Sunday, March 10, 2013

Grocery List

            I'm really glad that self checkout aisles are present nowadays in pretty much every major grocery store. Granted, there's still a clerk there sort of overseeing everything but I never feel like they're paying that much attention. Not that I'm ever buying anything that bad. I mean, I did say 'grocery store'. But there are certain items and/or combinations of items that I'd still be embarrassed to take up a regular cashier, that is. Food items even. I eat pretty healthily during the week but I like to pig-out on the weekends. I don't need anyone judging me for that. And while some of this judging may only exist in my head; some of it is still definitely for real. People talk. Especially in the breakroom. And who knows? One of these guys or gals might see me out on the street and think, 'There goes that guy who only bought a case of beer and three different kinds of potato chips with three different kinds of dip. I know he went home and just binged on that shit.' Which I did. Granted again, people really shouldn't buy or do things that they're not proud of. But hey; everyone's entitled to a little vice and debasement once in a while. I'm also a closet meat eater.
            Other items, sometimes, you only need one of. Girls have to deal with this a lot when it comes to their tampons. With me, it's usually a big pack of toilet paper though. And when you don't have a lot of money; finding extraneous items to mix in with the one item you actually went there for can be an unecessary financial strain. Still...if I walk up there with only a big pack of toilet paper (or even a little one); I can't help but imagine that everyone is picturing me wiping my ass or something. Just like when a lady in sweatpants only brings up a big pack of tampons (or even a little one); I can't help but think, 'Man, that bitch is really flowin'.' And so the self checkout helps to make this process just that much easier on the purchaser...which is great. Because grocery stores aren't like sex shops where the clerks are completely used to people buying dildos or pornos. There's no shame in that because that's exactly what a sex shop is for and everyone is in there to buy something to do with sex. But a grocery store is too public. There are just too many different kinds of individuals in there to ever feel comfortable buying only a huge jar of Vaseline. Not to mention, the lights are so bright. Personal lubricant, by the way, remains one item that I won't even take up to the self checkout. I buy KY online. No joke.
            Another reason that I wouldn't consider any of the sentiments above 'sheer paranoia' is because stores really do keep track of your shit nowadays. Like...I want to use my Safeway or my Fred Meyer card because that's the only way I'll get the fucking discount. But then they know everything. Forever. And if they choose to study those purchases; they can probably figure out shit about me. For instance, Fred Meyer may opt to send me some coupons for vitamins or dietary fiber supplements after they've tracked my selections and learned that, as an overgrown child, I still really don't like to eat my vegetables. And I might actually be apt to buy those vitamins. For all they know, my doctor just told me that I was anemic or something. If I had a doctor. Which I don't.
            A great example of this type of purchase tracking is that story that came out just a few months ago about the girl whose pregnancy was outed to her father by the kinds of coupons Target was sending her in the mail. Basically, they sent her a personalized coupon flyer ever month which I assume they now do for anyone who regularly pays with their 'Target card'. And her particular personalized flyer, the one her dad unwittingly intercepted from the mailbox, advertised numerous items (with pictures) that they now figured she'd be interested in buying. In this case, the items pertained mostly to her concealed pregnancy. Items like; cribs and diapers and shit. The truly beautiful part about all this though, from a marketer's perspective, is how Target was able to determine that she was pregnant in the first place. Obviously, if the girl was trying to keep this pregnancy a secret then she wasn't buying cribs and diapers and shit already. Rather, through some complicated computer algorithm, Target determined that the odds of her being pregnant were pretty good by other items she was buying in combination with each other. Less obvious items such as; unscented lotion and certain vitamin supplements and even items that would seem even more random if they didn't happen to be blue or pink. The truly amazing thing about this type of profiling though, and this is where I sort of drift from the original news article, is just how far they're about to take it...if they haven't taken it that far already. I predict that in the very near future, merchandisers will know this girl is pregnant before she even knows. Meaning, I believe that there are certain items that this person might buy subconsciously before even realizing that she's got a bun in the oven. Just the thought of this really freaks me out. It freaks me out that corporations and agencies could potentially know something about you before you even do. And what if it doesn't have to be something biological? What if it were something psychological? What if an organization could tell that you were depressed because you bought a whole bunch of candy and ice cream to go with your gallons of alcohol? What if they went even further and could somehow generate lists of potential terrorists or serial killers or child molesters based on items purchased that are less obvious than nitroglycerin, lye, and My Little Pony's respectively? I'm sure such profiling already exists. It's just that it's going to become more detailed and all-encompassing. Omnipresent even.   
            So let's digress a bit...all the way back to my usually being strapped for cash and therefore buying only items that I need right there and then. This incident occcured over 10 years ago, mind you, and the most interesting part (to me) is that I would never have been able to muster up the courage to do it again. One reason for this is that I live in Portland now which looks like a big city but is actually a small town...or at least it has that feel. Like; I'm always running into people I know on the streets. And I don't even know that many people! I see the same people too in different parts of the city. And even if I don't know them personally; I'll say to myself, 'Oh, there's that one dude from that one time or place. I know I've seen him a couple of other times too. Wonder what he's doing on this side of town today.' So I figure people do the same thing when they see me; observant people, anyway. People with moderately functioning memories. In other words; the people that are worth worrying about. And they probably say, 'Oh. There goes that one pretentious looking douche bag. Wonder what he's up to today. Probably just being a douche.' And so forth. Whereas in Florida (where I lived at the time of this occurrance); there are so many people crammed into the greater Tampa, Clearwater, St. Pete area that even in my own neighborhood or usual circles, it seemed I never saw the same person twice. Which was great. I loved the anonymity. It allowed me to feel less embarrassed and somewhat relieved the worry of having to go in and buy the only two items I needed that night. Condoms were one of these items. I guess that that was predicatable enough. I remember stopping into a Walgreens on my way home from work with the feeling that I was in some sort of a there was a date with a potentially new girlfriend that I was late for or something. Otherwise I probably would have just gone directly across the street to Eckerd's or Rite Aid or whatever it was at that time in order to purchase the other item on my list. The condoms; I remember they kept behind the counter for the very reason that they were a commonly stolen item for the very reason that they can often be embarrassing to purchase...especially from an attractive member of the opposite sex, I found. In this case, though, there were not one but two people behind the counter. One of them was an attractive blonde. The other; just some nerdy looking guy. And thankfully, thank God, there weren't any other customers in the store this least not any anywhere near the front cash register.
            The other item, I had to walk down an aisle to find. And I held it in my hand but kind of low as I approached the counter. I then asked for the condoms by specifying the color of the box and addressing neither of them specifically. It was the girl who turned around to retrieve them though. Apparently, this was a team effort. A two man job. And because of this, the guy remained at the register ready to ring up my other item (prematurely, in my opinion). We're talking only a matter of a few extra seconds here but they were full of shame and feeling like a creep. I tried not only to not make any eye contact with either employee but...there was something more to it than that. I tried not to make eye contact with anything at all...if that makes any sense. Like; I sort of had to fall back into myself. I had to pull back from reality a bit. I tried not to idenitfy the counter as being a counter or the store as being a store. Then I tried to go all Alan Watts on that shit by telling myself that the counter was was the were my were the people working in it. And if everything was one; then what did I have to be embarrassed about? Nothing really. I tried these approaches all in the matter of those few extra seconds that it took her to retrieve the condoms while the guy rang up my other item; the dog treats. Needless to say; neither of those approaches really worked. I hope my dog appreciates what a great owner I am, though, because I practically ran the fuck out of there.