It's not cholera, or SARS or the Black Death. It's not something that leaves anyone disabled, mortally ill or on bedrest. And it's not anything that can't be cured. But it's something that is most definitely spreading. Like wildfire. In Ralphs and Albertsons. In Home Depot and Lowe's. In Dick's Sporting Goods and Sport Chalet. That "something" is people who sign the electronic point-of-sale terminals at grocery, hardware and retail stores with A REAL PEN.
1) INFECTION. The first time I came across evidence of this epidemic was at my local grocery store. I laughed it off at first, but as I drove home (and for several days following), I couldn't stop thinking about how colossal a mouth-breathing, painfully unaware moron one would have to be to reach the "sign here" point in a transaction, pull out a pen and sign what is essentially a computer screen. It's like replying to an email via handwritten letter on your computer screen with a Sharpie. DERP, party of one, your table is ready.
2) OUTBREAK. A couple of weeks later, I saw it at Home Depot. Then I saw it at Dick's. And then I saw it at my local Shell station. This was clearly not the work of a single idiot. There are many of them among us. It's an infectious disease, spreading rapidly and mucking up the "sign here" screens across this great county of ours. The thing that scares me most is that these are people with whom we share the road, people we rely on to cook us meals at restaurants, trust to handle our taxes, field our customer-service calls, or fix our clogged shitters. Like herds of doltish zombies, they're out there. The electronic pen is tethered to the freaking terminal, for Christ's sake. Are these people filling out PDFs of their W-2s with Sharpies on the screens of their Commodore 64s?
3) CURE. Okay. Maybe I lied. Maybe this can't be cured. If cashiers can't catch these goons in the act and ask them kindly, "WHAT IN THE ACTUAL FUCK ARE YOU DOING?!" then what hope do we have? Answer: None. We are doomed. If I'm MIA next week, it's because I'm not done constructing an underground bunker in my yard to protect me from the impending idiot apocalypse.
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This column appeared in print as "We Have an Epidemic."