you more: A brave new world, right next to the salsa
true story by
I’d been in Tops before, and knew what to expect,
I couldn’t prepare my eyes for the shock of ten thousand
fluorescent tubes beaming down from the ceiling like golden
Jesus at Armageddon. Instinctively, my arm came up to block
the light, but I soon realized the futility of my actions
and allowed myself a chuckle. These lights were not ordinary,
and even if you closed your eyes as tight as you could,
and then cupped your hands over them, it would still be
ten times brighter than anything you’ve ever seen.
I staggered, blinded, past a massive pyramid of tea, I struggled
to remember my objectives…milk, bread, sleeping pills, mustard
greens for the tortoise, rubbers…
store was empty. I had always preferred night shopping to
day shopping. Much less bullshit, and no lines. You could
spend as much time as you wanted reading the magazines in
peace, without hordes of unruly kids elbowing everyone in
the drone of refrigerated cases there was no sound at all.
No radio, no squeaking shoes, no price gun clicking…nothing.
Normally, I would appreciate that kind of peace in a supermarket,
but something about the silence was eerie and unnerving.
I picked up the pace.
can do without the bread, I thought. I’m just
going to find the rubbers and get the hell out of here.
My own footsteps on the cold, sterile floor thrummed in
my ears. Somewhere, from many aisles over, there came a
raspy, sickly cough.
felt myself becoming unhinged. I glanced over my shoulder
as I walked. Great black domes of convex Plexiglas leered
down from the neon ceiling, and I knew that they were
watching, though I had no idea who they might be.
I wondered if they could see the beads of sweat on my forehead,
if they thought I was up to no good. I silently cursed them,
and kept moving.
picked up a loaf of bread only because I passed it. It wasn’t
exactly the kind of bread I would usually buy, but it would
have to do. It was grayish and covered in strange foreign
seeds. The loaf was more gourmet than what I was used to,
and I wondered if it would be any good for sandwiches.
attention was diverted upwards by the mechanical hum of
cogwheels, as one of the dome concealed cameras pivoted
above me. Those fucking bastards, I thought. Those
fucking bastards are suspicious of me taking this classy
bread. They know I shouldn’t be buying bread like this.
Those fuckers. They probably think I’m going to stuff it
in my pants, or they’re calling me a Mary for buying fancy
bread. They’re probably saying I think I’m a movie star
or something. Assholes…
was almost to the registers. On the wall before me loomed
four giant clocks with roman numerals; something like the
clocks you’d expect to find in a train station. They showed
the time in West Seneca, New York; Athens, Greece; Rome,
Italy and Baghdad, Iraq. It was 3:32 P.M. in Baghdad.
I neared the checkout, my eyes scanned the long row of registers
for an open one. There was only one, with four people in
the line. The first was an elderly man trying to fish change
out of a little rubber bulb. He removed a coin and studied
it for some time. He put it back in the pouch and continued
fishing. The cashier sighed audibly and started working
a rubber band into her hair.
next three people in line I assumed to be together, for
they chatted with each other as they examined the candy
racks. Each had an enormous cart overflowing with food.
Even the bottoms of their carts were packed with cans and
potatoes and everything else. Son of a bitch, I thought.
There’s no way out of this.
found my place at the back of the line, hoping that the
three women would see my paltry few groceries and let me
go ahead, but that never had the chance to happen. “The
self checkout is open,” the cashier informed me.
what?” I asked.
at the end. The self checkout.”
peered down the seemingly endless row of registers to see
if I could see what she was talking about.
other end!” She snapped. “Next to the carpet cleaning machines!”
self checkout was an area roughly the size of a living room,
with eight stainless steel registers in neat rows. Each
had a series of cameras fixed on them at every angle, with
a larger sinister dome camera above it all. Like the unblinking
eye of God, it bore down on the registers, and while it
was certainly powerful enough to read the date on a dime
which had fallen to the floor and rolled into a shadow,
that was not its purpose.
camera made me believe that it could see through my clothes,
through my flesh, and into my very soul. Every indiscretion,
every immoral thought I’d ever had was exposed. It compelled
me to confess all of my sins, to beg forgiveness for things
I hadn’t done, but merely thought about. The camera could
see through the folds of my brain to the seat of my consciousness.
I felt a stabbing pain in my stomach. I approached one of
the registers and my eyes were diverted to a thin LCD Screen.
A green arrow pointed down to a glass scanner flush with
the steel. A bright rotating laser cast threads of red light
across my chest.
scan your first item!” howled the machine.
booming female voice had taken me aback. I wanted to resist.
I yearned to lean close to the machine, to contemplate the
technology, but I was compelled to do what the voice commanded.
I was no longer in control.
fumbled with the mustard greens, turning them round and
round, trying to find the bar code.
scan your first item!” Roared the voice again.
incredible volume made me flinch. Why does it have to
be so goddamn loud? I thought, but at once I remembered
the great black eye and diverted my attention back to the
mustard greens, hoping that it hadn’t heard me.
slid the bag across the laser beam and there came an audible
“boing” from the machine
scan your next item!” yelled the voice.
quickly obliged, and ran the remaining items across the
laser. Each prompted a futuristic-sounding “boing” until
all the items were scanned. Sweating, I stood nervously,
waiting for my next order from the voice, not wanting to
do anything sudden or unexpected beneath the terrible eye.
your items in the bag!” The machine commanded. The green
arrow changed directions, and led my eyes to a block of
plastic bags hanging from a rack. I thought for a moment
about how I didn’t really need a bag because I only had
a few things, but I realized that I could not defy the will
of the machine. I swiftly loaded my things into a bag and
awaited further instructions.
the voice said next I didn’t fully understand, for even
as it spoke I noticed that the classy bread was at the bottom
of the bag, with other items lying atop it, mashing it down.
I started to panic. It’s going to fucking know! I
thought. It’s going to find out that the bread is on
the bottom getting mashed and that I’m not doing it right.
Shit! What was that last thing it told me to do? I didn’t
hear it, shit! I think it said put the money in the hole.
mashed some bills into the hole. Several agonizing seconds
went by as the machine tried to compute my money. The gentle
whirring of the laser relaxed me somewhat. It was like the
heartbeat of your mother from when you were in the womb,
a comfort you cant really remember if you try, but is always
somewhere inside you. The pulsating arrow on the LCD had
changed into the visage of a lovely woman holding a white
board. It read $0.63. There was a sound like someone getting
hit in the head with an iron, and sixty-three cents came
down a plastic chute.
Boomed the voice.
took the change and the bag and hurriedly moved toward the
exit, not daring to look up at the eye. I had done it. I
had pleased the voice…and the lights and the domes, the
men in suits and the machine had let me through. I had done
well, and my reward would soon be a fancy sandwich. I could
see the inviting darkness of the parking lot through the
doors just yards ahead. The beautiful, forgiving darkness.
I stepped through an arch of metal and plastic and suddenly,
as if the fist of God had come down and crushed me into
the concrete, a siren the likes of which I had never known
rang out, piercing my eardrums as colored lights sprang
to life around me, bathing me in a horrible blood-red glow.
knows…it fucking knows about the bread! I thought.
I had time to react, a man in a white shirt and tie appeared
behind me. “Can I see that bag?” he snarled. I handed him
the bag and held my breath, awaiting whatever fate the place
was preparing to deal me. I knew that I had no recourse.
There were no options. The eyes had seen. The secret ears
had heard. I hadn’t followed my orders and now this was
it. I had angered mother technology, the future all around.
The wires and thin cogs and beams and panels which control
everybody and everything and cannot be resisted were onto
me. Tops had used her technology to turn me into a nerve-wracked
bitch consumer slave and I knew it.
ahead,” Said the man, handing the bag back to me. “It was
the rubbers. You’re all set.”
course…” I answered. “The rubbers…”
Sorrenti usually shops at Wegman’s, but because of bad luck
and forces beyond his control, he was forced to go to Tops
for some things. Needless to say, he has not been back nor
is he planning to return to Tops ever, and has since gone
without sandwiches on occasion because there was no Wegman’s
around and the only thing close was a Tops and fuck those