It was move-in weekend at Penn State.
The big black SUV glided into the fire lane outside the exit doors of a big department store. The rear cargo hatch slid up at the same time as the driver’s door opened and a forty-something man wearing khaki shorts and polo shirt stepped out, stretched, and headed around the vehicle.
A female, her casually mussed and streaked hair, carefully coordinated clothing, and tasteful jewelry quivered with impatience as she maneuvered a shopping cart off the sidewalk toward the open cargo hatch.
A male smombie* slouched out the exit door of the store stopping at the back of the cart.
By that time, the forty-something man was scratching his head and saying, “Well, I really don’t know where you think I’m going to put all that stuff.”
“Oh, it’ll fit in somewhere surely. Why don’t you take some of these things out and repack them?” the woman retorted as she reached up to tug at a big puffy plastic package on top of the travel bags and boxes inside the cargo space.
Now the forty-something man was impatient too. “I told you we should have found the dorm room and unloaded this before you went and bought all these other things,” he said as he gestured toward the shopping cart staggering under its load.
“And I told you we could save time by getting this on the way,” she muttered as the big puffy package finally let loose and did its best to crush her.
The smombie came alive as the man shouted, “Joe, come help here.”
After rescuing the woman from the plastic avalanche, the three of them stood there scratching their heads as they looked from the fully loaded SUV with its roof-top carrier to the mountain of stuff hiding the shopping cart.
Meanwhile, inside the department store, harried employees who had already been unloading freight trucks, unpacking mountains of stock, and hauling it to the sales floor since 4 a.m., struggled to control seething tempers and keep friendly smiles plastered on their faces. Why was it, they wondered, that parents insisted on spending money on things like plastic dish strainers packaged with plastic plates, bowls, cups, and spoons? Did they think their college-bound son or daughter would actually locate a sink and wash dishes?
And why buy laundry detergent and dryer sheets, weren’t the dirty clothes going home to mom anyway? Besides, the fully loaded vehicles indicated they were providing their son or daughter with enough clothing to last the sixteen-week semester without washing or wearing the same outfit twice.
And most of all, why oh why, did it seem as if obnoxiousness was a requirement?
My daughter, one of the aforementioned harried employees, witnessed the previous scene as she left the premises after one of her early-morning shifts.
As she recounted it to me, I asked, “Did you see what those people finally did with all their stuff?”
“No, I didn’t stick around to see what they did. The last thing I saw was them unpacking the SUV, spreading stuff all over the fire lane and sidewalk as if no one else was around. That, along with all the other customers I’d already dealt with, just made me even more annoyed so I figured I’d better get outta there.”
Although my daughter and other employees may seethe at the behavior of some of their customers, the retail sales industry loves those parents and millions more like them. Across the USA, this type of scene is repeated every year starting in July through August and September because in our Western materialistic culture, the back-to-school season seemingly holds a bigger jackpot at the end of its seasonal rainbow than the Christmas season does.
And every year my Amish brain struggles with our materialistic focus and greed. How did it happen that we have become so focused on stuff? Why does it seem as if we value material possessions—mere stuff—more than people? Have we forgotten that the price of desiring more is that we must give something up? And how is it that we’ve lost sight of the insidiousness of greed? Have we forgotten that greed, by its very nature, cannot ever have enough?
Yes, the retail sales industry employs thousands but it too seems to value the stuff more than the ‘people’ who help them add to their big jackpot. The whole sorry mess only perpetuates the cycle of consume, consume, consume. Doesn’t it?
*smombie: a recently coined word (combining zombie and smartphone) used to describe someone whose mental acuity is focused on his or her smartphone.