If it weren’t for traffic and shopping I might, possibly, have some hope for humanity. But both traffic and shopping leads me to believe there isn’t any redemption for human beings as a species. The way we get to where we’re going and the way that we buy our food and stuff we need, and stuff we do not need, doesn’t lend itself to any optimism on my part, and quite frankly I think things are getting a lot worse than they once were. In a million years or so, when alien land here and start trying to figure out what went wrong and how we killed ourselves, traffic and shopping are going to be the two leading theories.
To wit: I was stuck in early morning traffic. This is a four lane road with a middle lane for turning, but that middle lane is always stacked with people trying to turn so it’s best to avoid this area. The car ahead of me turned on its right turn signal but didn’t get over into the middle turning lane because it was full. The car slows down, stops, and then turns on its emergency flashers. And the driver is trying to wait out the traffic in the middle turning lane by shutting down the traffic in the right lane. Then he decides to get out of the mess by getting over in the left lane. He starts out at five miles an hour, left blinker on, bumper to bumper traffic in all lanes, and he’s trying to make a left from the right lane. He gets to the traffic light and forces his way over when the left arrow turns green. Why not go up a couple of blocks where the traffic isn’t nearly as bad and then cut around the block? No, he has to do what he has to do right there in the middle of a crowd.
Then there is the woman in the grocery store in line ahead of me yesterday. She’s bought a million different items and she’s coaching the guy bagging this stuff on how to bag each item as it is rung up. She’s standing there telling him how to put everything in bags, double bagging things like white bread and a box of crackers, but she’s going to get every one of those little plastic bags that she can out of this deal. She wants the dude to bag twelve packs of soft drinks that are already in cardboard boxes. She wants a plastic container of cookies to be in its own plastic cocoon. She’s standing guard over this process and as the guy is bagging the cookies she reaches over to grab them and they go flying. Now he has to go get another container of cookies for her and we’re all just standing there watching each other’s souls dying slowly because this woman wants more of those little plastic bags than anyone will need in a lifetime. The aliens will find her body buried, ceremonially, in a labyrinth constructed of little plastic bags, and deduce that someone garroted her with one.
And get this now: here we all are, captive to her dalliance with little plastic bags, and after she is finally done with all this, after making the poor guy bagging put one hundred items in one hundred twenty-seven bags, she then decides to get her credit card out and pay for the stuff, and grumbles, “I didn’t come here to spend all goddam day in the goddam store”.
I wonder what this woman is like at home. I mean, after she unloads all these little plastic bags, what on earth is she like past that point? Is she a happy person? Is there someone out there who loves here? Is it as difficult to bring her to orgasm as it is to make her happy in a store? That’s a thought right there that might be worth tracking; are these people so self-absorbed during sex their partners are left sitting there with their blinkers on never to reach their own destinations?
Have we finally gotten to the point where we have considered the world to be made up of those little plastic bags, that each moment is disposable, that each person we encounter is there only to perform a function, or service, and then we pass on by, as if those people are no more than traffic signals, obstructions to out uncommon goals which only benefits the person behind the wheel or the person buying the stuff? We’ve become detached from any sense of kinship with our fellow travelers and those who sell us food. Once, those with whom you rode and those you dealt with for food were important people, not just disposable moments.
I don’t shop. I raid. I go in. I get out. I know what I want and I know where it is. But I never make the lives of the people who work in stores more miserable than it already is, and I try to let them know I see them as human beings. Hey, how are you? Those earrings look great on you. Just put everything you can in one bag if you can, it’s okay it you can’t, stay out of trouble while I’m gone.
There was never a flock of geese, evil creatures that they are, who rammed into one another, blocked each other’s paths, showed a certain sense of obliviousness for destination or took more than was needed in the name of senselessness or selfishness. No school of fish ever came to a standstill for the sake of one who decided not to move. It’s to the point I wonder if only by obstruction or destruction, or abuse, do people define themselves beyond the heard or flock or school. It’s as if the only sense of individualism comes from the total disregard for others and the total lack of respect for the common good.
We were not meant to be fish or geese, evil creatures that they are, or colony insects without faces or being. But we do not become distinctive or unique through acts of depreciation of others, who are in the end, very much like ourselves.