People are strange when you’re a stranger
Faces look ugly when you’re alone
Women seem wicked when you’re unwanted
Streets are uneven when you’re down
From my blog (I called it an “Online Journal” then), The Daily Epiphany, Thursday, February 13, 2003
It had been a long, tiring day at work. A cold drizzle fell and the traffic was terrible. The hidden invisible sun set behind the darkening gray dusk so that it was night before I negotiated the endless streams of brakelights to reach my neighborhood. I had an errand to run, some item to buy (I don’t even remember what it was, now) and had little choice but to stop by the Albertson’s grocery in my neighborhood.
I don’t usually go to Albertson’s – it’s on my boycott list. In order to get their sales price on an item – you have to have a special discount card. That’s a bar-coded dohickey (most people carry a little teardrop-shaped fleck of plastic on their keychain instead of an actual rectangular wallet-card) that is issued to you once you fill out an invasive survey – sucking out all sorts of personal information. They use this to track your buying habits – and to target advertising (Spam? Telemarketing calls?) right at you.
This is something I don’t like and won’t do. Candy has filled this out and received her card – so I suppose I should too – the harm’s already been done. Or, better yet, I could fill one out with false information (Name – Dixie Normous, Address – 1600 Pennsylvania, Income – More than you can imagine…. that sort of thing) and then I’d have my barcode on my keychain and I could use the grocery closest to my house. But I won’t. It’s the principle of the thing.
At any rate, today I was too tired to drive an extra block and the item I needed wouldn’t be on sale (I remember that, though I don’t remember what it was) so I gave up my principles pulled in and shambled around the displays of peat moss, pass the giant entryway bulletin board covered with magazine come-ons and through the door into that odd stale produce, moldy ice, and sweat smell of a second-rate grocery store.
I hadn’t been in Albertson’s for a long time, but I didn’t remember how ugly everyone was. A grocery store at that time is a depressing place – people are all stopping off on their way home from work – yet it is late enough to only catch the people that work long hours. Most are buying cigarettes and microwaveable food. Unfortunately and unbelievably, it’s dry where I live and you can’t even pick up some wine or a six-pack. The best you can do is some frozen pizza-pockets, Marlborogh Lites, and maybe orange juice.
There is a resigned sullen shuffling quality to everybody. Their clothes are cheap and stained, faces fallen, wanting to get home. The Muzak is drowned by squeaking cart-wheels and crying children and the only words heard are, “Price check on vaginal anti-yeast cream” or the ubiquitous “Paper or plastic.”
The cash-only five-items-or-less line snaked way out but I knew it would be quicker than the other lines clogged with overflowing carts, food stamps, and bad checks. Still, the woman in front of me slowed everything down when the discount card on her keychain wouldn’t register on the barcode reader. The checkout clerk with bad skin huffed and carefully punched in the long list of numbers printed below the bars. It took him five tries to get it right.
I still can’t remember what it was that I bought.
And a piece of flash fiction for today: