Friday, February 15, 2008

Checkout Lines

The back story to this little conversation requires a brief diatribe, about how I think credit cards are kind of pure evil. I mean, I don't even know if I believe in that word anymore, evil, and yet... what do you call something that exists to prey on others' weakness. Cause that's what credit card companies are about, predatory practice. This goes beyond the casualties of capitalism when its practiced with cold impartiality. This is business that encourages weakness. Your mistakes are their gains (credit history problems, failure to pay on time, etc. = higher interest rates, more profit for them). In other words, it's in their best interests for you to fuck up, and what kind of relationship could you build on the foundation of one wanting the other to fail? One very similar to the relationship between mice and hawks.

So the fact that every retail joint, from clothing shops to hardware stores, is trying to get in on the act now irritates me a bit. To the point where even though making small talk with store employees is one of my favorite things to do, the second they ask me if I want a store credit card, gregarious Dan vanishes as quickly as he appeared. My eyes go cold, my lips shut at a perturbed angle, the fountain of friendly dries up and both of us look at the ground while the stink of what just happened hovers in the air as if one of us just shit his pants and neither wants to acknowledge it.

So today. Me at the checkout line, just trying to get my groceries. Everything's going well. Items are being scanned, chit chat is being chut. And then he says it.

Clerk: [Bagging my stuff, not looking up.] Would you like to save 10 percent off your purchase today by opening a Meijer credit card?

Me: [Brief silence. Consider just not talking to him anymore. Then,] Yeah, no.

Clerk: [Still not looking up.] It's tempting huh, but today you'll pass?

Me: Not really.

Clerk: [Still not looking up.] Maybe next time then.

Me: I think that credit cards are bad. They're bad for people.

Clerk: [Still not looking up.] Yeah, especially when people apply for them in your name without telling you.

Me: Well, there's that, but...

Clerk: [Still not looking up.] Yeah, my brother took out three in my name and I got tagged with $40,000 in debt.

Me: Whoa. Serious?

Clerk: [Stops what he's doing. Looks around first, then at me.] Yeah. I can barely stand to say that part about the credit card thing. But I have to.

Me: Why?

Clerk: Because they send decoy customers through the lines, people who work for the store but are undercover, just making sure you're saying all this stuff. They have a list, are you doing this, are you doing that...

Me: What happens when you do all the things right on their list.

Clerk: They compliment you.

How bad does that suck? The guy is working this depressing job, trying to pay off the whale of debt that his brother stuck him with, and the degrading irony is that he's forced to pitch people credit cards. It's practically mythological. Like when Prometheus stole fire from the gods and the payback was him getting chained to a rock where his regenerating insides are eaten daily by vultures.

Maybe not that bad. But pretty bad.

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