Saturday, February 02, 2008

Times they are a'changin'

I went to the Friends of the Library bookshop today, as I always do on Saturdays. Today I bought The Mismeasure of Woman for a buck.

On the way out I spied a handful of vinyl albums - including Fresh Cream and Disraeli Gears, 50c each. And a bunch of Eric Clapton albums from when he was at his beardiest and most good-looking, but at a definite nadir when it comes to music. I left those.

It occurred to me, as I was checking out the condition of the vinyl, that no-one would call a group Cream today. Not because it's boastful, but because it might alienate the lactose-intolerant. The record company wouldn't risk putting a negative image in the minds of a "minority". Probably all bands today are called things like 1-2-3-Yeah!! to avoid this kind of thing. (Not 1-2-3-4-Yeah!! because that would alienate the Japanese.)

Except punk bands, who are probably called things like Kill The Lactose Intolerant!! (or 4-4-4-In-UR-Face!!) because that's what's expected of them also.

When I paid, I had the correct money ready for the volunteer, which surprised her.

And I surprised the folks at the Post Office yesterday with the same cunning trick. The guy rang up postage on four identical mailers. The first one was $1.30, the second one was $1.30. Sensing a trend, I got $5.20 out of my pocket and put it on the counter. The third one was $1.30. The fourth one was $1.30. The little machine then tallied it all up and he turned to me. "$5.20. Oh, will you look at that! You've got the right money!"

Yes I have. And I'm not exactly a math genius, either. However, at primary school I was required to do "Change from £5" sums every morning as a warm up, and that was in the days when the purchases were things like 2 Guineas or One pound fourteen and eightpence ha'penny. I think the difference is not that young people of today are stupid - the tellers who have been surprised by my uncanny abilities have ranged in age from 12 to approx. 84 years old - but the way American stores operate.

Here, the price on the can, or these days price on the barcode on the shelf corresponding to the unpriced one on the can, is the base price. Sales tax is always added at the register. Sales tax is variable, and I honestly couldn't tell you what it is here. 7.5%? 7.75%? Something like that. So the usual way to buy things when I was young in England, which was to add up the price of each thing as you put it in your basket, can't be done unless you are unusually fast in calculating. (And more interested in local politics so you know what taxes are due.)

The amount rung up on the register is always a surprise. The weirdest things have sales tax, and stranger things still don't have tax. Then there's the loyalty card discount at most stores, and then the fact that many things are either marked as sale price but aren't, because they forgot to move the sale sticker, or are sale-priced when not marked as such, because they forgot to put on the sale sticker.

I do think it's deliberate. I think there is a conspiracy in America to keep American citizens teetering along the edge of just-about-managing-to-run-their-own-lives. I think it suits those in power (i.e. large companies) to keep the population guessing, and the random pricing is just one of those little ways it's accomplished.

Perhaps I am becoming paranoid. Perhaps I will vote for Ron Paul next week. If I can figure out the 72 page supplement to the voter's booklet that arrived a couple of weeks ago, I might be able to work out if that's a good idea. But most probably, I won't be able to follow it. The page from the WE ARE FOR PROPOSITION #XX COMMITTEE saying VOTE NO ON PROPOSITION #XX was enough of a taster for me... and you heard about the Florida primary, right?

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