Saturday, June 10, 2006

The Kid

The Sackmeister wheeled into Kroger’s parking lot and darted into a prime slot just opposite the main entrance. There was a shopping cart in the middle of the slot, as usual, but the Sackmeister’s special Cart-Catcher smacked it on to the hood of a nearby Volvo.

“Nice accessory,” the Sackmeister thought.

The Sackmeister was in a hurry. Dinner party at 8. Lots to buy. Lots to prepare. Clock was ticking.

As the sliding doors parted and the Sackmeister stepped into the cool air of the store he was greeted by…the Kid.

“Cart, Mister?” the Kid offered helpfully.

The Sackmeister stopped. A hush came over the store. Shoppers stopped shopping. Checkers stopped checking. Even the fruit flies stopped fruit-flying and hovered in mid-air to watch.

Someone said, “It’s the Kid! He talked to the Sackmeister!”

Someone else intoned seriously, “Ain’t nobody talks to the Sackmeister. Get ready to call 911.”

The Sackmeister eyed the Kid. The Kid, a lanky boy of 16 wearing a pressed white shirt, black pants, shined shoes (a rarity) and his Kroger’s nametag set at a jaunty angle, smiled unwaveringly at the Sackmeister as a baby doe might upon meeting a grizzly bear for the first, and last, time.

The Sackmeister thought back to his early days as a sack boy and replied, “No, I won’t be needing that cart, Kid, but I could use a hand shopping, that is, if you don’t mind.”

“Sure thing, Mister, lead the way,” the Kid said with a sweep of his hand.

The Sackmeister walked up to a door near the cart corral and inserted a special key. The door slid open to reveal a customized shopping cart. The Kid had heard stories about shoppers with customized carts, but he’d never actually seen one, and he certainly wasn’t expecting to see a top of the line competition model.

The Kid feasted his eyes on a cobalt blue cart, BMW C3, titanium chassis, shiftmatic suspension, Pirelli wheels, sports package and leather grip.

“Think you can handle her?” the Sackmeister, peered over the tops of his glasses at the Kid.

Excitedly, the Kid stammered, “Yeah! I mean, I think so, I mean, I’ll do my best.”

“I never ask that anyone do more than their best.”

The Sackmeister reached into his back pocket and pulled out a small, leather zip-case, opened it, and carefully extracted a pair of gloves woven out of what looked like gold. He inserted a hand into each one and the clasps snapped with an audible click. It appeared the gloves pulsed with a dull, blue light. He then unfolded a strange looking pair of sunglasses and put them on.

“I’m testing these for NASA. Remote Sensory Gloves, or RSG’s.”

Pointing to the glasses he said, “Heads-up display, or HUD.”

And with a hearty “Let’s go!” the Sackmeister strode into the store at flank speed towards Fruits and Vegetables.

The Kid gave the C3 a mighty shove and, to his surprise, careened into the stack of hand baskets sending them flying across the store, over-corrected and wiped out the strawberry display before coming to rest after smashing into the fresh bread stand.

Over his shoulder the Sackmeister commented, “She’s a little sensitive. Just point her in the right direction and use a light touch. She’ll do the rest.”

The Kid backed the C3 away from the bread and guided her gingerly behind the Sackmeister who was already selecting avocados.

“Rule number one, Kid, is never go shopping without a list. Otherwise you’ll go into a store intending to buy corn starch and buy everything else in the World except corn starch. I’ve got my list on the HUD. It’s tied into a satellite global positioning system, or GPS and linked to a map of the store, or MOTS. Right now, MOTS is telling the RSG’s where the ripe avocados are.”

The Kid had never seen anything like this. The Sackmeister was sorting through the avocados at superhuman speeds, his hands a blur. In seconds the Sackmeister had sorted through well over 200 avocados and found the 4 ripe ones.

Standing in front of the vegetable display the Sackmeister said, “Let’s test out the voice activated selection.” After pressing a few buttons on the RSG’s the Sackmeister commanded “Radishes!” and a perfect bunch of radishes leapt out of the display and into the C3. Satisfied, the Sackmeister walked through the Fruits and Vegetable section commanding “Celery!”, “Red Pepper!”, “Mushrooms! Iceberg Lettuce! White Onions! Bananas!” and produce flew off the shelves and into the C3.

And so it went through the store. Bag after bag of perfectly selected produce were placed in the C3 which seemed to sort the groceries so the hard things were on the bottom and the squishy things were on top.

The Sackmeister walked down Aisle 8 picking things off the shelf at seemingly random intervals: salsa, pickles, artichoke hearts, garbanzo beans and dried cranberries.

The Kid couldn’t help himself and asked a question, “Hey, Mister, why are you buying this weird stuff?”

“Specials, Kid, specials. The HUD identifies specials that based on my buying habits, utilization rate and anticipated depletion ratio make economic sense to purchase at this time, given the net present value of money and the consumer price index estimated on a five year rolling average. The HUD feeds target data to the RSG’s and as I get near a target I feel a little tingle, reach out, snag the item and move on. Very efficient. Occasionally I get a miss-fire, like the mango deodorant, but the system is getting better and, by the way, mango seems to be a chick magnet.”

The Sackmeister quickened his pace and the duo ran through Dairy, soups, the cereal aisle, pickles and sauces, soaps, Meats, dry goods and pet supplies. Finally, they stopped in front of Checkout Line 12.

The light on Line 12 blinked on.

“Whoa, I’ve never seen Line 12 on before, not even at Christmas” the Kid said in amazement.

“It’s experimental,” the Sackmeister explained, “it’s an Automatic Checkout Transaction, or ACT. Watch.”

The Sackmeister took control of the C3 and glided it through the unmanned Line 12. A green light blinked briefly, but that was it.

“The ACT calculated the contents of purchases in the C3 and debited my account automatically.” The Sackmeister pressed a tattoo of tiny buttons on the RSG’s and the C3 glided out of the store, across the parking lot and proceeded to unload itself into the trunk of the Sackmeister’s car. The C3 then trundled back into the store and slid back into its special locker. The door slid shut with a snick.

The Sackmeister pulled off his gloves and glasses and stowed them in the special case. “Catch you later, Kid. I’ve got things to do, places to go and people to see.” And, with that, the Sackmeister headed into the parking lot, fired up his Explorer and disappeared into the sunset.

The Kid watched until his eyes burned by the intensity of the setting sun. “Who was that guy?” the Kids asked wistfully.

“That was the Sackmeister,” the Old Hand said.

The Kid looked up, and the Old Hand placed a hand on his shoulder.

The Kid said, “I want to be like the Sackmeister when I grow up. I want to be better than the Sackmeister! Maybe I could shop without gloves. Yeah, maybe I just could.”

The Old Hand looked down at the Kid and thought, “We’ll need to watch this boy, yes, we’ll need to watch. He could be the One.”


Anonymous said...

Mango deodorant? First thing in the morning might be OK, but by the end of the day, I'd bet you'd be pretty ripe ... bah-dum-CHA!

Bret said...

Meanwhile, in a distant galaxy, a young woman wove her hair into a pair of perfect cinnamon rolls ($0.79 each) and felt an unfamiliar tremor in her soul...

Flaurella said...

Iceberg lettuce? Oh, come now. No one ever really eats that leathery, tasteless, non-nutritional, pale lackawanna nega-
vitamina crap,
do they?
NO way.

Anonymous said...

Tacos, dear Flaurella, tacos. Chopped iceberg has a place in this world as a great giver of color and texture without getting in the way of what you want to taste.

But that's just my take.