I stopped at a small boutique after work to buy my friend, Vanessa, a package of eucalyptus Epsom salts for a gift.
A young man was standing behind the counter at the front of the store, typing on a computer. I approached him to pay.
“Hello, sir,” he said, smiling at me as I set the Epsom salts on the counter. “Will that be all?”
“That’s it,” I said.
He starting typing on the computer, his fingers rattling over the keys as if he were typesetting the collected works of Shakespeare. I stared at him as he stared at the screen.
“OK. Perfect.” The clerk picked up the package of Epsom salts and studied it, his lips scrunched. Then he set it back down and continued to type.
Again, I stared at him as he stared at the screen.
“Can’t you just scan a barcode, or something?” I asked, as the clerk continued to type.
He glanced at me. “I’m sorry?”
“Nothing. Please continue.”
The clerk turned back to his screen and continued typing. I stared at him as he stared at the screen.
Finally, I sighed and said, “I’m sorry, but could you possibly take a break from writing the Great American Novel and ring me up, here? I’m late for dinner.”
The clerk glanced at me. “I’m sorry?”
“You should give you fingers a rest,” I said. “Even Stephen King doesn’t write that much in a day.”
“I’m just setting up the transaction, sir. We’ll have you out of here in an instant.”
“An instant, or an epoch?” I asked. “Because dinosaurs were still ruling the planet when you started ringing me up. A triceratops was driving the taxicab that brought me here.”
But the clerk didn’t hear me. He was too busy typing.
I knew the Epsom salts cost $12, plus a little more with tax. So as the clerk typed, I took out my wallet and extracted a twenty, just to get ahead of the game.
“OK, sir.” The clerk finally stopped typing and glanced at me. “Can I get your first and last name, please?”
“I’m paying with cash,” I said, handing him the twenty.
“Yes, well, I still need your first and last name, please.” His fingers hovered over the keyboard, like tiny snakes poised to strike.
“You don’t need my first and last name because I’m paying with cash,” I said, holding the twenty for him to see.
“But the computer is asking me for your first and last name.”
I took a long, deep breath. “And why is the computer asking for my first and last name?”
“Because I need to set you up with an account. Sir.”
“But I don’t want an account. Son. I just want to pay for my item and leave.”
“I … oh.” The clerk stared at the monitor, scratching his chin. “Yeah … um … the thing is, the computer is prompting me to create an account for you.”
I glared at him, a vein forming in my forehead. “Then tell the computer I don’t want an account.”
The clerk’s forehead wrinkled as he stared intently at the monitor. “I’m not seeing an option to do that, sir.”
“So the computer dictates the narrative?” I asked. “The computer writes the play, and we act out the parts? The computer issues a royal proclamation, and every peasant in the kingdom must bow down and abide? Is that what you’re saying? The computer is an all-powerful, almighty force whose will must be obeyed without objection or question?”
The clerk didn’t answer. He was too busy staring at the monitor.
“I’m paying for this in cash, whether the computer wants me to or not,” I said. “So either you bypass the prompt, or I’ll take my business elsewhere.”
“Are you sure you don’t want to create an account?” the clerk asked me, tilting his head. “You’ll get five percent off your next purchase if you do.”
The vein that had formed in my forehead started to pulsate. “I just want to pay for my purchase and leave. That’s all I want to do. I want to give you American currency in exchange for a product, and I want to leave the premises with said product in hand. You don’t even have to bag the damn thing. At this point, I just want to get the hell out of here.”
“I’m sorry you don’t want to save five percent on your next purchase, sir. You’re missing out.” The clerk started to type manically on the keyboard. I stared at him as he stared at the screen.
I didn’t realize it, but my right hand, which was resting on the counter, was curling into a fist.
“Well?” I asked, when the clerk finally stopped typing.
“You’re not going to like this,” he said, clucking his tongue, “but I can’t bypass the prompt.”
I stared at him, my body trembling. I sucked in a long breath and then blew it our for 10 seconds.
The clerk frowned. “Are you OK, sir?”
“I’m not a violent person,” I said, “but right now, I’m resisting the urge to leap this counter and knock out your teeth with this bag of Epsom salts.”
“If you don’t want to use your real name, do you just want to give me an alias?” the clerk asked. “If I put an alias into the system, maybe I can bypass the prompt.”
The vein protruding from my forehead now had its own heartbeat. “I just want to pay with cash.”
“I understand that, sir, but the computer won’t let me bypass the prompt. If you can just give me a first and last name for the system, I can ring you up and get you out of here.”
I glared at him, raking my teeth over my lower lip. “First name: Joe-Mama. Last name: Izahoe.”
The clerk raised his eyebrows. “Izahow?”
“Izahoe. Is. A. Hoe. Izahoe.”
“Oh.” He gazed at the monitor, typing. “Any relation to the Izahoes in North Carolina? My parents used to golf with a John and Clarice Izahoe.”
“Just type in the damn name,” I said, growling.
The clerk continued typing for another seven minutes. I stared at him as he stared at the screen.
By now, the vein in my forehead was going into cardiac arrest.
“OK,” the clerk said, “I think we got it. The computer’s just asking me for your street address, home phone number, work phone number, e-mail address, Social Security Number, Twitter handle, Facebook profile, and the name of your favorite childhood pet.”
The clerk looked up. “Sir? Sir? Where did you go?”
He looked over the counter to find me lying on the floor, curled up in the fetal position. I was holding my aching forehead in my hands.
“Are you OK, Mr. Izahoe?” the clerk asked.
“I have a splitting headache,” I said, my voice soft.
“Oh,” the clerk said. “You know what you should do? You should take an Epsom salt bath when you get home. The minerals are supposed to soak into your skin and help relieve stress.”
I mumbled something.
The clerk leaned farther over the counter. “I’m sorry, sir? I didn’t catch that.”
I mumbled the same thing again.
“Well!” the clerk said, standing up and frowning. “That was uncalled for! I don’t intend to shove the Epsom bath salts anywhere!”
And with that, he turned to his computer and started typing, angrily.