Humanities Personal Essay 11-11-10

Max Ames
Mr. Serenbetz
16 November 2010
Of Stop & Shop: An Android’s Tale
I am an automaton. I am a machine, acting as cold and empty as a calculator. I am
a methodical robot, wired with preprogrammed responses and protocol. My repertoire of
phrases is severely limited, my emotion is lacking, drowned out by my monotonous
blathering. A beep and another beep: I scan. I package and print and say, “Thank you.”
This is thoughtless living, the redundant calling upon of muscle memory. I am not truly
there. My mind is beyond the machine, beyond the greetings and the work. It is absent for
a while. Then it comes reeling back as soon as a problem arises, as soon as the routine is
broken. I check protocol and think back to similar cases. If that doesn’t suffice, then I am
called upon to think. How great a request it is to ask of an automaton to think.
The barcode is wrinkled. I tug on it from both sides and try to render it flat. The
bag of trail mix is argumentative, uncooperative. I ask too much of it. BEEP. Ah ha! I
have conquered it. I slide it onto the conveyor belt and it glides away from me. Soon it is
in a thin, yellow plastic bag. “Don’t you have any large brown paper bags?” whines the
customer. “These plastics rip if I so much as look at them.”
“No, ma’am. We’re waiting for the next batch to arrive.”
“Well this is ridiculous…” mumble, mumble, mumble…
The next person in line advances. “Hi, how are you?” I ask.
“Paper bags in plastic,” they request (or rather: they demand). Breathing out from
the depths of my chest, I forge a sigh out of humid breath and acute annoyance.
Stop & Shop is an empire; I am merely a serf working the fields, tending to the
wealthy princes and princesses of Madison, CT that demand my services. Like any
functioning feudalism, there are the lords and ladies that command me as they sit on high,
in their lofty headquarters, always watching from their two-way mirrors. Little do they
know, we down below can just as easily see them. I must admit, they are quite the
characters, those masters of the grocery store. Dennis is a short middle-aged man with
organized hair and a full mustache. His voice is raspy and nasally, and somehow
authoritative. It may be the way he leaves little room between his face and yours when he
talks. May be it’s the forceful power of his smoky breath or the quietness about him, the
silent aura that threatens stealth retribution should he be crossed. “Open up on aisle four,
express.” He smiles. You’d better do as he asks. Then there’s Mary: the sidekick (or the
jester) with the superiority complex. She’s in charge, and she will never let any of us
forget that. She walks briskly, caught in the stressful current of chronic hurrying. Most
normal speech goes right over her head and leaves her mouth agape in her signature
confused look. She means well.
How could any feudal society be complete without its antagonist: the evil queen?
Katrina Schmidt walks daintily and with pride. Her hands are always bent parallel to the
floor, her harms swinging like aristocratic pendulums. Her voice is soft but bitter, spiteful
in compliment and downright disgusting in complaint. Katrina can make poison out of
honey and catastrophe out of the smallest things. I don’t think she means well. But then
I don’t think. I am automatic. And a customer says to me, “Why are your
checkout aisles so narrow?” She slams her cart against the conveyor belt on purpose like
a small child would to prove a point. I almost want to apologize for being such a foolish
architect. After all, I am the one that designed the layout of the building’s interior; I am
the one that decided to not order a delivery of brown paper bags soon enough; I am the
one, when Katrina Schmidt yells at me, that is actually at fault. All of them, the
customers, the managers, the kings and queens and jesters from afar, are completely
right. The worker is wrong, a flawed machine. I am only an automaton. Cold and empty,
resigned to the will of the royalty, the folly of the herd, and the human error of all my