Zombies in Aisle 9 / Cell Chatting & Shopping Adventures

By Robert Felthousen, MLIS Alum, Class of 2006

A fact of life since the invention of the marketplace (Nineveh, 8000 BC) is that you can't go shopping without running into other shoppers. A modern corollary to this is that you can't go shopping without running into shoppers who are talking on their cell phones. Aisle after aisle it's the same thing: listless carts half-filled with jumbled crap; half-pushed by sluggish, staggering zombie shoppers; gazing at without seeing the shelves; occasionally clutching at jars of baby food or motor oil with unfeeling, blocky hands; moaning as the damned into their cell phones. 'Uhhh,' they intone. 'Well did she eat the macaroni? Well did she eat any of the ham? UhhhÉ Well give her the worm medicine anyway. I think it's in pantry somewhereÉ UhhhÉ UhhhÉ UhhhÉ' And so on in dead monotone, endlessly and pointlessly.

A lifetime of watching zombie movies through my fingers (early childhood experiences imply that it is rude to watch through other people's fingers) has confirmed one deadly fact, a fact that is as true in Night of the Living Dead as it is in the Albertsons near my apartment: zombies appear as swarms, not solitaires. Somewhere behind one cell-phone-zombie-shopper there's sure to be another cell-phone-zombie-shopper, and another and another, and so on forever, good night and amen.

The cell-phone-zombie-shopper phenomenon is a subject of considerable sociological research. Early findings indicate that, no matter where one starts listening in a supermarket, subsequent zombie-cell-phone-talkers engage in slightly more stupid cell phone conversations than the previous zombie-cell-phone-talkers encountered. For example, immediately following the 'macaroni-ham-and-worm-medicine' zombie, one might expect to overhear a conversation like this one: 'UhhhÉ What are you eating? Oh yeah, ice cream? What kind? Double-chocolate-fudge? Has it got sprinkles on it? Oh yeah, and a chocolate waffle cone? Is it good?'

Now, I am neither a brave nor particularly not-cowardly man. But the urge is strong in me to shake such a zombie by the shoulders, to find some shred of life or humanity lingering in the dead, clouded eyes; the urge to shriek is even stronger: Is it good? It's double-chocolate-fudge ice cream with sprinkles and a chocolate waffle cone! How could it be anything but good? Which leads to the second component of current sociological research: not only is each subsequent conversation slightly more stupid than the last, I personally find it more irritating. At this point, I suppose I should point out that all current sociological research on the topic of cell-phone-zombie-shopping is conducted by me, and has yet to be peer reviewed. But research is research, and if the Journal of Abnormal Psychology can't bother to call me back, that's their problem.

And so the end draws near. In any worthwhile zombie invasion, the early days are marked only by a sense of unease, perceptible to only a few; meanwhile, the horde grows. Indeed, three or four years ago, one might only encounter three or four zombies on a single shopping trip. But the swarm grows by incorporating the unwary into its body. One year you're mildly irritated at the rudeness of shoppers who lurch among the aisles, cell phone plastered to the side of their headÉ and the next year it's you, motionless in front of the pasta section, hands limp on a diagonally-oriented cart that blocks both sides of the aisleÉ it's you, mindless and gaping, explaining how to use the defrost feature of a microwave oven in dead, monotonous syllablesÉ it's you, while I stand there behind you, waiting for you to finish your stupid conversation, to take notice that people are actually shopping while you stand there blocking the rotini that's on sale for a dollar. Not three yards away, a soccer mom in faded Levis and a navy blue baseball cap watches, infected by your cellular zombie-bite. Her eyes gloss over as she realizes there's no reason she can't call her sister and talk about what should have happened on last week's episode of LostÉ and so it happens. Another hapless soul is lost, drawn into the ravening zombie horde.

What is one to do? I am no hero, people. I am no Ken Foree at the Monroeville mall. At best, I can hope to be the shabby eccentric, lurching through the streets and rambling incoherently about the impending zombie massacre. That's not much of prize: I mean, we all know what happens to that guy in the zombie movie. After warning (and being laughed at by!) the sheriff, that guy ends up as zombie food, only to be found in the second act by the same sheriff, who mournfully states, 'I guess that guy was right after all.' Well, fate is fate, I suppose, so here goes:

Cell phones do not belong in supermarkets. There, I said it. Supermarkets are supposed to be bastions of silence and personal space, a place where I can compare bathroom tissue prices for hours, or handle every yellow bell pepper at least twice before deciding I want broccoli instead, or linger at the newsstand and read Mad Magazine from cover to cover ø without having someone's stupid conversation shoved into my ear like so many moldy carrots down a garbage disposal; without having to wait for someone to move their cart so I can get around them because they're too busy arguing about their deceased grandmother's birth date to notice they're in a public place; and without being traumatized by someone else's intimate details, casually strewn about the supermarket aisles like so much dirty underwear. (An actual conversation ø not reprinted in consideration of the squeamish ø involved sex, reproductive organs in pain afterwards, and the unexplained-but-certainly-ominous-sounding mushroom treatment which apparently 'didn't work.')

Maybe it's me. Maybe I'm not 'up with the times.' I doubt it; you might as well say that the survivors of a zombie holocaust are 'not with it' for their disinterest in devouring living brains or general lack of moaning and staggering skills. I say rudeness is rudeness, no matter the circumstances: one shouldn't talk on a cell phone in the supermarket, because doing so is rude. So there, I've warned the sheriff. Don't get caught up in the zombie horde. I've become that guy, and my part in this twisted tale of the living dead and the annoyed living is almost complete. Now I do hope you'll excuse me. It's time for me to go shopping. I've got to pop in my earbuds, crank up my iPod, and sing/talk my favorite 80s classics in a dreadfully off-key monotone. Cell phone zombies do their thing, I do mine. They may be hungry for living brains, but I'm just hungry like the wolf!


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Page last updated: June 6, 2007