My column in today’s Greenville News.

We have a lot of problems as a nation. There are so many issues to discuss! So I thought I’d focus on one that we all deal with, nearly every day. And that is, the extreme difficulty with which we check out in stores.
I mean, have you tried to check out lately? Of course you have. It’s no small task. First of all, so many of us have been conditioned to use cards rather than cash. I’m guilty myself. It’s so easy to use a credit or debit card! Well, unless it won’t swipe, or the Internet is down. Or you have a chip card….
And yet, my debit card has been my undoing in the past. While traveling, I discovered that I hadn’t notified my bank of my destination like a good citizen; thus, for my own safety, my card could not be accessed. Which is great, except not being able to get gas in the middle of the Great Plains is also a problem; especially when you aren’t carrying cash. I hate being that guy at the gas station who says to strangers, ‘hey, sorry but do you have $10 you could give me?’
But that’s small potatoes in the world of ‘checking out.’ When you check out, you’re accosted.
‘Do you have one of our Super Savers Cards, sir?’
‘No, I don’t, and I don’t really…’
‘Oh, if you apply for one today you’ll save 20% off your purchase and qualify for regular 2% discount coupons which will be texted to your phone; just enter your number on the screen. And you’ll also be notified of our specials!’
So fine, you get the card. But if you’re like me (and unlike my wife who has dozens of the things on a key-ring in her purse), your next encounter at said store goes like this.
‘Good day sir, do you have a Super Savers Card?’
‘Uh, yeah, but this is only $2.00 and it isn’t really going to matter.’
‘Oh, sir, but it goes towards your Christmas goose points! Do you have it?’
‘Well, no I don’t, so just go ahead without it…’
‘It’s an easy matter to look it up; what’s your phone number?’
(Sigh. Here we go.)
‘Nope, can’t find it there. Do you have another?’
‘Uh, 522-1515’
(Clerk proceeds with endless, annoying enthusiasm.)
‘Oh, sorry, that’s not it. Another?’
(I’m thinking back, far back about phone numbers.)
‘Uh, oh, I can’t find it. Another?’
(Are you kidding me, thinks I?)
‘800-222-1222.’ (That’s the poison control line, by the way)
‘Wow, no luck there either. Any others?’
(Are you on drugs, I wonder?)
‘867-5309. Ask for Jenny…’
Clerk, in early 20s, has no idea what that means.
‘Sir, you’re funny!’
I finally say, ‘it’s only $2.00. Really, just check me out.’ (And reimburse me for 15 minutes of my life I just lost.)
However, that’s not the final shake-down. The final, and worst, is this. As I swipe my card, the screen pops up with the charity of the week. ‘Do you want to donate to the Humane Society? To flood relief? To a cure for cancer? To cancer stricken puppies in flood zones?’
When I touch ‘no, not now,’ I can feel the judgement; from the computer itself, actually. And also from the clerk. I mean, what kind of monster won’t donate a buck or two at the checkout? I guess it’s just principle and cynicism. I believe in charity. But I also believe that people have learned how to make a profit from it. And I just…want…to…leave!
But despite all of the hassles of the checkout, if you want to have some fun, do what my wife did. She handed the clerk gold coins. Yes, US currency gold dollars. They looked at her with a combination of awe and confusion. As if she has just jumped off a pirate ship and said, ‘arrgh, ye bilge swine, me crew and I would like to buy these chips. Here be some treasure for your trouble!’
Ultimately they agreed that the gold coins were, in fact, legal tender and she went on her way. I’m envious. I’d rather argue about gold than try to remember all of the phone numbers that might be attached to my account.
Next time, maybe I’ll be carrying doubloons.

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