of machines and men

I squint at the six open DIY check stands at Home Despot (I call it that in honor of my Peepop, who once said “depot” when he meant “despot” during the annual reading of the Hagaddah). I had cash. I didn’t know whether the machines could handle cash, and I didn’t want to find out. I spied a guy and asked if he would do me the pleasure of ringing me up, and he was delighted.

“I hate those machines,” I tell him. “I feel like they take jobs from people.” I do.

“I can’t comment on that, so I will just say thank you very much.” He smiles.

He’s a decorated employee. By that, I mean his many tattoos, a sign of his loyalties, are visible. A still-scabbing tat shows Woody Guthrie with his guitar and the famous slogan from it: “This machine kills fascists.”

“Did you see this one?” he asks, proudly showing off the asterisk on his left arm, with “and so it goes” beneath it. Of course. My friend Dave and I both know it—Kurt Vonnegut, from Breakfast of Champions (and everything else).

I get permission to take his photo and am wrestling with my camera as a line forms. Here are like-minded people—regular folks who probably have mastered a Google search—lined up to be checked out by a real person.

I don’t want a drum machine or a phone router or an ATM. I want someone to pump my gas. And even if I had to choose between a robot or the nasty witch at the post office who can never manage a smile and will actually rear up and ask, “What did you just say?” if she thinks you might have called her on her bitchness, or the crazy old bat at Burlington Coat Factory who grumbles and complains about everything and slams your shit down if it doesn’t have a price and asks you why you couldn’t get the one with the tag on it—I’d probably still choose the real people.

Or maybe companies can hire more people like the Home Depot guy or the two ladies at Family Dollar on Harford Road. Yesterday, while hanging our 3 Hipstateers* show with Dave Pugh and Steve Parke, Steve and I stopped in to get some long nails; we didn’t have the right ones to hang our photographs. A woman asked, “Can I help you find something?” I told her I was looking for nails. She said, “Oh, they’re in the front of the store, just past those two young ladies.”

I looked at the two people up the aisle—a middle-aged woman and her mother—and I turned to tell the woman how sweet she was. She smiled. But I was lost when I got to the front of the store and didn’t find any hardware. Why, this is all—fingernails! I shared a good, emotional belly laugh with the woman who sent me to the nails that most of the women in our area would have meant.

At the cash register, our checker gave us the once over. “You two are rockin’ the superhero shirts.” Steve and I didn’t really understand her at first, but we looked down. Not only were we both wearing t-shirts with superheroes on them, but we had the same four superheros on our shirts. “Ya’all didn’t know that?” she asked, surprised that we hadn’t consulted on our outfits that morning.

You don’t get any good stories from an ATM. Your computer does nothing delightful. No DIY checker will ever tell you that you’re rockin’ a superhero shirt. And no robot is going to love you like I do.

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*Please join the 3 Hipstateers—me, Steve Parke, and Dave Pugh—for a show of photos taken exclusively with our iPhones (a machine that can’t do anything without a person at the controls), Thursday, 6-8, at Clementine Fine Foods, 5402 Harford Road.

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