Cover art by Kelsey Wroten. Back cover photo at Away Days by Kathleen Marie damedeeso / getty images

In case you’re wondering, I generally try to avoid using my prestige as the editor-in-chief of a major metropolitan newspaper to benefit myself. (Yes, yes, I know Trump does this sort of thing all the time, but that doesn’t make it right, y’know?) HOWEVER! Today I’m going to use my bully-pulpit to propose something that would greatly benefit myself and the world at large: Burn every grocery store self-checkout lane to the ground and salt the earth.

Never has there been a more insidious invention than the grocery store self-checkout lane. I refuse to identify the store that has caused me the most heartache—okay, fine, it’s QFC... but only because, when it comes to the exquisite Spanish Inquisition-style torture their checkout lanes inflict upon their customers, I’ve found no equal.

On any given day—but usually the busiest times—my local QFC has one... mayyyyyybe two... actual humans working checkout, which results in lines snaking back to the frozen Stouffer’s. So if you’re like me, in possession of three to 12 items, the lure of self-checkout is practically irresistible. Unfortunately it’s an abusive relationship—one that keeps me fruitlessly hoping, “Maybe self-checkout won’t ruin my day this time.”

It’s always the same: After plopping my basket next to the computer screen, I’m beckoned to “start by scanning any item.” I scan a banana... which is clearly too much for this system to handle. The screen informs me it is “Contacting sales associate.” The saddest, most emotionally damaged employee in the world approaches, silently punching buttons and swiping a card to reset the machine. Naturally, this doesn’t work, and the employee heaves a deep sigh from within her tortured, empty soul and tries again. The banana is approved.

“If you have one, scan your shopper’s card now,” the machine beckons. NEVER, EVER DO THIS! I’m a thrifty person who adores shopper cards—but in a self-checkout lane it’s a frustrating one-way trip to “Contacting sales associate.”

The sales associate returns, eyes dead as night. Scans card, doesn’t work. Punches in number, doesn’t work. The rage comes off her in waves, sloshing all over the floor. “Just forget it,” I beg, “it’s not important.” “NO,” she snaps defensively. Sadly, she still has the futile dream that she can beat a machine that has destroyed the lives of so many others. She scans my card again... and it works. God, please. Just get me out of here.

After scanning two more items without incident: “Please put item in bagging area.” Umm... I did. “Please put item in bagging area.” Umm... I did. “Please put item in bagging area.” GODDAMMIT I PUT THE GODDAMN ITEM IN THE GODDAMN BAGGING AREA! “Contacting sales associate.”

The sales associate has so much hatred... for this machine and me. I hate me, too. After two more sales associate visits, I’m finally, FINALLY walking out of the store—bitterly fuming and refusing to EVER shop here again (until next week when I need a single egg for a batch of Mickey Mouse pancakes). And I wonder... what has happened to me?

I thought I was a good person who enjoyed and appreciated what life has given me. I’m not, though. I have become death, the destroyer of worlds. I have tumbled headlong into the darkest, blackest of emotional dimensions, where the destruction of every self-checkout lane in existence is my only goal. Dear readers who hang upon my every word: Will you please join me in my quest?

And don’t say, “Contacting sales associate!”

Yours in equally bitter frustration,
Wm. Steven Humphrey
Portland Mercury