The lines at the new Hyper-mart were unbelievable, so I shot across town to Mellow-mart. There were only four cars in the lot and I parked in the slot nearest the entrance, then hurried in. I was met by a smiling middle-aged woman wearing a soft-orange Mellow-mart housecoat.
“Take your jacket?” she asked. I was in a hurry. I needed a pint of ice cream and a pound of coffee. But she smiled so sweetly I couldn’t resist. I sat in an overstuffed recliner while she slid a pair of house slippers on my feet.
“Have fun shopping, sir,” the lady said as she walked away. I sat in the chair and looked around. There was one checkout stand for the whole store, and no one was in line. The lighting was subdued and indirect, there was soft, almost subliminal music, and I caught the faint odor of strawberry incense,
I shook my head, feeling like Dorothy in the poppy fields on the way to see the Wizard of Oz. That’s when I noticed that the floor was covered with thick, plush carpeting. My shopping cart had extra-wide Nerf-material wheels to allow it to roll quietly. On the shelves were Mellowmart generic food items: Mellowcorn, Mellowpudding, Mellowdecaffeinated coffee. And at the end of each aisle was a reclining chair.
This is crazy, I thought. I hurried up and down two aisles. In one recliner a woman with blue hair was snoring loudly. Her half-filled shopping cart sat beside her. Through a large plate-glass window I saw an old houserobed woman rocking a sleeping child. It was the Mellowchild Calm-Care Center. I felt out of control. The formless music was worming into my mind, and the smell had changed to. . .poppy? Was that the smell of poppy blossoms?
I charged down an aisle. I had to get out. Suddenly, I noticed a man sitting in the lotus position on the floor. A tag on his white pajamas identified him as the “Mellowmanager.”
“Hey” I said. He opened his eyes. “What are you guys trying to do here? Is this some kind of marketing mind-control trick?”
“Take a deep breath,” he said to me. “Breathe out the bad air and breathe in the good.” I don’t know why, but I did it. I began to feel lightheaded.
“You have a question, don’t you?” he said. “Let’s talk about it.”
I shook my head. “What’s going on here?’1
“It’s simple,” he said softly. “We keep the prices high enough to keep the frantic, bustling people away, and we don’t match it with quality high enough to attract the upscale shopper. But most of all we create a special mellow environment. Now, I want you to touch your index finger to your thumb and. . .”
“Not me,” I said. I backtracked past the snoring woman and picked up the only can of coffee with caffeine they had. Then I raced past the Mellowmeat section, where a sign said the cattle had all passed away in their sleep, freeing the meat of fear and anxiety. Finally I found the ice cream and tossed it into the cart. At the checkout, the cashier said, “Hi, hon. I’m new.” She slowly punched each price number into the cash register. “None of that scanner business here,” she said. “They told me to take my time.”
I paid her and ran out to my car. I peeled out of the parking lot and into rush-hour traffic, where huge tattooed men in pickup trucks tailgated me. Finally I felt normal again. I turned on some good old screaming rock ’n’ roll and lit up a cigarette. Jesus, I thought. I’m not ever going back in that Mellowmart place again.