity there. Governor agrees.”
He didn’t have to wait long for Kane’s reply: “Republican Morano confuses posterity with holes in plastic bags. Due to holes in Morano’s head. Swiss cheese, anyone?”
* * *
“Got him!” Gavin exclaimed, as Tina opened the door, without knocking. She looked displeased.
“If you’re right, it’s a pyrrhic victory,” she said. “You know, hollow victory.”
“I take my victories where I can get them.”
“Well, good. I hope it keeps you happy this evening. Me, I need to shop for dinner, so I’m leaving.”
Gavin fished. “Special night?”
“Nights are always special.”
“Remember to demand paper bags at the store, for the sake of posterity.”
“If she exists,” Tina said, closing the door behind her, too firmly for Gavin’s peace of mind.
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