Tinfoil Balls, A Plastic Cup, Sin City, and Napoleon

Tom‘s got a guest post to share:

Claire came home from school today with a backpack full of tinfoil balls. Apparently at lunch all year she has been collecting tinfoil from her classmates’ sandwich wrappings, and making a ball each day. She had ninety two balls of various sizes, which she showed off with pride.
And seeing them reminded me that I wanted to write about a plastic cup.

Three years ago this month, we traveled to the American southwest on a week-long family exploration of Zion, Bryce Canyon, and the Grand Canyon. It was a great week, with lots of wonderful outdoor adventures as we explored those majestic and iconic landscapes.

The week came to a somewhat jarring conclusion in Las Vegas, where because of an early flight, we were staying one night at another icon: the strip’s Stratosphere Hotel. It was super cheap, and Claire and I liked the look of the pool from the website. None of us had ever been to Vegas before.

Sprawling, overbuilt, car-dependent, Las Vegas is almost gleefully unsustainable, with the highest per-capita water use in the country, as well as the highest mortgage foreclosure rates. It’s the poster child for sprawl, indulgence, materialism, and American excess, and it didn’t disappoint. Despite the fact that I took them to see white tigers and bought them dinner at the foot of the Eiffel Tower (and an eclair in a French patisserie, even!), three years later Lyanda and Claire still haven’t quite recovered, and like to exclaim about (Claire) the giant TV screens in baggage claim at the airport, and (Lyanda) the cooling misters on the sidewalk to gently mist Lake Meade water onto the passers-by in the 110-degree desert heat.

Still, we needed a souvenir, so on our departure from the Stratosphere, I took the two disposable plastic cups that had been left in our room (each of them individually wrapped in plastic for us). They’re no different from the plastic cups they gave us on the airplane in both directions, except that they say “Stratosphere” on them, and I kind of liked the idea of a little sin city memento as my bathroom cup back home in our den of organic all-natural earthiness.

To make a long story short, three years later, the cups are still with us. They come out to hold water or juice when we have little children as guests. They do occasional duty in the bathroom. They travel out to the picnic table. They are indestructible.

Not green in any way whatsoever.

There’s no great epiphany here. If you’re here reading this then you already know that America is insanely wasteful, that we use over a million plastic cups per day just on airlines, and that tinfoil and all manner of other detritus streams into our landfills at an alarming clip. Many other wonderful blogs focus exclusively on the plastic issue, and although our family tries, we are not even especially good about leading plastic-free lives ourselves.

But we do try, and somehow the endurance of that plastic cup from sin city keeps me a little more honest. It’s like a mindfulness bell – every time I open the cupboard and see it there among our recycled Mexican water glasses and our hippie mason jars, I am awakened a little bit, reminded to try a little harder.

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, of course, our kid diligently collecting her funny little tin foil balls all year long. There was lots of joking around the house tonight about which of us needed a tin foil beanie, and what kinds of mischief we could get up to with all those foil balls. Then we settled into a serious round of Napoleon, a simple but addictive trumping card game we highly recommend. The foil balls worked perfectly as our score keeping “chips.”

And as usual, I overplayed my hand, and they beat me mightily. One more reason why I’m not cut out for Vegas.

Check out Tom’s great blog Bikejuju.com for more from him.


  1. This comment comes very late. I have just discovered your blog (after reading Crow Planet) and am reading my way backward.
    This post made me remember when I was little, my father collected his sandwich foil, smoothed it out and used it to make a solar system. I found it enchanting and would arrange the planets in their orbits on the floor.

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