Beautiful Eyes

Sandra Peck pushed the cart toward the deli counter.

Last stop before checkout.

She picked out some redskin potato salad, a packet of Italian sausage, and a tub of organic kale salad mix, patted Tyler on the head—she always marveled at the toddler’s beautiful blond curls—and aimed the cart toward the till.

Tyler was on his best behavior today, but unless the child was in meltdown mode, Sandy welcomed a little wailing—it was a welcome distraction as she rang up the groceries.

The supermarket was busy—not so much that she was crowded at the self-service till, but busy enough to distract the attendants.

Sandy had been through a bunch of jobs since dropping out of school, most of them service stuff. The second last was at a packing plant—the new machinery threw four workers into unemployment within three weeks—she got sixty-three dollars severance and a thank-you note.

Sandy’s last job, in one of the biggest supermarket chains, paid so poorly she’d been on food stamps. There, too, management was busy replacing the checkout operators with shiny aluminum contraptions equipped with screens, buttons, and balances.

When the store started doing away with the till operators, mostly young women like herself, replaced by the self-service option, her boss kept a few of the girls on to help customers—young people took to the machines immediately, thumbing away at the cellphone with one hand, ringing up groceries with the other.

Older people struggled. The sequence of instructions flashed on the screen seemed harder for them to understand—they peered at the scales and trays and gingerly tapped the touchscreen, waiting anxiously for things to happen. Some muttered to themselves.

One elderly gentleman was so bemused by the whole operation that Sandy had to step in with her master code and undo the last five things he’d done. Maybe she was a little impatient with him—Tyler was teething and yelled all night, and the queue behind Mr. Confused was backing up.

“Young lady, no need to snap at me!” the man said. He sneered. “Guess y’all love this machine that’s gonna put you out of work!”

Sure enough, she was fired at the end of the week.

Maybe the guy complained to the manager, Sandy thought as she began ringing up her items. Tyler reached out and tried to touch the screen. She played the stressed mother as she held back the toddler and worked through the produce.

She turned her back just so as she tapped the screen—she’d worked enough self-checkouts to know exactly what to do. She weighed the avocados. Then the mangoes, and finally the papayas. For each one, she tapped the same icon on the screen. Tyler cried and squirmed in her arms, straining for the buttons.

“Shush, honey. It’ll make your eyes pretty.” She smiled at the man behind her. “We’ll save the planet”—she read the words for the little boy as she picked up her eco-bag.

Perfect. Sandy smiled as she walked through the parking lot. She opened the trunk and let Tyler get in and climb over the back seat—the toddler shouted ‘Maamaaa’ as he rolled down the other side and clambered into the child seat, whooping with delight.

She closed the trunk, groceries safely stowed, fixed Tyler’s straps, started the clapped-out old Hyundai, the muffler sounding like a dragster on MDMA, and took the on-ramp to the 405.

“Hey Tyler, let’s go see Uncle Toby!” She turned up the radio, singing along with Taylor Swift—Shake It Up, with all the moves. The toddler was dancing in his chair. Momma smiled and hit the gas.

Sandra’s checking account didn’t stretch to luxury fruit items—avocado toast was fine for the Malibu set, but it was way above her pay grade. She’d unload all that—Toby would add it to his supply and sell it at the farmer’s market after a little organic relabeling.

What she got from the fruit vendor would be enough to pay her whole grocery bill. As for the produce, good job she’d only paid for carrots.

The shiny robot self-checkout that sells more carrots than were ever stocked by the store.


By 2019 there will be an estimated three hundred and twenty-five thousand self-checkouts on the planet—at the rate such things grow, we can expect half a million by the third decade of the new millennium. I’m not sure what this century will be famous for, and most of us won’t live it out, but right now it’s the century of consumer automation.

In five years or so, supermarkets will have put half a million people out of work. At minimum wage of 5-10 bucks an hour, we’re talking savings of one hundred and fifty million bucks per week—five to ten billion dollars per year.

One Australian supermarket recently discovered that its customers had become extremely health-conscious—one shopper alone had purchased forty pounds of carrots—makes for beautiful eyes.

Sadly, when the supermarket looked more closely at the issue, it found out it had sold more carrots than its entire supply. As robots take over human jobs, humans have less money. But they also have more time on their hands to machinate and plot their revenge. After all, when man discovered fire, he promptly burned his neighbor.

There’s a new game in town, and it’s called ‘cheat the robot.’

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: