Sunday, November 4, 2012

Idea Garage Sale: A Really Crappy Job

So today was one of those days when you have lots of errands so they all take too long. At least Jason's Deli offered me an extra cookie.

The grocery store we shop in has had a product reshuffle. You know, when they consult the person who follows me around keeping track of what I like, find out what I've really come to count on, and replace it with something I can't possibly use. The big loser this time is flavored rice. I had two-three flavors of two-three brands that I could count on to be under 500 mgs of sodium per serving. Now there's one, and of course it's not the blessed wonderful one that somehow kept it down to 75 mgs. The new brands all have 600 mgs up. They discontinued my 200 mg artichoke pasta sauce (but I found the last five jars hiding behind the 700-mg four-cheese sauce and bought them all). They took away all my low-sodium salad dressings ages ago. I will soon have nothing left to eat when I'm too sick from the condition that requires a low-sodium diet to cook from scratch. Thank heaven for baked potatoes. (Now watch the GE foods people figure out how to grow a spud with the salt built right in, and replace all the real spuds with it.)

Anyway, you will have noticed a paranoid assumption in the preceding paragraph: the existence of a person who follows me around, tracks what I like, and makes sure it's not available anymore. Of course I know that's not really how it works. My tastes and needs fall outside the bell curve that creates the most profitable market for the gigantic corporations that run our economy, into the range of products that, though they may sell well, do not sell well enough to meet whatever profit margin the gigantic corporations are aiming for. So - no white blouses with breast pockets, no jeans that fit over my butt, no low-sodium convenience food, etc. If I wanted to be served I should have the common sense to be led by fashion and have a completely different body with completely different needs.

But it happens so consistently that it's not hard to indulge the paranoid fantasy. And of course it gives me a character. If there's a person devoted to taking away what I need, he (for some reason I'm convinced it's a man), has his own needs which must be served by the practice. He's doing it for a reason and he has some feeling about it. He's either working for the shadowy entity that controls all those gigantic corporations, or himself has so much clout with them that he can dictate terms. He must get something out of it - but what? Where's the profit in depriving me of that wonderful peach-applesauce I used to be able to get? Does he enjoy doing it? Does he resent me, because after all it's got to be a tedious job tracking my buying habits when I do so little shopping, or pity me?

I do not for a moment believe that I am particularly important in this scenario. I presumably have been chosen either arbitrarily, or for my ability to avoid the swelling middle of the bell curve and act as a kind of barometer of the unfashionable in a wide variety of consumer products. No, the center of the story is the man doing the job. He has to display a certain ingenuity at it, to avoid being noticed. I use a lot of cash (which some corporations seem to be trying to take away from me, too), don't buy much online, and use things till they wear out, so except for groceries I don't have a regular schedule. Even for groceries, though we go to the same store week after week, usually on the same day, we also make erratic trips to different stores to get different things. And yes, the stores at the more vegetarian-friendly end of the grocery spectrum do it to me, too - the store formerly known as SunHarvest recently stopped carrying my glucosamine, B-2, and worst of all, my chocolate-covered banana chips. But most of the time, I'm not buying at all. So this has got to be one of those nerve-wracking hurry-up-and-wait jobs.

I bet I'm not the only one being tracked, either. He may have two or three bellwethers to follow.

So the story could be one of those mid-century surrealist stories about the anonymity and pointlessness of the modern office job, some sort of Kafka riff in which neither the reader nor the protagonist is ever certain what's going on.

Or it could be primarily about his motivation to do the job. Presumably somebody is paying him; but is it in money? We tend to view money as the unit of value, but money is only meaningful in terms of the other satisfactions its possession enables. Does frustrating me in this way provide some other tangible benefit - prolong his life, perhaps? (But with a job so boring, with such weird hours, is that worthwhile?) Prolong the life of someone he loves - parent, child, spouse?

And, if he's working for another party and not somehow deriving his benefit directly from me, how is the coin he's paid in related to the way they profit?

It's all too murky. If I could find my antagonist's face, the rest of it would snap into place. But I tend to get bogged down in annoyance before I get there.

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