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Janis Jaquith
janis@radioessays.com
550 words

BIG BROTHER DISCOUNT

I'm standing at the customer-service counter at the supermarket, and I'm so nervous, you'd think I was about to rob the place. In front of me is the form you fill out to get the store's discount card.

You know -- the grocery-store card you use to get a good deal on diapers or whatever. A package of Pampers will be ten dollars -- but if you have a BigBrother card, it's like 85 cents.

And you know, don't you, why these supermarkets are so desperate for you to use that card. To build a profile of you. If you buy, say, prunes and hair dye and Depends, you're in the old-lady demographic, and if you're buying cigarettes and beer and Trojans, you're in another ballpark altogether.

I despise these cards -- watching people hand them over at the supermarket, I've always wanted want to yell, "Your every purchase is being monitored -- doesn't that bother you?"

And what do they do with all this information about you? They swear the data is for their eyes only, to which I say, "Hah!" There's nothing to stop them, or a future owner of their assets, from sharing this juicy information about your cigarette-buying habits with, say, your health-insurance company.

Every time you use one of these cards, the Piggy-Wiggly or whoever is compiling a dossier on you that would be the envy of J. Edgar Hoover or the NSA. But you probably know this already.

I have been fuming, for years, every time I check out and the clerk asks if I have one of those creepy BigBrother discount cards. I usually explain why I don't have one. A few weeks ago, after perhaps my fourth time in the same clerk's checkout line, he leaned forward and said, "Look, don't use your real name. Most people don't."

The woman behind me in line grinned and raised her eyebrows. Hm. I started asking around and discovered that everyone in America has been getting these cards with fake names. Who knew?

Which is how I have wound up here, glancing at the clerk to see if she can tell that I'm about to make up a name. I consider "Emily Dickinson." Will the clerk think that one's a howler, or has she even heard of Emily Dickinson? I glance up again. Hard to tell. Of course, hesitating over the "name" section of the form has to be a tip-off.

My hand is shaking. I decide to use the name of a character in a story I'm writing. Hey, my name could be Frannie Malatesta. I'm making up the address as I write it down. I hand over the form, and look her right in the eye (which I suddenly realize is more suspicious-looking than averting my eyes). She looks right back at me. I know what she's thinking: "So what'd you put down, honey, Mickey Mouse? Wile E. Coyote? Elvis?" But she says nothing, and hands me my discount card.

I walk away, suddenly light-hearted. Big Brother may know my medical history and my driving record, but dammit, he doesn't get my grocery list.


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