Earthquakes and Supermarkets
27 July 1998 Critic
Urban fantasies, From one who is alone. (Earthquakes and Supermarkets)
I was awoken by the sound of gnawing. I didn’t know what the sound was at first though, and tried to ignore it. But the sound of something gnawing is not easily ignored. I got up to investigate, but found that when I switched the light on the noise stopped. Again I tried to sleep. I just couldn’t. it was a battle between tiredness and apathy in one corner, and curiosity and fear in the other. Fear won basically. The gnawing seemed to be coming from the direction of one of the boxes I keep my records in. Why couldn’t it be gnawing on something less precious, like my face? Again when I turned the light on it stopped, so I had to creep round in the half light gloom of early morning, in a futile attempt to try and find the perpetrator. Then something scuttled away. I think it was a mouse. But then there was gnawing at the other end of the room, and for some reason I began to think that there were two mice. I’d never seen a mouse before and now there were at least two, just gnawing. The mice had gone mad! Then I had an even less pleasant thought. I’d seen this program on earthquakes and tsunami, and how all these animals had exhibited strange behaviour just before there was this huge earthquake in China. A city was leveled and a quarter of a million people killed. The mice hadn’t gone mad, they were just trying to warn me of my impending doom! I mean all the pieces made sense. The South Island is due for the big one and I’d been given a warning! How could I ignore it? Come to think of it, it did just feel like there was going to be an earthquake. It was just too still, too calm. Perfect earthquake weather. I went back to bed in a tense and anxious state, just waiting for something to happen. Then there was this sort of crack sound from somewhere in the distance, and I thought “Oh no that’s the shockwave” I waited for a rocking motion and sharp jolts, with the roof opening up above me and masonry falling down upon my bed, but nothing happened. I couldn’t stand it any longer, so I got up and quickly got dressed; well if I’m going to be trapped in rubble for days awaiting rescue, I may as well be warm. I have ample provisions at least, thanks to of my policy of buying large amounts of goods when they are on special at supermarkets. I like to think I am defeating the capitalist system by doing this, because they have loss leaders which they break even on, or make little profit on and if I can stock up on these, I will save money. They probably are still winning though. I always end up buying things that aren't on special as I go round and round through the supermarket, trying to beat the limit of four. I think one time a checkout girl thought I liked her, when I came repeatedly through her aisle with tinned soups. The first time was your normal ‘limited’ supermarket encounter “hello, how are you” etc (it doesn’t depend what you reply they just say “good”) The second time through was a little more personal, and by the third she was giving me recipes for her range of home made soups. At the moment I have about forty or fifty tins, which is probably about my record. I have started worrying though that if I’m trapped in the rubble with these tins I won’t be able to access their nutritious bounty because I only have one tin opener, if that gets lost then I will be done for. I might end up having to try to break them open on a jagged piece of rock and suck their contents out through a hole. It’s funny how whenever I imagine a disaster scenario, I always miraculously survive, no matter how inconsistent that is with the rest of the story. For instance; since my black triangle flat overlooks south Dunedin I often like to imagine a tsunami wave sweeping in from the sea off St Kilda and smashing through South Dunedin, turning it into a temporary lake of floating debris before it all pours back out to sea, leaving the city cleansed as if by bidet (French toilet things). The torrent never reaches my door though, and I am spared this terrible wrath of nature.
Once I was dressed, and had considered these various options, I decided there was no point hanging round in a death trap, waiting. Better to be proactive and go to the supermarket to purchase mouse traps. If an earthquake is due, I don’t want to know about it, better sorry than safe. I spend too much time in supermarkets, as you might already have guessed. I just wander round looking at the enticing merchandise, and the money off specials. For some reason if they take four cents off something it makes worthwhile buying. People must be compelled by that - I know I am. Once I saw this sign at Big Fresh that said one cent off, which meant that if you purchased that item individually you would save no money at all, since it rounded to the nearest five cents. I thought this was a fraud, but I’m sure it’s perfectly legal. People are passive in supermarkets, if you went up to someone and punched them in the face they'd probably say “sorry”. If I ever wanted to set up a death camp, I would do it in a supermarket. People would just come in to be gassed, maybe poisoned by a taste tester. They wouldn’t resist, they would be lobotomised by those fluorescent lights and the sweet music, seduced by the vast product lines. You could even divide the people into class groupings. New World for the middle class, Countdown for working class and Pack and Save for beneficiaries. You could use Big Fresh's family orientated atmosphere, and their clown to lure the children away, converting them in a factory like process into the sweetest, tenderest meats. Resulting in a saving of one cent a kilogram.