of machines and men

I squint at the six open DIY check stands at Home Despot (I call it that in honor of my Peepop, who once said “depot” when he meant “despot” during the annual reading of the Hagaddah). I had cash. I didn’t know whether the machines could handle cash, and I didn’t want to find out. I spied a guy and asked if he would do me the pleasure of ringing me up, and he was delighted.

“I hate those machines,” I tell him. “I feel like they take jobs from people.” I do.

“I can’t comment on that, so I will just say thank you very much.” He smiles.

He’s a decorated employee. By that, I mean his many tattoos, a sign of his loyalties, are visible. A still-scabbing tat shows Woody Guthrie with his guitar and the famous slogan from it: “This machine kills fascists.”

“Did you see this one?” he asks, proudly showing off the asterisk on his left arm, with “and so it goes” beneath it. Of course. My friend Dave and I both know it—Kurt Vonnegut, from Breakfast of Champions (and everything else).

I get permission to take his photo and am wrestling with my camera as a line forms. Here are like-minded people—regular folks who probably have mastered a Google search—lined up to be checked out by a real person.

I don’t want a drum machine or a phone router or an ATM. I want someone to pump my gas. And even if I had to choose between a robot or the nasty witch at the post office who can never manage a smile and will actually rear up and ask, “What did you just say?” if she thinks you might have called her on her bitchness, or the crazy old bat at Burlington Coat Factory who grumbles and complains about everything and slams your shit down if it doesn’t have a price and asks you why you couldn’t get the one with the tag on it—I’d probably still choose the real people.

Or maybe companies can hire more people like the Home Depot guy or the two ladies at Family Dollar on Harford Road. Yesterday, while hanging our 3 Hipstateers* show with Dave Pugh and Steve Parke, Steve and I stopped in to get some long nails; we didn’t have the right ones to hang our photographs. A woman asked, “Can I help you find something?” I told her I was looking for nails. She said, “Oh, they’re in the front of the store, just past those two young ladies.”

I looked at the two people up the aisle—a middle-aged woman and her mother—and I turned to tell the woman how sweet she was. She smiled. But I was lost when I got to the front of the store and didn’t find any hardware. Why, this is all—fingernails! I shared a good, emotional belly laugh with the woman who sent me to the nails that most of the women in our area would have meant.

At the cash register, our checker gave us the once over. “You two are rockin’ the superhero shirts.” Steve and I didn’t really understand her at first, but we looked down. Not only were we both wearing t-shirts with superheroes on them, but we had the same four superheros on our shirts. “Ya’all didn’t know that?” she asked, surprised that we hadn’t consulted on our outfits that morning.

You don’t get any good stories from an ATM. Your computer does nothing delightful. No DIY checker will ever tell you that you’re rockin’ a superhero shirt. And no robot is going to love you like I do.

– – – – –

*Please join the 3 Hipstateers—me, Steve Parke, and Dave Pugh—for a show of photos taken exclusively with our iPhones (a machine that can’t do anything without a person at the controls), Thursday, 6-8, at Clementine Fine Foods, 5402 Harford Road.

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  1. sp8cemunky May 5, 2010 at 4:02 pm #

    you hit the nail on the head with your observations Leslie.
    But as we all know…commerce tends to be about the dollar bottom line and not quality of life. It's a shame.

  2. Leslie F. Miller May 5, 2010 at 4:04 pm #

    But there is no quality of life when that's the bottom line. But who's looking for quality anyway. Who cares if the food sucks as long as the portions are big, right?

  3. Esther May 5, 2010 at 6:12 pm #

    on the one hand, i agree with the overall sentiment of what you wrote, and loved it, especially the "rockin' of the superheroes" comment.

    but i won't lie, when i say i love the convenience of the self checkouts at the grocery store, especially when i only have a few items, and i am not up for waiting in a long ass line, and small talk with the clerk. that's just me, though, i guess.

  4. Leslie F. Miller May 5, 2010 at 6:14 pm #

    That's cool, Esther, but if they invested in people, you'd have more open lanes and fewer lines, right? But the stores have actually stopped manning the registers, which is why the lines are so long. But I get it. It's just gonna be my personal principle. I'll wait in the line.

  5. Aunt Teena May 5, 2010 at 6:52 pm #

    The minute I read that you asked for long nails, I thought, they're going to think fingernails.

    Also, I used to work with someone who called every woman a young woman and every man a gentleman, and it used to drive me crazy, because it was just the words she used…not an attempt to be nice.

  6. Leslie F. Miller May 5, 2010 at 6:54 pm #

    Well, geez, Teena. I think it's far better than making calling someone a bitch a habit. So if she uses those words by rote, at least they're better than something negative.

  7. jo(e) May 7, 2010 at 2:06 am #

    I so agree with you. I'm an extrovert, and a day of just going to automated machines makes me a crazy person. I need the personal interaction.

  8. Belinda May 7, 2010 at 3:42 pm #

    yes, great observations. I love the 7-11 ladies (some young enough to be my daughter….) who call me, and EVERYone honey, sweetie, completely naturally. The guys in 100 yr old Nichols Hardware who can find you ANYthing. Where I diverge is the self grocery-store checkout as well… for a pretty easy-going messy person, I am obsessed about how my bags are packed… and the checkers think I am nuts, or don't care… unfortunately…
    The tangent to your tale is automated phone people…. omg – so so much worse…. I ALWAYS go through any lengths to get a real person. You'd be surprised at what they will do for you if you bother to start a real conversation and become a Person to them… Go to gethuman.com for a list of how to pry a real person out of almost any company's phone listing…

  9. Leslie F. Miller May 7, 2010 at 3:44 pm #

    Yes, that's what I meant by "phone routers"–the automatons that route your call. I HATE it. And i use the real people site all the time. 😀

    And I often bag my own groceries. But I may be worse than you; I load them onto the conveyor belt exactly as I'd like them packed. All my colds, my produce, my meats organized. 😀

  10. Indigo May 7, 2010 at 4:10 pm #

    I never muched noticed the machinery until I went deaf. My deafness gave me something to long for. I wanted to see facial expressions, hand and body movements that go with lip sync in my world. I wanted that human connection no matter how tenuous. You won't find that with a machine.

    The more advanced society becomes, the more detached we become from our humanity and need for one another as well. (Hugs)Indigo

  11. Leslie F. Miller May 7, 2010 at 4:13 pm #

    You are so right! We are all emotionally deaf when we spend our time communicating through only words. How can we tell when someone is being sarcastic or serious or funny? We need those faces. It's also contributed to rudeness. We spend our time alone, in cubicles. We shop online. We drive our own cars, alone. And when we're in the store and someone accidentally touches us, we fly off the handle. We belch and talk loudly because we're not used to living in the world with out people.

    How will we change it?

    Hugs right back!

  12. Belinda May 11, 2010 at 2:30 pm #

    "worse" – omg, no! I do EXACTLY that! Arrange the stuff on the belt as I want it packed! And sometimes ( just happened to me) I cringe and sweat as I watch the checker read OVER into the next 'section' of carefully arranged stuff, and … and…. grab the cheese and put it in with the…. shampoo… WHAT? It's all I can do to keep from hollering and yanking it out of his hands… SO.. self serve checkout for me. OH, I also ask for paper INSIDE of plastic, ( which sounds wasteful but I reuse them all) and get strange looks for that one too…( "they won't fit" " they will too!") Plastic causes everything to roll all over the car, and paper rips. I'm obsessive here, what can I say. And am now proud to say I am accumulating reusable environmentally friendly grocery bags…

  13. Leslie F. Miller May 11, 2010 at 2:32 pm #

    I just thought of you! I was at the grocery store seconds ago, and the manager had taken over from the checker, and he had no clue. He started putting my ground beef in the same bag with the salad and lunch meat! And then he tried putting it in with the Swiffer! I said DUDE! You don't put leaky gross meat with ANY produce, and you don't put anything but cans in with smelly cleaning supplies. STUPID.

  14. Kristen November 26, 2011 at 12:35 pm #

    Ha ha. I enjoy reading your article. Nice profile. You have an original sense of style and I love it(grins*). Anyway I enjoy reading your article. Honestly I'm craving for more topics from you.

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