Jacob Lawrence, "Market Scene" (1966)
Jacob Lawrence, Market Scene (1966)
Can a Game Be Literature?

Mark's Pages

December 31, 2002:

The conference attendees are nearly all fat. Exceptions are the Hindus, who look lean and fit. Vegetarian diet?

Check-out line, major grocery chain, Pacifica.

Checker is early 30s and already dead. Fat in an unhealthy way that suggests languidness, and self-indulgence, and decay. Pasty-white skin, like that of an invalid, accentuated by thick ruby lipstick which seems obscene in this useless context. Bloated splotches of dead purple arteries which she clumsily tries to hide with makeup. Dishwater-colored hair. Comments on the food people buy, especially deserts, in sentences of delight like, "What a be-yoo-tee-ful donut!"

Retiree with a military haircut and "U.S.S. Carl Vinson" officer's cap chats with her about a recent road trip to Las Vegas. "I love Las Vegas!," drawls the checker in her obscene, languid way. Everything about her is slow, from her carefully-measured gestures to her sleeplike speech pattern.

"We'd thought about going overseas this time," says Mr. Retiree. "But we decided to See America First."

She parts her obscene lips into a morbid grimace.

"Oh," she says with a slow shudder. "I'd never, never leave this country."

The very thought dismays her, as if maggots and worms were crawling over her pasty-white flesh.

"I saw a TV documentary once about India," she continues. Behind her in the next line are a Hindu couple: man in an inexpensive dark suit, woman in a lovely multicolored sari. Their backs stiffen as they overhear.

"There's a city there called 'Calcutta' which they call 'the black hole'." A ripple of disgust shudders through her fleshy frame. "It's all poverty and leprosy and people with flies in their mouths." There's a horrified look on her deathmask face which mimics the corpses she's describing. Concludes with strict but sleepy logic: "I'd never go to India."

You frown. The Hindu couple are very tense. Unhealthy checker smiles obscenely at you. "Don't you think?," she says.

"No," you say, succinctly. "That's like saying, 'I once saw a postcard of a place called "Death Valley", therefore I'll never visit California.' It's ignorant and stupid and typical of everything which is most backward and uncivilized in American culture."

Conversation stops on all sides.

Mr. Retired Military turns toward you in a vaguely suspicious way. He's not sure, but he thinks you've just insulted his country. The Hindu couple do not relax. Nobody says another word, which is for the best. You'd probably spit at them if they did.

A few weeks later you notice the unhealthy checker shopping for her own groceries. In her cart she's got Twinkies, cupcakes, Oreos, frozen beef dinners with gravy, pork chops, bacon, ice cream bars, breadsticks, diet sodas, hair color, and salt. She adds a TV Guide at the checkout stand. Her pasty-white invalid skin has taken on a greenish tint. She's forgotten all about the time you insulted her, and she still comments on the food people buy, especially the deserts.

Few of the conference attendees are worth talking with. They're not very knowledgeable, they're not very smart, and they came to play golf, or to shop for touristy injun jewelry at the Southwest Cactus gift shop. Exceptions are the Hindus, who are sharp, engaged, and there to learn.

-------- Analysis --------
Americans, descended from Puritans, worship Death. Other cultures don't. This is one reason we hate them so much.