Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Criminal Consumer



Shop or Else!




He was kicking and screaming as the two beefy, snarling security guards were dragging him to the front of the store.

“Another despicable shoplifter,” I mumbled to myself. “Probably stealing deodorant, discount underwear and Slim Jims.”

Or DVDs or socks or blinds or tires or paint thinner, as we were in one of those gigantic superstores that sell everything from motor oil to powdered milk.

The guards were being just a little rough with him, and, shocked and outraged by their behavior, I yelled in protest:

“I don’t care how poor this deadbeat is. He needs a good head cracking. Stop coddling him! Crack his ribs, put him in a chokehold and bust his thumbs. The hell with his civil liberties! Where’s a cop when you need one?

“His thievery is cutting into profits of the corporation that owns this store. The company has enough sinister behavior to deal with; its greed-obsessed employees are demanding health insurance, a wage that keeps them off food stamps, and that they be paid for all the hours they work. The spoiled brats know little of and care nothing for the dignity that comes from working long hours at low wages. The selfish wage earners are devoid of concern for the anguish and trauma that rich, Wall Street investors suffer when the company’s stock price falls by an eighth of a cent and wrecks their profit-taking plans. If thieves like him steal all the profits, those wealthy investors won’t be able to afford a second or third yacht. If this slob can’t afford stuff, he should get a second job.”

“But I have three jobs and I still can’t satisfy them,” the guy, who had heard me talking to myself, wailed as they dragged him past. “You don’t understand. I haven’t shoplifted. I’ve never stolen a thing in my life.”

Then he shot me the saddest, most bewildered and frightened look I’d ever seen—even worse than the ones liberals get when they hear the words “tax cuts”—and said:

“I just bought what I needed. Nothing more.”

Just what I needed,” one of the security guards sneered contemptuously as he handed the guy over to a waiting cop. “If everyone shopped as little as you this corporation would be ruined. Drag his sorry ass down to the lockup and keep it there.”

“What is he being charged with?” I asked.

“Failure to unnecessarily and recklessly consume,” a cop yelled.

“That’s a crime?” I asked.

“It is now in America.”

“On what grounds are you charging him? What’s your evidence?”

The cops and the guards walked me to where they had confronted the guy. In the middle of the 300-yard-long aisle was a lone shopping cart where the store manager was angrily taking an inventory of its contents.

“Look at this; it’s not even half-full,” the manager said with disgust. “He’s got bar soap, laundry detergent, bread, milk, lunch meat, a pair of socks, razor blades, and, get this, jars for home canning! He was going to can his own food at home instead of buying it! That’s sick. It’s immoral and it’s unpatriotic. This guy consumes and spends like a sissy.”

“Look at this cart. It contains not one electronic organizer or phone book, not one bread machine, espresso machine, salad shooter, food processor; not a single pasta machine, individual wine cooler, pancake maker, plasma TV, video game, hamburger patty maker, hotdog cooker, battery-powered corkscrew, smoothie machine, deep fryer, individual egg cooker, pasta pot, convection oven, computer controlled toaster, water purifier, juicer, crepe pan, ice cream maker, soft ice cream dispenser, vegetable steamer, sectioned frying pan, bagel slicer, high-powered blender, individual blender, rotisserie, coffee bean grinder, electric toothbrush, nuclear-powered hair dryer; not one portable abdomen toner, bicep builder, butt reducer or thigh enhancer; not one treadmill, stair stepper, home gym; not a single sonar fish-finder; not one digital camera or home photo-printing machine, not a single cell phone on which he can get stock quotes and play solitaire, not nothing!

“And look those razor blades! Double-edged blades! He’s still using an old fashioned razor. He hasn’t upgraded in forty years. We’ve now got battery-powered razors with fourteen blades, seven strips of skin-soothing gel, a small screen on which you can read email, a head that vibrates, rotates – hell, this thing will even mow the lawn. And it only costs eighty-nine bucks.

“It’s not just his weak shopping that concerns us. We checked his credit report. He’s got two credit cards – not seven he should have – that he pays off monthly. He doesn’t run a balance. This man has refused to max out his two measly credit cards!

“This man is not only a disgrace; he’s a traitor!”

“Maybe he doesn’t need all that stuff,” I offered meekly and with a changed attitude.

“Need! It’s not a question of need. It’s a question of supporting the global economy and making investors rich,” the manager stammered. “If we all bought what we merely needed this economy would collapse.”

“They don’t consume like this in Europe,” I said.

“Of course they don’t. And they don’t work seventy hour weeks like we do so we can buy all this stuff. That’s why they all get six weeks paid vacation, pensions, all kinds of holidays and government-paid-for health care. Is that what you want?

“Americans are the world’s consumers of last resort. We’re born and bred to shop, spend money and get into massive debt. That’s who and what we are: shoppers and debtors. The money you make isn’t yours; it belongs to the government and to corporations and their wealthy CEOs. Government takes your money through taxes, and now we’re taking it by mandating that you buy things.”

“Well, you can make pancakes and crepes in a regular frying pan. A lot of the stuff we buy isn’t needed.”

“Tell that to the guy who invented the individual hotdog cooker, his investors and the people who run this corporation!” the manager screamed. “What are you going to buy here today!”

“Nothing. I don’t need anything. I—”

“You what?”

“I don’t need anything.”

“Traitor!”

I was clubbed, cuffed and thrown into the squad car with the other guy and taken off to jail.

Then I woke up, sweaty and terrified.

“It was just a dream,” I told myself. “That can’t happen. Not in America.”

But I wasn’t so sure.

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