I was elated when I discovered four self-checkout registers installed at the Key Food in my neighborhood. They meant no more cringing as a bored kid in an apron bagged heavy produce on top of fragile tortilla chips. I wouldn’t have to resist rolling my eyes as I insisted that I didn’t need a plastic shopping bag. I wouldn’t even have to imagine curious expressions from the teen who put down her Sidekick just long enough to ring up my every growing weekly ration of flavored, carbonated bottled water. I wouldn’t feel obligated to fake contrition when I showed up in sneakers and gym clothes—still sweating—to pick up a pint of mint-chocolate chip ice cream at 11:30 on a Thursday night.
I wouldn’t even have to remove my iPod headphone.
I am slightly chagrined to admit how much this all says about me. How I would love to have my human essence captured elsewhere, in a light more flattering than the supermarket fluorescence. In one of Shelley’s poems. In the dress I wore to my Junior Prom, a dark green ballgown with pockets. In the rope swing by the lake at Camp Jewell. Even in another machine, perhaps in a centrifuge or in an all-in-one printer.
But I’ve got the self-check-out machine, and I’ll take it, and I’ll laugh-groan and write about it. It’s funny because it’s true.
The self-checkout machine gives away so much about who and how I am. How I can be irrationally patient. About the way I itch to have control and the way I’m often wary, on guard until I’m certain I don’t need to be. About my haughty environmentalism. That I can be autonomous to the point of isolation. That I’m proud, but that I’m weak. How I am disciplined and how I indulge.
And, unexpectedly, just how chatty I can be, how I can’t resist the impulse to strike up a conversation. Because as grateful as I am for the solitude provided in the self-checkout aisle, I never fail to make small talk with someone when I’m there, even if I never turn off my iPod. While I’m bagging my own bottled water in my own shopping bag.