By JAMES RICKMAN
I should have known something diabolical was afoot here in Los Alamos when I first saw the grackles—the waves, the terrible waves, of grackles blackening the skies above Western Area and North Community.
I would have thought nothing of the sudden appearance of these foul, winged messengers had I not made an unplanned, and ultimately unsuccessful, excursion to Smith’s Marketplace this week to gather ingredients for Frito pie. It was during this foray that I learned the prophesies of St. John the Revelator were beginning to come true, that we have crossed some inexplicable temporal and spiritual threshold that is ushering us down a dark road toward the End of Days.
Unable to find a single bag of Fritos in our otherwise bloated Temple of Gluttony, I grabbed a loaf of bread and a hand of bananas and made my way through the shuffling hordes of zombie shoppers to the grotesquely understaffed check-out stations. While rivulets of The Damned stood in the long lines moving at glacial pace toward the self-checkouts, I spied a gap in one of two open cashier lines and darted into the queue, tossing my items onto the smeary black conveyor belt. The young cashier dutifully scanned the two items, which amounted to $6.45.
As I began peeling off greenbacks to give to the cashier, a customer service representative asked if I minded having the total rounded up to $7 because the cash registers had no change in the drawers. I laughed at what I thought was a fine little joke and continued counting out the Legal Tender from my wallet.
“No seriously, do you mind?” the customer service representative quizzed. “We have no change. The shortages and all of that….”
Horrified, I stopped dead and asked the person if they were serious. I mean, why would I give Kroger—the supermarket behemoth with annual profits of nearly $2 billion—55 cents out of my pocket? Why wouldn’t they round down, instead of asking me to round up?
And then the Revelation came, cutting into reality like a ribbon of blackbirds silhouetted across the failing light of dusk.
“We would credit that 55 cents to your shoppers card,” stammered the now visibly saddened customer service representative, who had been dispatched to unknowingly do the Devil’s deeds.
When I protested that I had no shoppers card and was loathe to make a donation to corporate fat cats, the customer service rep explained that I could be banished to the self-service checkouts, which inexplicably had change, or I could sign up for a shoppers card—off of which Kroger would make huge profits selling my personal information and shopping habits to aggregators of Big Data.
As I sadly told the cashier and the customer service rep to let me exercise my third option, to cancel my transaction, the words of Revelation 13:17 ominously popped into my head:
“No one could buy or sell unless he had this mark, that is, the beast’s name or the number that stands for the name.”
As I walked through the parking lot under the dimming light of day, a band of black birds undulated overhead, coming to rest in a tall tree at the canyon’s edge. The chorus of whistles and raspy tweets emanating from the flock sounded like someone speaking in tongues.
I drove to Indian Liquors and picked up a couple bags of Janaki’s spiced chickpea flour ribbons as a surrogate for Fritos. The friendly man behind the counter urged me good health and blessings as he counted out my change. Back home, my wife and I enjoyed a delicious meal.
As I drifted off to sleep, the prophesy of the grackles was translated by my subconscious.
“Let him who is evil go on doing evil, and whoever is filthy must go on being filthy; whoever is good must go on doing good, and let him who is holy go on being holy. For behold, I shall come as a thief in the night….”
Frito Pie. Photo by James Rickman
Janaki’s spiced chickpea flour ribbons. Photo by James Rickman