the smell of my desperation has become a stench

Outsourced Caring™

(UPDATE: I opened up comments because I seem to have struck a nerve.)

I thought that instead of regaling you with stories about our very low-key Thanksgiving holiday — lots of butter, high fructose corn syrup, and the occasional bucket of Crisco — I would treat you to a cute little tale about inconvenience, aggression, and me losing my shit all over a complete stranger, albeit one who totally deserved it. Think of it as my way of spreading a little holiday cheer, like a roll of used toilet paper tossed high above a Christmas tree.

Last Wednesday night I had to make a late-evening run to the grocery store to pick up some ingredients we needed to make the creamed onion dish we’d been assigned to bring to Grandma’s house for Thanksgiving dinner. Because I was also out of my very special organic cereal, the one with the whole grains and blueberry clusters, the one that has enough dietary fiber to kill a horse, I decided to go to the grocery store that is further from our house than our normal grocery store as it is the only one of the two that carries this cereal. I know that the extra gasoline I spent driving that longer distance totally cancels out any good I am doing by buying organic, but that isn’t what keeps me awake at night. This is:

So here is where I switch to present tense because I keep reliving the horror over and over again, as if what happened that night is happening again right now. And I am normally the person in this family who just gets over these types of things, the one who is incapable of holding a grudge, whereas Jon is still mad at a mosquito that bit him on a camping trip in second grade.

So there I am chasing Leta through the grocery store, burning thousands of brain calories as I try to locate ingredients while simultaneously keeping track of a three-year-old who will not stand still. And no, do not send me email asking why I don’t just put her in a shopping cart already, because we’ve tried that, and the result was like pouring sand into a spaghetti strainer. A loud, screaming spaghetti strainer. With claws.

Thirty minutes and a basket full of bulky boxes later we head to checkout, and by this time I’ve got sweat dripping down the back of my neck, and all I want to do is set down this heavy basket and catch my breath for a second. Part of the reason I don’t normally shop at this grocery store is because of its enormity, because there are far too many places for Leta to hide, far too many miles in between those two things that I need, and by the time I’m done shopping I’ve got shin splints.

Another reason I don’t like shopping here is the fact that they force customers to use the self-checkout machines. Poorly designed, unusable self-checkout machines that routinely eat fingers. And when Leta and I walk to the front of the store we find that they have only one regular checkout open in an attempt to force almost everyone into two 12-person lines for the self-checkout machines. This is what Jon refers to as Outsourced Caringâ„¢, when a company cannot be bothered anymore with basic service and hires someone else to do the caring for them. It’s why you’re always getting transferred to someone else when you call customer service, because the person who answered the phone doesn’t get paid to care.

In this instance they are so fed up with caring that they’ve hired ROBOTS.

Now, I understand why self-checkout machines are a good idea. Ideally they’re supposed to save the store money because you’re doing the work someone else would have to be paid to do, and eventually this might trickle down and affect the price of those pickles you just bought. But this is PLANET EARTH where no such thing as IDEAL actually exists, and these particular self-checkout machines are so fundamentally broken that it takes the average person no less than 15 minutes to pay for an apple.

So it’s finally my turn to walk up to a machine with my bulky basket and jittery child, and I start to panic a little bit because I haven’t ever had to operate this towering piece of crap while also trying to manage a toddler. With limbs. And a brain independent of mine that operates those limbs. And at first, everything goes okay, I scan a box of cereal and it reads aloud a price. But then Leta touches that box of cereal with her finger and all of a sudden the machine starts to have a seizure.

“PLEASE PUT THE ITEM BACK IN THE BAG!” it shouts at me AS IF IT IS LOOKING DIRECTLY INTO MY SOUL.

But the cereal is still sitting in the bag, I have not taken it out, so this machine has clearly lost its mind.

Not knowing exactly what to do, I remove the cereal and then put it back again, just to make the machine happy. But apparently the machine was mistaken. That is not what it wanted at all. It wanted me to re-scan the item, or excuse me, RE-SCAN THE ITEM! RE-SCAN THE ITEM! as clearly its voice has been programmed by someone who forgot to turn off caps-lock.

I gladly re-scan my box of organic cereal only to be told to PLEASE WAIT FOR ASSISTANCE! and then I hear a loud voice over my right shoulder scream, “TELL YOUR KID TO STOP TOUCHING THE MACHINE!” And the word KID is pronounced like it is some sort of vaginal discharge.

I look down to see that Leta has rested her hand on what looks like a railing but what is apparently not a railing at all. It is a test! A test to see if she will be tempted by its resemblance to the railing along the stairs at home and reach out to touch it. And because it is illegal to shock anyone under the age of eight, the machine instead punishes me. And forces me to rescan all of my groceries.

This goes on for twenty minutes: the machine yelling at me, me trying to please the machine, the machine giving up and having the human yell at me about my kid. Around and around we go because every time Leta even so much as looks at the machine it tells the human that we’re cheating. Until finally I go to scan my debit card AND IT CANNOT READ IT. That’s when the human is forced to care and walks over to manually finish the checkout for me, and it is obvious she is not happy about having to care, it was not a part of her training.

Oddly, I’ve never been trained to tell someone that their machine needs a right good fucking, but I manage to do it as if everything in my life has been leading up to this exact moment.

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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