Here’s to you, Billy Buck

Fire up the Wayback Machine. If you don’t remember the Wayback Machine, then you can probably stop reading this anyway.

The Wayback Machine belonged to Mr. Peabody. Actually I’m pretty sure he invented it. Mr. Peabody was a white dog who wore black eyeglasses. And a clip-on bow tie. It had to be a clip-on because he wasn’t wearing any clothes. He talked and acted like a professor, and he hung out with a sort of dumb kid with a high voice called Sherman. Some question of history would come up, and Mr. Peabody and Sherman would get into the Wayback Machine, and go back and check it out. Not only would they check it out, they would fix it. Like George Washington would be about to plant a cherry tree, and Mr. Peabody would suggest maybe he should cut it down instead. Or Charles Lindbergh was about to fly to New Jersey, and Mr. Peabody would suggest France.

So, Wayback Machine, August 29, 1986. The Red Sox are up three and a half games over the Yankees, and they are slipping. Again. They’re twenty games over five hundred, but they started the month twenty games over five hundred. They’re going nowhere. The Yankees, the #$%*&^@ Yankees, are on their heels. Yet another Red Sox season is slipping away.

And then what happens? For the next three weeks the Sox go on a tear. By September 18th they’re ten games up and the season is basically over. They clinch on the 28th.

What happened in those three weeks? This is what happened: Bill Buckner stepped up and carried the Red Sox. In those three weeks when a lot of the Sox were flailing around, Bill Buckner batted .350 with a .425 on-base percentage. He struck out exactly twice. In eighteen games he had twenty-one RBIs, that’s a 189 RBI pace. Eight home runs, that’s a 72 HR pace. He was the guy, when the ship was sinking, who didn’t panic. He provided the lifeline and the other Sox grabbed on and pulled themselves together and went on to the World Series.

Where, as we all know, Billy Buck made an error in Game 6. Actually, it was Bill Buckner who made the error. Before that, he was Billy Buck, he was one of the guys. After that, and ever since, he turned into Bill Buckner, some foreigner interloper, some goomer wearing idiot black high-tops because he could barely walk, whose only place in Red Sox history is that he lost the World Series.

If that’s what you choose to remember. But no one loses the World Series. No one lost the World Series. Baseball is a team game. McNamara pulled Clemens. Schiraldi couldn’t close out the Mets. Gary Carter refused to go down. Ditto Kevin Mitchell. Ditto Ray Knight. Bob Stanley made a wild-pitch; Rich Gedman didn’t catch it. The Sox didn’t get it done in Game 7. Team game.

In August, when the team called the Red Sox were foundering, Bill Buckner carried the team.

What does this have to do with recycling? Darned if I know. Somewhere the subject of Bill Buckner came up, and what I remember about Billy Buck is all those days and nights in August and September when you were biting your fingernails down to nothing because the Sox were choking AGAIN, and it was Billy Buck who came up with the hits that kept the team running, and eventually they ran away with it. Team game, team player.

Maybe that’s what it has to do with recycling, and with protecting the environment in general. Team game. We’re all pointed toward the same goals: keep usable stuff from being thrown away; make some money, save some money; keep resources in the economy. It’s a tough game; there are always Yankees with a better deal that’s not really a deal or a budget hammer or an easier way out. If we think we’re in it for ourselves, maybe we’ll start taking those deals. But if we keep on pulling toward the same goals, if we remember it’s a team game, we’ll get there, we’ll beat the damn Yankees.

Sometimes we’ll get it right: Billy Buck in August. Sometimes we’ll screw up: Bill Buckner, October 25. But it’s a team game. Remember that, and we all get ahead

Why We Recycle Mattresses, Sort Of

I had the great good fortune this spring to drive up and down long stretches of the Blue Ridge Parkway through North Carolina and Virginia. If you have never done that, you should; it is for sure one of the two or three most beautiful roads in the United States. You should drive it in the spring, before the leaves come out. Then it’s like winning the trifecta. You get long views over the mountains and foothills; you get the first blushes of greens clothing the mountainsides; and you get the incomparable bursts of white and color in the fruit trees and dogwoods and azaleas. You also get no people – you can drive for miles and miles and miles with this most beautiful road in America all to yourself.

Returning to New Hampshire from one of these trips, I had the equally good fortune to drive the Taconic Parkway up the east side of the Hudson River. Not the grand mountains and long views of the Blue Ridge, but just as beautiful in its own way. Rolling hillsides of orchards and woods and pasture, for miles and miles and miles. Rip van Winkle country, and for all the world little changed since his time.

That drive was pointed toward Northampton, Massachusetts, where I was giving a talk, about mattress recycling of all things. Now mattress recycling is not the most thrilling of topics. Especially when you get to talking about bedbugs, then it gets to be sort of gross. But what I was reminded, driving those days, through those landscapes, is that it’s not really about recycling. It’s not really about mattresses. It’s not really about the “waste stream”. It’s about this beautiful rich country and this one-of-a-kind planet.

Mattress recycling is about a way to live on this planet. It’s about a carry-in, carry-out policy toward Planet Earth. It’s about touching the Earth in our lives in a way that leaves it for others to enjoy after us.

The Blue Ridge wasn’t always the Blue Ridge. There was a time when it was logged and scraped bare, when it was a desolate landscape of stumps and tangled and rotting brush. The beautiful Blue Ridge I drove this spring is all second growth; it is a landscape recovered from gluttonous exploitation. And we’re still exploiting, as bad or worse than ever. Drive just a few ridges west from the Parkway and there are the stumps not of trees but of whole mountains scraped off and shoved into the valleys next door, to reach a coal seam a few feet thick. There are hundreds of square miles of these flattened mountains and used-to-be valleys (Google “mountaintop removal mining”). Drive a little north into Pennsylvania and there are whole landscapes toxified by mine tailings.

And that’s why mattress recycling is important. Recycling makes possible Blue Ridge Parkways. Not recycling produces mountaintop removal. Recycling makes possible landscapes like the Hudson Valley. Not recycling produces toxic mine dumps.

It’s not about the mattresses, it’s about the landscapes. It’s about using the Earth gently, about preserving landscapes for others to enjoy after us, about leaving them the resources to enjoy the Earth as we have. The Earth provides plenty of resources for us to do that, if we use the resources wisely.

That’s why we recycle mattresses.