Cheap Rubber Mulch

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Religion and Spirituality  |  House: Review Chain

Submitted: May 24, 2018

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Submitted: May 24, 2018

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CHEAP RUBBER MULCH

 

 

The stage is lit to an unnecessary degree; on that, both parties agree. The recently erected stage is gratuitously flanked by several light trusses, courtesy of Fulton State University’s theatre department, that bathe the temporary platform in a flaxen brilliance, slicing the room in half: on one side, an apprehensive darkness, littered with hushed voices (how long is this supposed to go? This guy isn’t a teacher, right? Do you have a charger for an iPhone?), on the other side, the battlefield upon which the contenders are to compete.

Who are these competitors?  One is a five foot five undergrad by the name of Sharon Stiegler. The other, a five foot ten bachelor named Peter Tumlin who’s two years too late for a mid-life crisis and only just beginning to show the signs of male pattern baldness.

Five weeks prior, neither of them knew the other existed. Sharon attended Fulton State University. She majored in Biology. After only two semesters, she was elected an officer of the Fulton State environmental club. After her third, she was elected president. It’s been 4 weeks, 6 days, and several migraines since the commander-in-chief of Fulton State’s eco army popped up in Peter’s work email. Since that day, a string of correspondence has plagued him.

 

 

To Whom It May Concern,

 

Hello. My name is Sharon Stiegler, and I’m a student here at Fulton State and president of the Environmental club. I’m emailing you today because of an issue we have with the new playground that was just constructed on the west end of campus. We’re concerned about the rubber mulch, which studies have recently shown leach known carcinogens into our environment. We are attaching a recent study conducted by The University of Santiago in Spain. Thank you.

 

-Sharon Stiegler

President, FSU Environmental Club

 

 

Mr. Tumlin,

 

Thank you for looking at the study, but I’m afraid I don’t understand what you mean by “take it into consideration.” Does that mean the mulch will be replaced? We have compiled a list of locally sourced, environment-friendly alternatives. I’m attaching the word document to this email. Thank you.

 

-Sharon Stiegler

President, FSU Environmental Club

 

That kind of shit went on for weeks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mr. Tumlin,

 

I still don’t understand why the amount of recognized carcinogens, the zinc, the lead, the VOC’s, and all the other nasty things that leach into the environment when that stuff decomposes (which it is proven to do BTW!) doesn’t alarm you! And it’s not just into the air, that stuff can get into ground water and cause all sorts of problems!

 

-Sharon Stiegler

President, FSU Environmental Club

 

Mr. Tumlin,

 

 

I don’t think I was disrespectful in the last email at all, sir. I think you’re misconstruing respect with letting you disregard the evidence I’m presenting you. I’m attaching a page from a recent essay I wrote on carcinogens. PLEASE READ IT!!!

 

-Sharon Stiegler

President, FSU Environmental Club

 

 

 

 Mr. Tumlin,

 

Dr. Baisden has informed me that you have accepted our invitation. I look forward to meeting you and discussing this matter in a public forum.

 

-Sharon Stiegler

 

 

And so now here we are.

 

Sharon enters stage right, a confident young student eager to take a logic she can’t wrap her head around and thrust it into the brilliant light of this decently-attended-for-a-Friday-afternoon public debate, where she trusts that either her peers will help her make sense of this man, or that this man will be exposed for a fraud, a con artist, or at least a lousy University employee.

 

Peter enters stage left. He squints under the heavy wash of the PAR cans and mentally kicks himself for getting roped into this (Dr. Baisden is known to be an extremely persistent, notoriously headstrong woman). A student moderator, no doubt another member of the Fulton State Environmental Club, is already seated at his station. He taps his lapel mic, and the corresponding “thump” that comes from the speakers confirms that, indeed, it is on.

 

 

 

The champions spar for a redundant 12 rounds of prepared bullet points. Evidence is presented. Rhetoric is employed.  Scientific jargon is mispronounced. Credibility is questioned. Nevertheless, Sharon receives a front row thumbs-up from her faculty advisor, that wiry, old Dr. Baisden. The crowd does not notice the mispronunciation.

 

But enough of this narration, enough of this set up. Let’s tune in and see what these challengers are saying…

 

Fade In:

 

Int. Fulton State Auditorium – Night

 

 

 

PETER

Furthermore, Ms. Stiegler, had you approached me with questions concerning this matter, rather than some immature campaign where you assume that my office does not know what it is doing, I would have told you that your one study you’ve provided from the University of Santiago is one of many studies on this subject. Though it may shock you, Ms. Stiegler, and any of you students currently working on research projects, one Google search does not provide the full scope of any scientific issue. Here’s an even bigger shocker, guys: my office thoroughly researches all of our Go Green Initiatives before we ever implement them, and this includes the rubber mulch your club is so concerned over. Did you know, and I’m asking in a purely rhetorical fashion, of course, that the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection has conducted extensive studies on the effects of rubber mulch on the environment? So have similar agencies in New York, so have similar Agencies in California. Do you know what they determined, Ms. Stiegler? They determined that certain components in these rubber chips do contain allergens, and that if you or your child should have an allergic reaction, you should see your family doctor. They determined that, indeed, the high concentration of Zinc found in storm water runoff from artificial turfs like our rubber mulch can pose environmental risks. Like so many substances in our world, yes, rubber mulch contains known carcinogens, and therefore can introduce these carcinogens into the environment, but all of these studies I have referenced concluded that the amount of risk involved does not surpass the threshold of an acceptable cancer risk.

 

SHARON

 Acceptable cancer risk? What the hell is that supposed to mean?

 

(The moderator is blind-sided with inner-turmoil. Should he say something about his colleague’s language and preserve the prestige of his title, or is this one of the cool college moments the tour guides told him about? Before he can make that split second decision, Peter beats him to the punch)

 

PETER

 See now, that’s better. Questions. It means, disregarding the vulgarity, that scientists with much more schooling than you have determined that the risk of our rubber mulch causing cancer is no greater than that of the beer you’re all drinking at parties, or the cigarettes you’re all smoking on our smoke-free campus, or the UV radiation we all enjoy from our Sun. It means that scientists have already determined that you are wasting the time of everyone within this auditorium.

 

(A single chuckle comes from the back of the audience)

 

SHARON

 So, basically, what you’re telling us is that, because the scientific consensus is less than 100%, more research is needed before any action could be taken? Surely, Mr. Tumlin, you must see the irony here?

 

 

PETER

You’re associating me with climate change deniers now, Ms. Stiegler? Surely you must see the irony in that.

 

SHARON

Yes I believe we’re discussing the same irony, Mr. Tumlin, only you seem to think you’re not the butt of this joke.

(The crowd erupts into raucous applause and whooping)

 

PETER

I will not be insulted in any forum, ma’am, public or private. I was made certain promises before I agreed to this event, the very first of which being that this discussion would be civil and productive. As for your strange accusation, I am, perhaps first and foremost, a lover of science. Real science. It’s been a passion of mine since junior high.  As I’m sure you can tell, that’s been a while. I have a Master of Science from Oregon State University, and I have been an outspoken critic of climate change deniers for years. For you to use your privileged position to stand on this stage and insinuate that I am not committed to my job, is…well it’s disappointing, and highly inappropriate. 

 

 

MODERATOR

 Perhaps if we returned to one of the prompts…let’s see… “How can an individual best mitigate-“

 

SHARON

 No, I don’t think so. I’m not letting you off that easy, Mr. Tumlin.

 

(A collective hush spreads throughout the crowd)

 

PETER

Excuse me miss? I’d remind you, you are still expected to show respect-

 

SHARON

Explain to us how your lackadaisical response to this legitimate environmental concern is any different than a climate change denier’s bread and butter. In the face of good, reputable science, you are choosing to ignore- let’s say a significant probability – that your cheap rubber mulch leaches dangerous contaminants into the atmosphere, all for the sake of saving money. All for the sake of doubling down on a bad decision you already made. Please, Mr. Tumlin, with every ounce of due respect, please explain to me how you, the director of our school’s office of sustainability, are any better than any climate change denier.

 

(The crowd goes fucking nuts)

 

PETER

Are you kidding me?! Because I’m not making policy decisions here! We’re talking about some old recycled, repurposed rubber chips! For the ECD’s daycare! At the high school, right over there, people! You can go look at them! So again I repeat, this is NOT even a matter of YOU OR YOUR CLUB’S CONCERN. You know, I don’t know why I agreed to this. You’re clearly not here to for an informed, civilized, academic public forum, and I have no interest participating in this misguided pep rally any longer, good night every-

 

SHARON

Do you believe the Earth is heating up, Mr. Tumlin? You say you do, and I’m inclined to believe you, because, despite what you may believe, I think you seem like a very intelligent man. If you weren’t so stubborn, we might even get along. I mean, not in a creepy way. I’m 20, and you’re…but what I’m saying is, I mean what I’m asking is, do you really believe this place is going to burn? Do you believe, as I do, that future generations are fucked? Because if you do, and you recognize the big problem, I am here to tell you sir, those rubber chips over there, what you’ve done here, what you’re refusing to even consider doing…this is the little problem. This is symptomatic. It is a symptom of the big problem you claim to be an outspoken critic of. This behavior, this ideology... it takes a population to ruin this planet for posterity, but it takes just one person to get the ball rolling. If nothing else, you are one of millions of hands willingly pushing this ball along. What’s going to be your legacy, Mr. Tumlin? What will it say on your tombstone? Don’t blame me, I wasn’t the only one? Don’t blame me, I always did my job, and besides, the Connecticut Department of Whatever assured me that the risk of cancer was acceptable? Don’t blame me, my lazy response to environmental concerns was no worse than most, and better than many? Do you feel like you’re sustaining anything other than your salary, Mr. Tumlin?

 

PETER

Future generations are, as you say it, are fucked…because of our Rubber Mulch? That’s your assessment.

SHARON

In part?  Absolutely.

PETER

So now I’m a murderer as well as a climate change denier?

 

SHARON

Is there a difference?

 

PETERS

Sure. One’s not murdering people.

SHARON

That’s rich. You claim to be an ally of environmentalists the world over, and you don’t see a connection between the victims of an insufficient response to the climate crisis, and the forces behind that insufficient response? When the seas rise, and the coast lines erode, you don’t think any guilt lies with the generations past who said no, those ice caps are fine, no those maps are here to stay?! I call bullshit, sir; do you not have any sympathy for people of the future?!

 

PETER

PEOPLE OF THE FUTURE?! I DON’T GIVE A SHIT ABOUT THE PEOPLE LIVING RIGHT NOW!!! I have a job. It’s a good job, and it’s challenging, and it’s rewarding. My office, our initiatives, we do a ton of good on this campus. For the environment.  And for the school. You know why your tuition has been stable? You know why you enjoy a beautiful campus, with efficient, innovative technology? It’s because my office does a damn good job promoting the welfare of this school and its student body.

But yeah, Ms.  Stiegler. Can I call you Sharon? Might as well, this thing has gone as horribly as it could have, I see you all with your parents’ phones out…yeah. If you want me to be honest, I don’t really give a shit about the people on this planet right now, and I don’t really give a shit about the people still to come. And I don’t have to. That’s not required of me by this university, or anything else, or anyone else. At the end of the day, I’m looking out for myself, just like everybody else, whether they want to bullshit about altruism and community and work themselves and everyone who’s gullible enough to believe them into some grand circle-jerk, or they’re like me, and they just want to do their fucking job, and do a damn good job at their fucking job, and then go home, and have a beer and watch some television, and not be harassed by some temporal world savior. I told you I’m a lover of science. I know where this is headed. You might even say I know it better than most. Life on this Earth, as we know it, is not sustainable in the long term, not with our species, not with our habits, not with our instincts. Our nature and this planet’s nature are opposed, and we are not on the winning side. Not in the long term of this universe, anyways, and there’s nothing that this office can do about that. It’s going to end. We’re going to choke to death on our own emissions! Yes! We’re going to flood the earth, you bet! We’re going to go crazy in little fucking rooms counting numbers and writing stories and coming up with holidays while the planet burns, sure! And humanity will go to its grave complaining about gas prices and the weather, and just before we all disappear up our own asshole, people like me will get to say “Ha! Told you so! Now let me die in peace!”

So if my time here at Fulton State is coming to a close, and after this fun event, I do believe it is, let me leave you with some knowledge…

There are people suffering, guys. I mean right now. Horrible, terrible suffering. Starvation. Oppression. Heartbreak. There were people suffering yesterday, there’ll be suffering tomorrow. I’m suffering a little right now. I’ve suffered worse. I’ll suffer worse. And at no point during my suffering, or anybody else’s suffering that’s continued without ceasing for the entirety of recorded history, has Sharon Stiegler, college sophomore, public speaker extraordinaire, or any other member of the Fulton State Ecological Society, jumped in to save the day! No one has ever come to ease our suffering! No one ever started a Gofundme! I never heard about any benefit concerts! Shit I can’t even remember getting any words of encouragement or moral support! Tell me Sharon, are  future generations going to finally develop that time machine and retroactively make my life easier, save me from cruelty and anguish?

You stand there and act as if victims of tomorrow are any more important than victims of today or victims of yesterday, because what? Because notions of the future are just inherently cool? Because future suffering holds more value than current suffering? The generations that are already here starve and suffer and find themselves pummeled with injustice, but that’s a lost cause, let’s save the coastlines’ future, right? Let’s tell Peter he needs to get in line and change out the mulch on a playground, and if he doesn’t, well we’ll just put him on display for everyone to come see the devil, come see this man who would dare look in the face of something in this universe that might kill something else in this universe, and be thoroughly unsurprised, unimpressed, and uninterested!  Well if what you’ve said is true, Sharon, if my choice of goddamn rubber mulch is the momentum that gets the gears turning, that ignites the engine of abuse and torment, the seed of some trans-generational suffering, well then I say LET ‘EM SUFFER FOLKS!

 

MODERATOR

…Err-And that’s going to be all the time we have this evening, folks! On behalf of the Environmental Club, I want to thank everyone for coming out, and don’t forget, tomorrow is Earth Day! Let’s all find ways to save the planet guys, thanks and good night!

 

 

END SCENE

 

As the crowd disperses, additional club members hand out 6x8 flyers which advertise the following day’s activities, as well as the remaining semester’s calendar. Peter has already stormed out of the auditorium, and is on his way to his office to pack his things. He’s going to beat this thing to the punch.  He’s going to resign. He’s going to move. He hasn’t decided where.

Sharon stands with a cluster of her most trusted classmates and discusses the alarming turn the evening has taken. All in all, she says to her confidants, the forum went well, and she has done what she meant to do: expose injustice. She had been in the right all along, she reflects, but she didn’t know just how much of a head case that man really was.

A hand on her shoulder interrupts her train of thought, and she turns to find a warm hug from her hero, Dr. Baisden, who tells her that she was just so good. The two of them walk out into the atrium together, discussing the debate. No one in the remaining congregation asks what’s going to happen with the rubber chips. Most of them assume it’s now going to be taken care of by someone, and a few even forget why they were there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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