So here’s the question. When you get the grocery cart with the squeaky wheel, why doesn’t it squeak when you start off... so you could stop and pick another cart? Why does it wait till you’re five aisles in and half a cart full? That’s what happened to me in Target yesterday. I had just selected my Fruit Loops and Pop-Tarts and was pushing bravely for the distant dairy section for a quart of 1%, when the left front wheel started to wobble. I slowed, then pushed on, and it started to squeak. As I neared the dairy products, the squeak became a screeching rasp and the wheel fluttered from side to side like a broken chicken wing. If you’re a guy who’s courted anonymity all his life and believes, at long last, he’s achieved near invisibility, this can be humiliating. Doesn’t Target have a junior executive in charge of squeaky-wheel-mortification-protection? Where’s the damn suggestion box?
On I forged. SQUAWK-EDA-SQUEAK-EDA FLAP-FLAP-FLAP. Everybody two aisles ahead can hear me coming, of course, their curiosity peaked by the strange cacophony. As they come toward me, they first inspect the wounded wheel and only then look up to see who could possibly be mistreating this poor puppy so.
There’s no way I can pretend to look for Brussels sprouts as I screech along. Maybe if I play the jaunty victim, they’ll sympathize. A distinguished looking, grey-haired woman approaches.
“HOW COME I ALWAYS GET THE SQUEAKY WHEEL?” I bark out grinning apologetically. She’s a little surprised, but manages a smile as she passes. “Poor
baby,” she says, though I’m twenty years her senior at least. That worked pretty well, I think. SQUAWK-EDY-SQUEAK-EDY-FLAP. Worth another shot.
The next passerby is a tall, fashionable, black lady in furs and sun glasses. She has searched out the annoying FLAPPING and now looks up at me.
“HOW COME I ALWAYS GET THE SQUEAKY WHEEL?” I chirp again hopefully. I can’t see her eyes behind the shades, but she veers off in an irritated sidestep and mutters, “Deal with it,” under her breath.
When I get to my car and finally have time to ponder this FINASCO (as my mother used to nominate such irritants), I am awash in shame and embarrassment. But why do you fret about such trivia, I ask myself. Nobody cares about your problems, big or little. They all have their own worries and humiliations. If I’d called out, “HEY, I’VE GOT CANCER AND ONLY A WEEK TO LIVE!” the answers would have been the same. “Poor baby.” “Deal with it.” Life is hard for everyone, much harder than a grocery cart dilemma.
But then the most humiliating thing of all began. The bad poet in me couldn’t let it go, and I began making a metaphor of it. Life is like a grocery cart, of course. And sooner or later you’re going to suffer the squeaky wheel. It may be just a tiny wobble or it may be the horrible, broken-wing SQUAWKER. Either way, it’s coming... and probably many times in many forms. So name one metaphorical squeaky wheel in your life, I said as I drove home. Nothing major, just a wobble... for starts. That was easy. My childhood nickname, BUDGE, was a real squeaker. Where mom and dad came up with BUDGE is too long a story. But BUDGE it was, and, as a chubby child, it was not an easy monicker to manage in school. Where’s BUDGE? Can BUDGIE come out and play? Hey, BUDGIEKINS, what’s up? SQUEAK. Move over, BULGY.
SQUAWK-SQUEAK.... year after year till I escaped to college. “Poor baby.” “Deal
with it,” you big jerk! Especially, when I have to confess I’ve had a lucky, squeak-free life compared to the hardships one reads of daily. So let the damn metaphor stop there, BUDGIE, I say to myself with true contempt. No such luck. Asleep that night, the metaphor explodes in a tragicomic nightmare.
In this dream, I continue loading my screeching cart with groceries Wifey has sent me to fetch. The clamoring wheel grows louder and now starts shooting sparks at shoppers passing on my left. Somehow I make my way through check-out and head into the parking lot, the broken wheel now making WHACK-WHACK-WHACK-EDA noises. I have to push harder as I move down the row of parked cars toward my own in the distance. Then CRACK, the wheel snaps off altogether and skitters away. The cart slumps to the left, the bare axle digging into the tarmac stopping me dead. If I push, it only gouges nasty scratches in the blacktop. I look around for help, but people detour their carts around me looking mildly amused. A boy in a Target red vest is pushing a line of empty carts back to the building. I point to my missing wheel and look at him pleadingly. “That’s Target property, Mister. You’ll have to pay for that,” he sneers not slowing at all.
Now the nightmare speeds up. I retrieve the wheel and kneel to force it back on the axle but sprain my back lifting the cart and tear my hand open. Bleeding, I wrench at the cart which now topples into the parking lane spilling groceries in all directions. A jar of Gedney dill pickle spears shatters, pickle juice spreading in a neat circle. My purchases are sprawled in disarray behind a Subaru Outback whose owner has stepped past me and is now honking for me to get out of his way. He begins to back up. I slap his trunk and yell, “WAIT!” He is a bald, paunchy fellow who apparently has a CONCEAL and CARRY PERMIT, for he jumps put, gun drawn, hurling insults at my mother. In a panic, I reach down and grab a large Hebrew-National Salami I have just paid for and raise it to show him my predicament. He bravely stands his ground, however, and shoots me twice straight through the heart. As I lie in a pool blood among my pop-tarts, I now sprout gauzy, angel wings and rise slowly out of my body into the air above the Target parking lot.
This idyl is very peaceful, and I am now without fear or panic. “But I don’t know if I’m ready to die yet,” I muse. To my surprise, God Himself engages me in the following dialogue.
“Well, this is your dream, Budgie. If you’re not ready yet, you can go on back.”
“But look at all that blood and pickle juice, and that guy has backed right over me and driven off. Do I have to go back to that? What will Wifey say?”
“Don’t worry about a thing. We’ll just send you home with all your groceries bagged perfectly. Wifey won’t be any the wiser. We’ll even pay that Target fee for the broken cart.”
“No way! They should pay ME for loss of life. I’m not paying for that damn cart.
Sorry, darn cart. Why should I?”
“Well, when you put it that way, you may be right. OK, look for it as a credit on your next Target bill. I’ll make them pay for it.”
“Damn straight! Sorry again, Lord.”
“No offense. You goin’ back then?”
“Yeah, but no, wait. This wafting around is very kind of... pleasant. Is this what
Heaven is like? Drifting and dreaming?”
“Well, yes and no. Actually in this dream, Heaven is right over there. It’s a big Target store... but without carts and squeaky wheels, because, of course, there’s no check out. You can’t leave, but why would you? Think of all those yummy muffins and deli sandwiches you love. Pop-tarts, mouthwash, lemonade, TP, everything a fellow needs to pass a nice eternity. Big screen televisions... bigger than you’ve ever had... with all your favorite shows. If you like sports,... basketball, fishing, golf....drop over to Sporting Goods. Pick whatever you want; it’s free. Of course, you can’t actually go fishing, but drop by the Drug Counter and pick up some of our miracle soporifics, and then Household Goods for a nice comfy pillow and off to fishing dreamland you go. It’s all been dreams anyway, you know. Not everyone has learned that.”
“Oh, my God!”
“Yes, you’re quite welcome, my boy.”
“No, I meant Oh, my God, you’re telling me Heaven is just a Capitalist supermarket?”
“Yes, of course, just as I meant... just as it was meant to be.”
“You mean a Heaven of profits, money, bills, debt, income inequality, credit default swaps, leveraging... that kind of stuff.”
“Of course, just like the greatest nation on Earth. Heaven is a perfected Capitalist universe. And another good thing... no Muslims or immigrants. You’ll love it!”
“Heaven’s not a democracy then?”
“No, no. Real American capitalism is run by winners. Eventually the winners redistribute all the capital into their off-shore accounts and phony, tax-free trusts, We may call it democracy, but that’s a lot of majority-rule crap-ola. The majority, of course, are losers. You can’t have real capitalism run by losers now can you? Democracies don’t last long. Winners are the ones that rule this universe, Kiddo. Always have, always will. That I can tell you.”
“Is ‘crap-ola’ a God word, Sir? And what about The Good Samaritan, Love Thy Neighbor, Care Givers?”
“That’s just pop philosophy by one of history’s biggest losers. We give it lip service, but even the loser majority won’t vote for it. They all want to be winners, they love winners, and the God of their universe is a Winner, like me. So they vote for a nation ruled by winners... the much maligned one percent. It’s all bought and paid for.”
“This is the nightmare of all nightmares. You must be Satan then.”
“Satan? I’m not sure I’ve heard of him. Sounds like a David Duke sort of guy. Not my kind really. I can look into Satan if you want. But if you ask me, he’s just a guy God blames for His mistakes. Pretty smart really.”
“Oh, no! It’s you, isn’t it... the porn-star president. How did you become God?”
“Of course, it’s me. You become God, first of all, by acting like one, but more
important, you must believe you’re God. You also must have the best brain, the best words, and know more than all the angels. And you might as well forget that porn-star stuff. Did you ever hear God admit to a mistake... in a universe full of horrible
mistakes? Did you ever hear God apologize for anything. Winners never admit mistakes. Winners don’t apologize. That guy who shot you was a winner, a real 2nd amendment, American patriot. God is a Winner. Because He’s God isn’t He. He answers to no one. I answer to no one. We’re autocrats, Bucko! Now, if God had His own God who created Him, watched His every move, had foreknowledge of what He would do, and judged Him when His kingdom was done... as losers have... well then we might hope winners would behave more like pathetic losers... like you. BUT HE DOESN’T!”
“Lord, the grocery cart was my nightmare, but you’re America’s nightmare. Send me back. Let me wake from this horror of winners and squeaky wheels.”
“Poor baby. Deal with it. But don’t blame me for winners and squeaky wheels. You know who started all that, don’t you?”