Sunday, November 14, 2010

Agnosticism in the Checkout Line

Man, is it easy to drop $100,000 at the grocery story these days! Strike that--I meant $100. Sam and Peter already corrected my last post and I thought about going back and editing it, but then I decided it would stand as a testament to a liberal arts education.

Speaking of which, apparently students at Goldsmiths are "occupying" school buildings, protesting having to pay tuition fees. I can sympathise, but since I was one of the international students who subsidized their "free" education, part of me feels that maybe the time has come for a little taste of higher education, American-style.

Where was I? Oh, right, the grocery store. I rolled up to the checkout, brandishing a week's worth of groceries, plus coupons, gift cards, etc, and I suddenly realised, "Ah, nuts, I forgot my bags!"

To which the sixteen-year-old cashier (who *had* to see my ID, because the register would not let him continue to check me out until he made sure I was legally able to purchase that $5 bottle of wine destined for the crock pot), "well, I'm glad you didn't."

Cue the xyelephone noise that Warner Bros. cartoons make Blink. Blink. "What?"

"Actually, they're kind of a pain, the plastic is easier."

"But the reusable ones are better." At this point, I'm still unloading--I told you I had a ton of groceries.

"Well, these are recyclable."

"Yeah, but the whole point of reusable bags is there would be no need for plastic bags like these." Visions in my mind of that huge island in the Pacific made of plastic bags and garbage...

"Well, I think that global warming is overrated..."

At this point, I let the bag of cans I was histing into my cart go crashing into position and just stare at him.

"Uh, I mean you know how the earth goes through warming cycles? well, this is just another warming cycle."

"Yes, but it's way more than has ever been recorded."

"Yeah, but recorded history only goes back, what, 2,000 years?"

Not according to my Chinese friend, but okay, "Yes, but there is an archaeological record that indicates that global warming--and by that I mean the natural warming cycles--has never been this severe before."

"Okay, but I think all that stuff is overrated."

"Whatever. It's your generation that's going to figure this stuff out."

I should mention that by this point I am getting a very clear picture of how I must appear to this young man. Tired from a weekend of cleaning and working around the house, hair scraped up into a scroggy ponytail, probably have to hurry back to my three or four kids while my husband is working at the Smithfield factory of porcine death plant... Suddenly I feel incredibly old. I mean, I'm not, believe me, I know that I am not an old person, but to a sixteen year old? Well, put it this way: I remember how it felt at sixteen to be talking to people who were thirty.

I am also trying to finish bagging my groceries, cramming as much as possible into each evil bag, cashing coupons, writing a cheque, etc, as we're talking. Cashier-Lad seems to sense that I'm getting a little fed up with him--not because I think he is too big for his britches, but because I admire his chutzpah--so he apologises, saying "I bet you think I'm just some dumb teenager, but I'm not, I--"

And I cut him off saying "I don't think so. I think you're a very smart kid, just remember to always question assumptions, especially your own."

Then he goes "I'm also an agnostic in a Christian family," and I feel my understanding of his picture of me is validated.

I just laugh and say "Honey, I'm a liberal living in Virginia. Keep up the good fight."

When I worked on a community show one summer, I remember one of the teenage stagehands coming out to me. I remember what a big deal it was for this kid to tell me he was gay, and how I sat there waiting for a chance to speak so I could say "And?" Talking to the Agnostic Cashier (ohhhhh, does that remind me of sixteen year old Nicki proudly declaring she is a communist!) made me feel good that I could still relate to the younguns. I hope I won't lose that.

And I hope that kid never loses his spirit of freethinking rebelliousness.

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