At the end of my visit to my town’s brand-new supermarket the other day, the cashier said she would be more than happy to help me self-check-out my purchases.
I said, “No, thank you, I would prefer that you do that.” She said, “Actually, we prefer that the customers get into the habit of checking out their groceries.” I said, “Actually, I would prefer to never get into that habit. I would prefer that you handle the entire operation. You are the cashier. You are the vicar of groceries. You, not I, work here. So earn your money and ring up my purchases. And then bag them. Please.”
Are we entering a dark, deeply un-American era when we literally have to do everything for ourselves?
Bagging your own groceries is a pernicious tradition imported from France, where people have a history of cravenly submitting to authority. America, by contrast, was founded on the concept of service. It’s what we fought for at Yorktown and the Alamo. John Jay even wrote about it in “The Federalist Papers.”
Today, we’ve forgotten this and ignominiously kowtow. But why should I have to self-direct my 401(k) or judiciously select from an a la carte menu of health-care services? Why can’t somebody do this for me? If I knew anything about health, I’d still be healthy.
It doesn’t end there. To order tickets, why do I have to go online to a stupid, labyrinthine website and fumble through all those boxes and continually get a message reading “Insufficient Information” while I race against time to make my purchase before six minutes expire? In the good old days I simply said: “Two balcony tickets for the Dexys Midnight Runners Tribute Band.” When did the revered customer become a lowly data-entry specialist?
This debacle started with ATMs and bussing your own table and being forced to personally aggrandize yourself instead of relying on well-earned kudos from others. Then people took to those feverishly unhygienic delis where you have to construct your own salad by selecting festering legumes and gobs of goo from an open trough. I hate making my own salad. I never strike the proper balance between carbs and proteins. And I always forget the horseradish sauce. I prefer that my salad be made by professionals.
Another watershed moment in our long march toward retail serfdom kicked in when Americans began pumping their own gas and cleaning their own windshields and checking their own oil. True, in New Jersey, they pump the gas for you. It’s a state law. But Garden Staters only do this because they know that otherwise nobody would ever visit New Jersey.
In the supermarket, I started to imagine other nightmare scenarios. Will I now be expected to cobble my own shoes? Short my own stocks? Raise my own arches? Canalize my own roots? Diagnose my neuroses?
“I think I’m mentally ill, doctor.”
“Could you be a little more specific? We prefer that our patients analyze their own conditions.”
“Well, I think that I suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder, agoraphobia, profound insecurity about my height, and aphasia.”
“What course of treatment would you self-recommend?”
“I was hoping you might prescribe some medication.”
“We prefer that our patients self-medicate.”
“Fine, I’ll take a case of Oxytocin and six crates of Prozac.”
“Great. That’s $350, out of network. No checks.”
I don’t even want to think where this is headed. Am I going to have to haunt my own house? Watch my own whales? Turn on my own dime? And at the end, will I be expected to self-euthanize? Self-eulogize? Self-spread my own ashes in the Grand Canyon? Self-belt-out a highly personalized, knee-slapping rendition of “My Way” at my own graveside?
I’d rather self-destruct.