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The Recycled Neighbor
by Eric Miller

It was Wednesday morning, which meant that the garbage had to be put out for collection. No one took that task more seriously than Foote Printer, and sure enough, he was out early to perform his ritual.

“Excuse me,” he heard someone say. “My name is Paul Luter, and I’ve just moved in next door. I don’t believe we’ve met yet, although our wives have.”

“Good morning, welcome to the neighborhood,” Foote replied, and then introduced himself.

“I couldn’t help but notice the energy and care you take with your garbage,” Paul noted. “It’s like someone wrapping and placing presents under the Christmas tree. With all due respect, don’t you think you’re going a bit overboard? After all, it’s only garbage.”

“Overboard?, Only garbage?, Foote asked, repeating those words several times with his head cocked, his eyebrows raised, his tone a skosh harsh, and his back stiffening.

“Yes to ‘overboard’, and yes to ‘only garbage’, as well. Your body language and tone suggest that I may have offended you.”

“Offended?,” you ask. “Yes, absolutely, I am offended. I take my individual responsibility of environmental stewardship very seriously, as I hope you do, also. Garbage is not ‘only garbage’, it can be earthly poison.”

“Correct me if I’m wrong, but have I moved next door to a sanctimonious tree hugging recycler?”

“I don’t believe I am sanctimonious.”

“Lighten up Foote. Look at how you’re sweating. I suppose you attribute that to global warming.”

“No, I attribute it to you. I sense that you may be a large, human emitter of verbal carbon dioxide, which I fear is going to exacerbate the greenhouse effect. You seem to possess an irrationality that is not sustainable. This does not surprise me, because I see that you have left black footprints on the sidewalk. At first, I assumed that you might be a black-footed pied-noir from Algeria, but it appears that they are carbon footprints that you haven’t offset, thus leaving your ecological footprint at deeply negative levels.”

“Nobody talks like that in real life,” Paul laughed.

“Well, actually they do,” Foote replied, “and hopefully, one day, ecological limits will be central to decision making everywhere.”

Paul Luter glared at Foote, and then, in an apoplectic burst of polluting rage, decreed that his business profits were being recycled into increased expenses and taxes. “Is not a business a living and breathing entity to be preserved for the benefit of society?,” he asked.

“Yes, for society,” Foote agreed, “but not for you alone. The earth cannot survive by deficits anymore than your business can, Luter. You cannot sustain an account by not balancing withdrawals with deposits. Ecological footprints are the earthly accounts that need a black bottom line.”

“As in derrier-noir, Paul asked smiling?”

The following Wednesday, when Foote was placing his garbage for collection, he was delighted to see that Paul had put his out earlier. As he looked over at how neatly it was sorted, packaged, arranged, and presented, his eyes twinkled like lights on a tree.