HARVARD SQUARE COMMENTARY

November 19, 2007
Harvard Square Observer

Ubiquitous Plastic

Ernest Cassara


As I walked from Sanders Theatre in Memorial Hall through Harvard Yard, after a concert of the Boston Philharmonic, I glanced over at the bronze sculpture of John Harvard.  As usual, tourists were gathered around him, posing for photographs.  You will see that the patina - if that is the proper term, when speaking of bronze - is worn away on his left hand, for folks love to pose holding hands with him.  As I looked back, just before stepping out of the Yard through the gate onto Massachusetts Avenue at Harvard Square, I swear John Harvard was holding a plastic water bottle.

I did not have time to investigate, since I had an appointment to keep, but, it struck me as appropriate that one of the tourists had given him the bottle to quench his thirst!  After all, sitting there decade after decade, he is bound to be thirsty!

As I was thinking of the proliferation of plastic water containers, my mind dredged up that wonderful passage from Dustin Hoffman’s early movie, The Graduate.  Now, I imagine most people in thinking back on that 1967 movie remember the seductive Mrs. Robinson, but, I, having a purer mind, remember the old boy who advised Dustin that the field to enter was plastics!

Oh, how right he was!  Plastic is used in so many different ways!  For instance, on our first trip to Alaska, driving along, we saw a house that had collapsed in the middle!  Innocent Cantabrigians that we are, we did not understand, until it was explained to us, that much of Alaska is subject to permafrost.  So, that the furnace in that particular house had melted through the permafrost, causing the collapse.  At a building supply company, shortly after, we observed huge slabs of plastic that are placed in cellar holes before the concrete is poured, to protect against such a catastrophe.

Come to think of it, because one end of our piano is up against an outside wall, when we moved here, I had inserted large slabs of plastic to protect it from possible dampness.

This is not to mention plastic bags, and other items, that pass through our hands every day!

And, I have in my wallet an amazing piece of plastic issued by the "T" - that is, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority - that allows me to slap it against a reader on the bus or at the subway station to allow me to pass through the turnstile, at the same time informing me how much money I have left on the card.  Periodically, I stop at the station at Harvard Square and add to the total.  Of course, the card, no doubt, has within it an electrical circuit, but I have no intention of shredding it to find out! 

And, of course, we should not forget that little slabs of plastic that so many financial institutions are constantly offering us!


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