As the old saying goes, "Nothing good ever happens after midnight." Or maybe it's, "Nothing good ever happens after 2 AM." Anyway, you can be certain that nothing good is happening once it's getting on for 5 AM, and you're on a "hoverboard" in a parking lot in a West Hollywood gas station having an argument with an employee through the bulletproof window thing, but that's where Tostitos Tyler found himself one recent Saturday-night-turned-Sunday-morning.
I don't know why his name is Tostitos Tyler, except that he's trying to buy Tostitos for whatever reason. I don't know why he's also trying to get pasta and Pop-Tarts. I don't know why he has to bring his dog to be part of this whole transaction. But mostly, I don't know why he's such an asshole, yelling at the poor counterman and saying shit like, "How do you even work here?" and "You don't know how to fucking read, man," and that old gem, "I am the fucking customer!"
He lectures the cashier like a child, curses at him, yells out "TOS-TI-TOS," and near the end of their already-way-too-long interaction has the chutzpah to ask the guy to apologize to him. He's whiny, he's entitled, he's so grating he compresses the cringes you feel during an episode of Girls into four tight minutes of shittiness. There are worse things to be than a douchebag who's having a fit because it's taking more than a few seconds to get exactly what you want in the middle of the night, but why be that person? Just wait a few seconds, take a few deep breaths, pay attention to your dog, swipe mindlessly through the social media site of your choice. Just shut the fuck up for a minute.
I usually stick up for millennials. For every thinkpiece calling our generation entitled narcissists, I say, "Hey, what about the longterm economic trends forcing us into debt and making us poorer than our parents? What about the culture of instant gratification fostered by the boomers and normalized by Gen X? What about you, in other words, you hypocritical ratfucks?" Young people are always whiny little shits—remember the music of the 60s?—and I can excuse a lot of lousy behavior by way of youth and by way of growing up in an era that gave us 9/11, George W. Bush, a nasty recession, and a loose labor market, all in the span of a decade.
But: this guy. I can't defend him. He's obviously a millennial, just look at his topknot and sandal-hoverboard combo, but he's not the enlightened sort of millennial who has his shit together, wants to make the world a better place, and is usually appearing in YouTube videos encouraging me to learn how to code. He's the other kind of millennial—I want to call him a loser, but the word "loser" has echoes of romance, of cool down-and-out-ness, and Tostitos Tyler doesn't have any kind of SoCal surf bum/stoner/the Dude mystique to him. He manages to make having nothing to do a stressful experience. He's out before 5 AM on Sunday and is going grocery shopping. For pasta. What, is he going to boil some water when he gets home? Eat pasta and Pop-Tarts and Tostitos for breakfast? One, that's not exactly a balanced meal, dude, and two, what the fuck are you doing? Don't tell that cashier to "get your fucking shit together, man." Get your shit together. Fuck.
We don't get the cashier's perspective in all this. You can hear his side of the argument faintly, but mostly he exists in our minds: Struggling to get the goddamn shit this guy wants so he'll leave, working bleary-eyed at a shift no one ever wants, enduring the abuse in anticipation of his mandated-by-law ten-minute break. He obviously doesn't want to be there getting yelled at by some guy with a carb crazing and a $400 scooter. He has no idea why this transaction—a humiliation for both sides, a play with no ending and no beginning and no protagonist—has to exist in the first place.
To back up ever so slightly, there was a time, decades ago when big-time intellectuals like John Maynard Keynes predicted that technology would make humanity so productive we'd only need to work a handful of hours a week. This didn't happen. Productivity as defined by economists has increased all right, but wages have stagnated—just ask the nearest millennial if you don't believe me—and the vast majority of the resulting economic gains have trickled up to the top of the economic ladder.
Wall-E depicted a dystopian version of the fate Keynes predicted, where mechanized labor led to people growing fat and complacent, sitting in chairs while their every need is tended to. You're supposed to laugh at them and be a little horrified, but is that future really worse than a present where assholes role around and demand extremely specific brands of snacks from beleaguered clerks? Why is there not some way for Tostitos Tyler to get his Tostitos without inflicting pain on someone else? Why is the cashier forced to endure that pain in exchange for what probably isn't much of a wage? Who stuck them in the gas station to argue with each other?
All to say, I can understand why the cashier is being a bit of a dick to Tostitos Tyler, maybe even getting things wrong on purpose to see him throw a tantrum. Tostitos Tyler is a dick. Tostitos Tyler is a symbol of oppression that's almost a bit too on the nose with that man-bun and hoverboard. Tostitos Tyler is also, in all likelihood, oppressed in some way himself.
If the cashier is not there by choice, well, neither is Tostitos Tyler. He's not zooming down to the gas station to buy pasta at 5 AM on a whim. Something has gone wrong. Tostitos Tyler is in bad shape, maybe partially by choice, sure, but the fabric of America has failed Tostitos Tyler too. The future has collapsed on him, the same as it has collapsed on all of us. Now he can't even get the one—OK, three—things he wants, the snack foods that are the only worthwhile good that this post-whatever version of capitalism can produce. Can you blame him for trying to exert control over the tiny sliver of his life he still has command over? For lashing out, in the throws of an early-morning desperation, at the only person he can lash out at?
Well yes, yes we can.
Follow Harry Cheadle on Twitter.