Published: Nov 17, 2016 12:00:00 PM

pumpkin-nogI caught a look at People Magazine's cover while standing in line to check out at the grocery store. I don't blame Donald Trump's win over Hillary Clinton at the electoral college on middle America or economic anxiety.

I blame it on supermarket checkouts. I blame it on rumors. I blame it eight different types of gum, both the chewing- and bubble-gum variants. I blame it on Rolos with caramel on the inside and chocolate on the outside. I blame it on lines rocked to a standstill with nothing but US Weekly to artfully lead your brain to unhappiness. I blame it on the sight of $100 gift cards to Steam, PSN, iTunes, and Google Play dangling on hooks.

I blame it on the supermarket's death grip on our national psyche. 

\\\ There's no escape in the supermarket checkout.

I grew up on a dirt road to the south of a sheep farm and to the north of another sheep farm. It was an hour to the nearest Wal-Mart, an hour to the nearest airport, and an hour to the nearest interstate on-ramp. It was also a long way from the nearest billboard. Thought pollution was minimal.

That all changes the moment you step into a supermarket though. It changes the moment you attempt to check out at the supermarket.

Looking up and down the aisles to pay for your food, you'll craft a thought usually reserved for the TSA workers at Newark airport: "Why are there so many checkout lanes and they are never all open?"

I won't go into the plight of the hourly minimum wage employees required to operate those sprawling checkout lanes while the tax-dodging, draft-dodging, carnival barker president-elect's truly-terrified face is immortalized on film during his first visit to the White House. That story tells itself.

Instead, I will detail captivity's power upon the American consumer. There is no escape from your station in life while in a supermarket checkout. You are faced with what western civilization has taught is above you: celebrity's glossy-photos on a magazine cover. You are faced with what you might feel is beneath you: the poor kid, or perhaps adult, running the barcoded goods over the scanner to get you on your way.

And you're faced with racks of literal poison in candy that one magazine said, "You deserve to cheat," and another says, "If you cheat, you're weak garbage."

There is no escape. You need food. To get food, you must go through this checkout rich in reminders.

You're reminded you hate the people poorer than you wasting your time, slowly scanning your hard-earned over-priced merchandise, when you just want to be on your way.

You're reminded you hate people richer than you whining about their crumbling marriages on six different magazines, like their lives are so fucking hard, you're over here eating discount kidney beans and cube steak.

You hate yourself for wanting candy.

You hate the sound of chewing gum inside your own skull. You remember you have plaque and keep chewing the Trident in hopes it'll make up for the minimal flossing.

You hate the retiree opening up their checkbook to write a goddamn check for Mr. Coffee filters and Elmer's glue.

You realize she's probably buying art supplies for their grandkids because it's almost Thanksgiving. You feel like shit just as it's your turn to look the checker in the eye and pay.

\\ What would happen if there was no supermarket checkout?

First, you would lose a great deal of those in-born feelings. You could invest that emotional energy elsewhere. Can you even imagine?

Supermarkets need to be rethought on a conceptual level. Their entire flow and purpose needs a rebuild.

We need an Uber for supermarkets. No, gross.

We need an Amazon for supermarkets. Eh, not quite.

We need an E-Z Pass for supermarkets. Close enough.

Imagine walking into a store. You clip your phone onto the cart. It reads the companion app to find your pre-built shopping list. If you don't have a list, it offers to pick from a previous visit's list. The app checks the geolocator for other shoppers, noting potential choke points in the aisles, and maps you the best route to the exact locations on shelves for what you want. You set out.

The app syncs your shopping list against your Mint account to confirm you aren't going over budget as you drop items into your cart. IR scanners beep in recognition, each item accounted for. Store workers formerly devoted to checkout lanes help weigh and package produce and meat. Packages are scanned and added into your cart.

Finishing your trip in record time thanks to knowing exactly where things are and avoiding other packs of shoppers, you arrive at the quarter-acre of floor space formerly devoted to checkout lanes. Instead, there are a series of confirmational gates to give your purchases one last scan. You don't even slow down. You depart the store unmolested.

\ This is pure fantasy because capitalism is built on confused impulse buys.

Are you kidding? You aren't qualified to figure out what you want or need to buy! That shit's complicated.

No, please, believe in Star Market to recommend the most, best, most tremendous, supreme brands, the most trusted brands that you and your family need. At the best prices.

Fuck consumerism for tricking the cowardly, the gullible, and the under-educated.

Candy, and magazines, and brain pollution are the endorphin rush promised upon completing a task as unpleasant as traveling to the store and enduring the checkout gauntlet. What if that experience was consumer-friendly? What if it wasn't teaching discomfort with one hand and triggering Pavlovian-based salivation with the other. What if going to the supermarket wasn't built on an experience perfected during an era that Ken Burns' "Baseball" documentary described as "The Rise of the Negro Leagues?"

What if? The schlock news rumor mill would wither. Print media would continue its desperate downward spiral. Gum sales would crater. Consumers might even be in a happier state and be truly motivated to buy more.

I bet dentistry bills would drop nationwide.

-- Alex Crumb
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