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I read the list of active ingredients in the cough medicine to make sure it’s got the drug that helps me get to sleep. Dyphenhydramine, check, not the imposter doxylamine succinate. Drug in hand, I head for the candy aisle, a box of Dots my 600 empty calories of reward for taking care of a basic errand.
As I move through the aisles, I see a man in multiple tattered hoodies snake his hand behind the plastic shield guarding the shelf of deodorants. I do the same move myself when I need them. What a bizarre system, to have to press a button to trigger an announcement on the in-store PA to tell an employee to come unlock the guard system for basic human necessities. Not to mention, the employee often never arrives. What a barbaric society, I think, that the razors and deodorants are hidden behind lock and key. In a just world, or even one with basic human dignity, these items would be given away for free. Instead, just a few paces from the counter where they dole out opioids, Old Spice is locked behind a protective screen like priceless jewels. This poor guy is probably using the few bucks he was able to panhandle so that he can smell slightly less straight-off-the-street when he tries to land himself a job.
What a fucked up time. What a fucked up place. It’s the kind of thing that can keep me up at night. I squeeze the precious dyphenhydramine.
Then, the man angles his back toward the round mirror affixed to the ceiling, an apparatus of the big-box pharmacy panopticon. He slips the Old Spice into the pocket of his second layered hoody.
What do I care? He doesn’t look to me, but I almost wish he does, so that I can give him a nod of affirmation, a little indication that I’m on his side, I’m one of the good ones, fuck the system, fuck Capitalism, fuck all of this. Good for him, stealing what they clearly hold so dear, the basic human necessity that the cruel corporate logic of loss prevention demands is locked away. Even the Robitussin—which can actually get you high!—is right there, free, naked on the shelf. This guy is probably trying to make his life better, he’s not chugging from a bottle and laying in filth to Robo-trip. And, even if he was, good for him! Seize whatever means of escape you can from the continental prison yard, forget the boot on your neck however you can.
But he’s not even doing that. He’s just trying to smell respectable.
I do nothing.
I think for a moment as I snag the Dots from the shelf that I should steal my Nyquil too. I should do my part to impact the bottom line, to strike back in whatever way I can at this unjust, inhumane, dehumanizing society. I toy with the idea, hover the Nyquil around my pants pocket.
I wait in line with Nyquil and Dots in hand, glancing idly at the odd racks of magazines, no longer topical, the pamphlet on the life of Princess Di gathering dust. I consider whether to add a Reese’s bar to my little reward, decide against it, and grab a little tube of strawberry-scented petrolium for my dry lips.
As I check out, the cashier asking whether I’d like to enter my phone number for ExtraCare Rewards, I notice the man in layered hoodies making his stealthy exit. As I tap in my phone number, I think about how frictionless his experience was. He didn’t even have to wait in a long line, or put in his phone number. In and out.
As my far-too-long receipt unfurls from the printer, I notice the man at the door has been stopped by CVS security. The interaction escalates. The cashier asks if I’d like a bag, I say no, wait actually sure. The man tries to break left and CVS security pins him against the edge of the automatically sliding door.
As I pass, the man gives me a look of pleading. I arch my eyebrows with empathy, trying to convey I’m one of the good ones.
I do nothing.
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