Tetris® – Sabrina Stein

It starts with the flick of a switch. The belt twitches on. An incessant, low hum fills the silence. But there never was silence, really. Just the noise of before, impossibly and beautifully peaceful in contrast to this reawakened monotony, this auditory hell. A bizarre rage stirs in the whir of eternity. 

I am a grocery store bagger. I stand at the butt of consumerism. The anus, squeezing out its excrement in an agonizingly slow, oddly colored, bumbling assortment of shit. “Successful bagging starts with a solid structure” I recall sardonically in the serious tone of my grocery store supervisor as another bony bundle of celery writhes down the conveyor belt toward my withering gaze. With violent pleasure, I plunge the dripping stalks into a hole between the box of Yum Nut granola and vegan hot dogs. I smile under dead eyes, holding the bulging bag out to its bewildered owner. “Have a nice day.”

The high of Tetris® is sweet; it satisfies. When I fill a bag perfectly, poetry dripping from my tired hands, I quell the urge to bow. The beauty of packaged food, collaged into prismatic frames, purchased by an ever-changing face is altogether astonishing. I hate my job, though, and excuse me if my mind wanders to the perverse; this happens within the first seven minutes of any grocery store bagger’s shift. 

Another transaction starts. The cashier amiably chirps at the poor cattle on the other side of the counter as they waddle through the chute. Their conversation is blissfully erased by the beep beep BEEP of items sprinting over the scanner pad. This cashier has fast hands, despite their slow lilt. I wait alone at the end of the check stand, marooned on an island of unnecessary labor. Just me and the incessant, humming belt. Nobody looks at me, nobody likes to talk to me. I hate everyone. 

Bananas. They jerk grotesquely onto the counter space, squeaking to a halt in their rubbery skins. I push them to the side. Next come several bags of avocados (these people are spenders), apples, “organic” carrots with the whole plant still attached, butter, spaghetti jars, hummus, taco shells, French bread, wheat bread, more bread (SEPARATE THE BREAD TO THE SIDE SO IT DOESN’T GET SQUISHED BY THE—), thirty rack of cheap beer (nod of approval), chips, pretzels, multivitamins (scam), gum, potatoes, kiwis, sausage, raw chicken (gross). I pause mid-bag to walk around the counter for some hand-sanitizer. 

Meanwhile the slew of fodder continues pulsating down the belt, roiling and pushing over itself. A huge box of cat litter barrels down the center, mowing everything out of its path…BUT WAIT, THERE IS A BLOCKAGE! And now the cat litter is frittering back and forth on the belt in some ecstatic masturbation against the black rubber before I take an arm and wipe a whole section of food out of the way so that the box finally releases and swoons down the rest of the belt into my waiting arms. A kiwi rolls over to the side, afraid. I am at once disgusted and moved.

“This job does not define me. My thoughts do not define me” says the note scribbled and taped above my desk at home. A life-long suppression of darkness does not allow dark thoughts, so they squeak out of air bubbled corners, pressing against my bedroom door at night, riding the infinite grocery belt like a sideways carousel. But what vulgar musings lie on the underside of that looping rubber? Plunging cucumbers, gouged tomatoes, strewn clamshells, torn chia seeds, impaled toothpicks, slathered oil…the list twists dark under and over in endless turns, primed with the flick of a switch. Let me bag that for you! Don’t act surprised when I do a good job.

Sabrina works at the butt of consumerism in a wonderful bookstore (Powell’s), where she loves to touch books, read humans and drink ungodly hot coffee.

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