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a peaceful protest

I was 16, and the thought of being forced to mention God as part of the pledge of allegiance was too hypocritical an act for me to play along with. Each day of high school began with this mundane recitation, as most people just stood with their hand jutting from a hip, the other dangling across their chest as they counted out the seconds until they could sit back down. They leaned against desks, and talked through it about what party and where it would be, if there would be a keg or a bonfire in the woods. I recited the words, omitting the "under God" part as a sort of half-baked protest. I was raised to flaunt my family's ramshackle atheism, as a choice of smug pride. We knew better, was the prevailing logic.

But one day, I could not stand and say any of it. It felt so rote, so hollow, so devoid of choice. There was no law that said I was required to say it. I knew this was my right, a form of free speech. My homeroom teacher was a legendary drinker, a trash-talking re…

lost in the supermarket (the lazy anarchist)

Auchan. For years I had no idea it was a French company, impossible to imagine this mashup of Costco and Walmart that dots the outskirts of Moscow is a foreign project. Some Auchan stores are so big the workers wear rollerskates to get price checks.  

Saturday afternoon is the only window of opportunity for us and we are two of the ants swarming around the handfuls of shopping carts as they ferry in, dripping wet from the parking lot. I wait my turn, watching some new chain get unlocked as each person pulls one from the fresh line that has arrived. I am next. The chain will not swing open. I yank harder and N stops me. I need a ten ruble coin to slide inside it. I go into an immediate fury, as I just used up my ten ruble coins in the last store and would have saved them. She digs into her purse. The line behind us bristles with grumbling, urgent faces. She finds one and shows me how to put it in the cart handle. 
"And how do we get it back?" I ask her.
"When you leave the checkout." She explains.
"So then we have to carry the bags all of the way to the car." I say in a loud voice.
"You can keep them in the cart and not get the money back." She tells me. "Or, we can roll them to the car and then you can bring the empty cart all of the way back here and get it."
I could care less about the ten rubles, although it reminds me of paying two rubles to use a bathroom. It is more the principle of inconvenience, the petty gesture, the scrambling for pennies that disturbs me, the assumption that everyone wants to steal one of these wobbly, lopsided carts.

N disappears with her list, filling the cart with detergent and soap, with glass cleaner and steel wool. I wander into the store, the glazed faces swarming around me. The air is always desperate here. Fresh corn cannot be placed in bags. It is shoved instead, arms thwacking against each other while people fight as if everything is about to run out and they will get the last succulent piece. There are couples, one pushing dutifully, the second doing all of the decision making. There are single women, with mousy hair and faces lowered, with just a basket swinging from their elbow. They are shopping for small bargains. There is a smell of spoiled fish wafting down the narrow aisles as I make my way towards the wine shelves. People stand in front of the bargain bottles, reading the fine print on labels with mock-serious faces. There are boxes of rosé. There are rows of Russian champagne, which is truly some sort of sugary malt liquor with artificial fruit flavors in it. Champale, like we used to buy in high school for three dollars. Knowing the place is owned by the French now, the irony digs in as faces whip past me. I stare at the middle-priced bottles, wondering if they are all fake. They come from vineyards that could easily be made up, from grape juice and rubbing alcohol and few would be the wiser. I decide to risk it on a tempranillo and wander the aisles trying to find N. There is no cel phone service here, so I cannot call her.

I pass a shelf of pickled herring and see an abandoned soda cup from McDonalds. A laugh jumps out of my mouth. I imagine the irate person who left it there, the super-market anarchist. Or, they are just profoundly lazy.


Elizabeth said…
Aldi's in the US is the same way with the carts. A quarter to free it from the rest. They do it to cut down on paying people to collect the carts from the parking lot.

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