I saw it first hand last week in Target. A middle-aged, middle-classily-employed man attempted to pay for his items at the check-out line, only to be assaulted by the card machine’s beep and the cashier’s judgmental shake of the head. He began to scurry and tried to swipe other cards as nearby shoppers became wary of the situation. “I moved to the suburbs to avoid situations like this. Everyone knows you spend $50+ at Target. If your account is not ready for that, then don’t even show up to the rodeo.” remarked one “guest” behind me.
As we were all diverted away from that checkout lane to more cheerful ones where people can afford their purchases, we began to swipe and one after another we heard the beeps of the machine. This time, reacting to us.
“It’s a new system.” said the cashier disdainfully. “Cards nowadays have chip readers in them. You have put it in the slot below and not swipe. It should work…unless, you know, you have no money.” Sweating off the Icee I gulped earlier in the store, I waited for the machine to grow arms, embrace me and say “It’s okay, dear. I know you have money. I’m just playing silly, little machine games.” But it did not grow arms. It just stared back at me and everyone else, displaying only an “authorizing” screen. I held my breath knowing that my next inhale may be my first breath as a homeless person: strung out with out-of-date clothes. My arm was already sore from reaching up to get the remote. Imagine how sore it would be asking for “Pear change.” I don’t even like pears.
On my way out, I glanced back at the relieved faces of my fellow shoppers who also contemplated their lives without the daily dose of Pinot Grigio and fantasies about the landscapers. It was an American nightmare for sure, but nothing a venti frappe couldn’t wash away.