Already in the System

For me a trip to the mall is something akin to seeing the dentist: most times I’d rather just skip it.  But there was no getting around this visit.  I was after bedding, something no longer available in town–at least at prices that don’t feel like tooth extraction.  I bit my tongue and pushed through the double doors, smack into the jowls “big box” bedding.  I was greeted by a tidal wave of prints and plastic packaging.  It just seemed too MUCH!

I walked toward an area that seemed promising, and waded in.  The choices ranged from flannel, cotton, polyester, cotton blend, and silk, to striped, dotted, flecked, splashed and patterned.  Then there was the confusing tableau of size, color, depth, thread-count, and etc.  Tiring precipitously, I grabbed something plain, vaguely off-white (and hopefully the right size), and bolted to the register.  This would be quick.  There were two people in line.

And then I heard it: the first customer parroting his phone number to an inquiring cashier. I assumed they were not contemplating a date.  And I knew–for me at least, this was well into the realm of the personal.   This guy’s purchase consisted of hand towels, or something in terry cloth—about as impersonal as a quart of milk.   “It’s none of your business,” I thought.  The towel man soon had his plastic bag and receipt.  He moved on.  Maybe we’d all call him at home.  I started to do a little burn.

But then–I was saved.  “THANK YOU!” to the woman in front of me at the check-out.  When asked her phone number as the transaction commenced, she replied, “Oh, I’m already in the system.”  A light went on in my head.  “YES!”  I’m already in the system!  Here at last was the sweet rejoinder to every prying, annoying request for phone numbers, postal codes, maiden names–makes, models and plate numbers.  Here was a reply that would play as well on Main Street as at the mall.  Wall Street be damned, “I’m already in the system.”  The transaction proceeded seamlessly. 

 I started practicing.  Of course I was going to lie, but I wouldn’t have to sound uncooperative–not have to feel I was single-handedly challenging the global, free trade megalith.  Instead of tensing-up at the thought of disappointing a blameless cashier with, “I don’t give out that information,” I’d smile and chirp, “Already in the system!”   

In these days of security cameras, credit monitors, warrantless phone sweeps, pre-flight searches, thousand-mile border fences and vigilante boundary guards—I just want to keep a few boundaries around me.  The point for me is not to become another point, or series of data points.  The rub is not to be the rat in the grid: “Oh, he’s buying THOSE now,” blinks a message toward buyers in China or India, or Pakistan, “Make more of THOSE for him.” Maybe I don’t even like THOSE, or I am buying THEM for someone else and the world doesn’t need anymore of THOSE.  Maybe THOSE are already next week’s schlock and the planet would be much better off if we stopped making THOSE, or if we figured out how, once again, to make THEM nearer home.

The product–which the “friendly“ system was concerned enough about to ask my phone number, was a full-size, fitted, bottom sheet.  And yes, they used to make THOSE ten miles up the road.  I imagined them calling at night, “Mr. Meyer, hello.  Oh, sorry sir—you were sleeping.  Just wanted to check on that sheet.”   Nope, I would not be offering up any bites of personal data this day.  My sleep preferences–for now least, would remain my little secret.

As the “already in the system” woman completed her purchase I thanked her.  I was honest about my intended plagiarism, “I’m going to use that.”  She smiled, somewhat knowingly, but added, “Well, I really am.”  In explanation I offered my thoughts on out-of-control data collection.  “You’re quite welcome,” she smiled again.  The cashier eyed me as I stepped to the plate.  Before she could begin, we each raised an eyebrow.  “I know,” she said wearily.  Our transaction was seamless.