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25 Years Online
••• The International Writers Magazine -
Market Forces

Engaging with the Market under Duress
• Moses Bakst
Tick or Untick that box


I emerged from the depths of the New York City subway system. The B train carried me under Brooklyn, over the East River, into Manhattan, culminating at the Thirty-fourth Street Herald Square station. As I climbed to the surface, I was greeted by the duplicitous smell of a Nuts 4 Nuts cart. A pleasant odor, but those candied nuts always leave a disingenuous taste of disappointment. I asserted myself to break free of the flock of meandering travelers, settling on the corner of Thirty-fourth and Sixth. Here, among the bases of the buildings that touch the sky, I found my bearings—my field of view dominated completely by beckoning messages and recognizable branding, the afternoon sun poking through a forest of concrete and glass.
            I traveled out to the city to purchase products and to consume items. I brought my big blue Patagonia backpack with me, totally evacuated. I don’t like having my hands full with shopping bags. Plus, it’s better for the environment, I guess.

Walking westward down Thirty-fourth Street, I pondered the possibilities of this day. I walked past Target and past Foot Locker. I considered crossing the street to the big Macy’s, but the expansive selection there is always so overwhelming. Finally, I stood at the doorstep of Hollister Co. 

Hollister keeps it low-key, I feel my values align with their brand. Sometimes, these corporations wholeheartedly believe I want to spend my natural life as a walking billboard. Call me crazy but I personally can’t find a single reason to want “GAP” sprawled across my only chest. Hollister just has that little bird logo. It’s a fine, minimalist, respectable design. Few brands can pull that off, where the logo itself is worth wearing, like the horse from Ralph Lauren or the Nike Swoosh.
            I entered the store, excited to engage with the selection available. I wandered through the lower-level men’s section, casually listening to Love Me Harder by Ariana Grande & The Weeknd. I gravitated toward the unicolor tee shirts.

I grabbed some shirts in my size and went to the fitting room to try them on. For some reason, the white, green, blue, red and purple shirts didn’t fit me well, only the black shirt fit properly. I tried each shirt on twice, all size Large. I even conducted a blind test: I covered my eyes, picked up a shirt at random, put it on. I gauged how I felt about the shirt, independent of my preconceived notion that only the black shirt fit. When I was wearing the tee shirt that I felt fit me best, I opened my eyes: it was the black tee shirt. So I resolved to buy the black tee shirt, and to reject the others that falsely claimed to be the same size.

I walked toward the register, someone else was ahead of me. I waited my turn.
I set the black tee shirt on the counter.
The cashier picked it up and scanned it. He tapped the touch screen of the cash register a few times.
“Ten dollars is your total,” The cashier said to the air, near my head.
I had a ten-dollar bill on me at the time, I like to carry cash. It’s mostly just in case I get mugged, so I have something of discrete value to fork over. But here I figured hey, the shirt is exactly ten dollars, no tax. One exchange of currency for product and I’d be the proud owner of a new black Hollister tee shirt. A limited, complete exchange. Like the simple ideal of the primordial man, I would be gone, untraceable, as soon as I escaped to the horizon.

So I hoped.
“Great, so the terminal is just going to ask you a few questions now.” the cashier stated.
I looked down at the kiosk to see a void black screen with a sole empty white rectangular field in the center, containing nothing but a faded gray “email.”
Normally, I would acquiesce. But today, with the image of serene, prehistorical freedom in my mind, I spoke up.
“Would it be okay if I didn’t enter my email address?” I asked. “I don’t need a receipt, and I really don’t want to get all of those promo emails.”
No receipt. No records. No one would know where the black tee shirt with the bird logo came from, even if they did, no proof.
The cashier looked at me with what I can only assume was complete apathy.
“I’m sorry sir, we need to send you a receipt, it’s company policy.” he demanded, showing no remorse. “But don’t worry, we can uncheck the boxes on the next screen, to make sure they don’t send you any other emails,” he said.

‘They’ don’t send me any emails. Sir, you are ‘they.’ You are doing this to me. You feign empathy for me from what ‘they’ do, while I don’t think you could care less. If you cared you could enter an override code, submit a complaint, quit this job if you so wholeheartedly disagree with your employer’s business practices. But instead, you cower behind a ‘they.’ You are taking advantage of me. You, sir, you personally know that I have no choice but to throw away my ideals and morals for this product I am now attached to. I hate you!
I entered my email, I unchecked the boxes. I threw the shirt into my blue backpack. “Have a nice day,” I said. I definitely did not want him to have a nice day but I said it anyway because it’s the polite thing to do. I walked out the door.

Immediately a buzz in my pocket. I stop and stand dumbfounded in the middle of Thirty-fourth Street. Pedestrians swim around me while I struggle to comprehend the email I am reading.
Welcome to Hollister Fan Club! Welcome to Gilly Hicks Fan Club!
That man looked me in the eyes, the cashier. He gave me his word, no emails, whatsoever. But here they were.

I truly, honestly, was enraged. At that blank-faced cashier, at the Hollister corporation, at GMail, at Ariana Grande & The Weeknd. Enraged at this entire system that was keeping me from experiencing a sliver of the freedom of ancient humanity.
You may think I’m overreacting here. It’s just an email, I can press ‘unsubscribe.’ It’s not that deep.

Hey, let’s say I knock on your door in the middle of the night. BAM! Punch you in the face. I say, “Would you like to join the exclusive face-punch subscription service? Don’t worry, you can cancel at any time!” You’d say, “What? You just punched me in the face! I am calling the police!”

Big corporations shouldn’t be allowed to bully the average American consumer like this. And one night while binge-watching Better Call Saul, the funny lawyer show, I thought, yeah, “Sue ‘em now!”
I texted my friend Craig, who was in his first year of law school. I explained everything.
“Aight I think we got a live one,” he said. “I would hire counsel immediately.”
I sat on this for about a month when I experienced a sign. I had purchased a ticket for an Amtrak train to Washington, D.C. from New York Penn Station. I thought the train left at 12:35 PM, turns out it was gone by 11:30 AM. Easy mistake to make. After spending fifteen minutes at the ticket counter, and paying a hundred more dollars for a revised 2:06 PM train ticket, I had a little over an hour to kill. And a ten-minute walk from the Ticket Support Center on Thirty-third Street and Eighth Avenue, was the domain of my enemy.
“Fully missed my train, it’s a sign,” I texted Craig. “Going to Hollister.”
I walked up Eighth Avenue and turned on Thirty-fourth Street. I ignored all temptations along the way. Forever 21, the Old Navy, even the street table reselling enamel pins and Crocs Jibbitz from Temu. Normally I would linger at all these places. But this mission wasn’t about purchasing. It was about redeeming.

As I stood once again at the threshold of Hollister on Thirty-fourth, I surreptitiously started a video recording on my iPhone. I would buy another black tee shirt, pay for it, and catch the cashier’s lie.
I walked through the door into the store and directly toward the tee shirt section. There were no more black tee shirts. There goes my entire plan.

It was a different cashier on register this time, and I asked her if she could check the back for a large black tee shirt. She went to look and after a few minutes, returned with one. By then there was a person on line in front of me, and they were taking a long time to complete a large transaction. I was getting impatient, and I was worried my iPhone would run out of storage. Then someone got on line behind me.
“Hey, you sure you wanna go with a large?” The guy behind me asks. “So sorry to intrude, but I overheard your conversation with the woman on the register and, well, I’m also a size large, and to be frank, you’re definitely bigger than I am.”

I turned around. I looked back at the guy. He was tall, thin and pale. Underdressed for the weather and he had some kind of a Northern European accent. He had absolutely no reason to get into my business. This guy doesn’t know my life, he didn’t know that I already tried on the tee shirt last time, that the black ones ran a little larger. He didn’t even know the real reason for me being here. I don’t know why he spoke to me, nosy tourist getting into my business.
“The shirt fits—I’m just wearing a lot of layers right now,” I replied, and turned back around.

Finally, my turn at the register. Ten dollars, again. I was going to pay with a credit card this time—I needed a record of this transaction. No more hopes of anonymity. I had to use the surveillance system to my advantage. Now for the confrontation
 “Put in your email?” “I don’t want to.” “You have to?” “Fine.”
All on tape.
I entered a fresh email address. And I watched, and my iPhone camera watched, as the cashier unchecked the promotional email agreement boxes.
“Have a nice day!” I said again. I meant it more sincerely than last time.
Buzz buzz. As expected. I got ‘em.
I threw the shirt into my blue Patagonia backpack and ran back to the Amtrak station to catch my train. I updated Craig on the situation, how they wronged me again, while I caught my breath.
“NO WAY,” he replied. “Bruh it’s criminal.”

I managed to contact some lawyers. I explained my case, the damage inflicted upon me and likely thousands, maybe even tens of thousands of innocent people. I stressed that this small violation of United States law through guerilla marketing likely netted Hollister Co. non-negligible profit, and under the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003, they should be held accountable. I expressly did not consent to receiving marketing material and they sent it to me anyway. I sent the lawyers my cherished video evidence.

I brought in my analogy, “What if these people knocked on your door in the middle of the night?”
Unfortunately, each lawyer responded by slamming that door in my face. Every one of them said they would not be taking my case and did not have any recommendations for me at this time.
I felt utterly defeated. I was hurt, and nobody cared.

A few months ago I donated those two black Hollister tee shirts. They were too small on me and my girlfriend said the bird logo looked stupid. I guess in the end Hollister Co. gets to be the primordial man, walking off into the guiltless night, and I’m stuck in my world.

© Moses Bakst - May 13 2024
Moses is a senior at at the University of Maryland and studying Electrical Engineering and Creative Writing with Jiminez-Porter Writer's House.

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