Saturday afternoon and I’m at the supermarket to buy some painkillers for my cracked tooth. The security guard looks like Dim from Kubrick’s screen version of A Clockwork Orange. He has his hand at the throat of the elderly homeless man, has him pinned up against the side of the Coke machine. Seconds earlier the homeless man had been burning scraps of incense in what looks like a brass plated spittoon. Shoppers are coming in an out of the automatic sliding doors, drifting like holographs – without substance, oblivious.
The security guard swivels his head to look for witnesses. Some combination of boredom and biochemical stimulus has kicked in, and he wants to do some damage to this man, this freak, this perp, this performer of senseless and possibly dangerous rituals. Something he won’t walk away from.
Dim and I make eye contact. We stare at each other for a long time. For a moment I feel certain that he is going to descend upon me with bareknuckled fury. Finally he says something to the homeless man, kicks the brass bucket out onto the asphalt of the parking lot, walks back through the sliding doors.
Something inside me snaps. I walk back to my apartment without the painkillers. I listen to an old album by The Clash and think about a lot of things that suddenly seem connected. I run my tongue over the ridge of my tooth and I think about game shows and gated communities and bombs. I think about troll bashing and magazines filled with glossy pictures of fashionable crotches and routine horror. Botox-puffed faces and A-Wear jeans and a bombed out school half a world away. I think about pesticide and genocide and tomatoes implanted with the genes of salmon. I think about the metaphorical boot that Orwell warned us of, descending forever on a human face.
I write out a shopping list.
When I get back to the supermarket the security guard is sharing a joke with the butcher. First stop is the deli for a pair of roasted factory-produced chickens, a half-kilo of nitrate infused luncheon meats, a large Styrofoam container of Swedish meatballs floating in day-glo orange sweet n’ sour sauce. Then I’m off to the seafood cooler for several bags of discounted previously frozen tiger prawns and pale slabs of mercury-poisoned, antibiotic-laden farmed salmon.
In the wall of stand-up freezers I find the prepared dinners, the nutritionless vegetables, the industrial-sized bags of tasteless frozen gnocchi and ravioli. By this time my cart is full nearly to the top. Just enough room for several bricks of heavily hydrogenated ice cream, some hefty packages of bland, waxy cheese and a dozen litres of homogenized milk – all of it so laced with hormones that it will ensure that the children who eat and drink it in front of their television sets will reach physical maturity some two to three years ahead of their counterparts who were born only a generation earlier.
I park the cart at the back of the store, and as I walk out I know that Dim has forgotten who I am, what I saw, because he gives me a slight nod of approval – a normal, obedient shopper drifting out into the early suburban evening. At the very bottom of the cart my shopping list is written on yellow paper: