Transaction #3187420

CVS Nasal Decongestant[1] – $17.89
Starbucks[2] Doubleshot Vanilla – $2.77
Gillette shaving cream – $7.99[3]
2x Right Guard deodorant[4] – $5.49
Advil, 60 ct[5] – $4.69
Neutrogena facial cleanser[6] – $5.99

Total: $44.82
Cash[7] transaction – Paid $50.00
Change: $5.18

Trip summary – Today you saved: 18%
Thank you[8]!

[1] Allergies have been a constant issue for Hal ever since a family trip to Puget Sound twenty years ago prompted his esophagus to close up. Ear, nose, and throat issues had always plagued his family, with the exception of his older sister Brenda, the golden child who somehow never suffered from agonizing sneezing fits; she of the preternaturally infectious energy normally reserved for golden retriever puppies or Roger Federer in the fifth set at Wimbledon.

Hal’s deviated septum led to chronic sinusitis and a perpetual need for antihistamines. Today he was opting for the store brand[a] rather than Nasacort after his insurance plan cut back on his prescription drug coverage. His next purchase of CVS Fluticasone Propionate[b] nasal spray would enjoy a $3 discount if he used his Extracare card.

[1a] The venture capital firm of Kravis Kohlberg and Roberts performed hyper-meticulous due diligence before an attempted hostile takeover of Walgreen’s and determined the specific metric of discounts needed in order to sway consumers to purchase the generic brand.

[1b] The active corticosteroid ingredient in Flonase.

[2] Long, seemingly endless, Sisyphean days at the office have resulted in Hal’s increased need for productivity (and a proportionate feeling of isolation). Hal is well aware that the amount of stimulants could be detrimental to his heart health, but his need for alertness outweighed that fear.

While he did hate himself for imbibing large quantities of caffeine, coffee was a known antioxidant (much in the same way that red wine can be written off as “somewhat healthier than other types of alcohol”), so he would often opt for the Starbucks energy drink rather than any of the myriad varieties of Rockstar or Monster or any beverage whose name denoted an obscene amount of vitality. $1 off a $4 energy drink purchase would help feed Hal’s habit (multipacks excluded).

[3] The Gillette Corporation began the nuclear arms race of razor blade proliferation in 1998 with the innovation of the Mach3 razor, the first disposable unit with three blades. Some saw this as a struggle against inevitability, as a three-bladed razor would beget a four, which would beget a five, and so on and so forth. At which point do we as a society come to the collective conclusion that our razor blades are of a sufficient number and we don’t need to continue this escalation? Or is the promise of an additional, better blade going to keep us perpetually holding out for a closer shave?

[4] Tennis had become a part of Hal’s fitness routine (partly due to Nicole, who played doubles on the court opposite his every Sunday morning). Hal sprained his ankle the previous week, but he played through the injury, reinforcing that inherently Western belief that only through an act of extreme intensity can we propel ourselves toward actualization.

[5] Excerpts from a recent phone conversation between Hal and his mother:

MOM: I read an article about how Advil destroys your kidneys.
HAL: I take two before and after tennis. It’s not like I’m addicted to ibuprofen.
MOM: The recommended dosage is always much higher than you need.
HAL: No. That’s why it’s recommended.
MOM: Your father was on Bayer after his heart attack and you saw how that–
HAL: It’s not addictive
MOM: Did you watch 60 Minutes? Because that good-looking anchor said not to trust pharmaceutical companies.
HAL: Anderson Cooper?
MOM: No. The other one.[a] Can’t remember his name.
HAL: It’s Anderson Cooper.
MOM: And don’t be rude to me! Your sister never demeans me.
HAL: Mom, I need to hang up.

[5a] She was, in fact, thinking of Anderson Cooper.

[6] It had been five months since he and Grace had their allegedly “mutual” breakup, meaning that it was time for Hal to start dating again—at least, he had begun that romantic process by installing the app “Mutual Friendz[a].” While a date was not imminent, Hal felt that it was important to be blemish free in case he should ever go out with a human woman. And after he spent another $27.48 on beauty supplies, he would earn $5 in ExtraBucks rewards.

[6a] Named so it would sound less depressing when people asked how you and your chosen romantic partner happened to meet.

[7] When he was 15, Hal’s father instilled upon him the importance of paying cash when you had it in hand. He wrote a check for their family sedan, even though interest rates were low during the Clinton years. Hal’s decision to pay with cash and not his Chase card was rooted in financial responsibility and had nothing to do, he emphasized, with his sister’s job at a large consulting firm that counts a noted credit card company as a client.

[8] Even CVS began to wonder whether or not these elongated receipts were an efficient method of offering discounts and advertising. This went beyond the cost benefit analysis of spending X dollars on advertising and mailers for every Y dollars brought in. No, CVS’s fears ran deeper than that. It was about whether this long, Kubrickian hallway of a receipt and the equally long time spent waiting for it to print were annoying their clientele far beyond the value of the coupons and ExtraBucks.

How much will we, as consumers, put up with in order to potentially save a few dollars and receive some marginal utility? How long until CVS realizes that all the effort and ink is merely transforming into something readily discarded and frequently maligned and more often skimmed than ever read? The store that prides itself on convenience is exacerbating that feeling of hopelessness and anti-climax.

So who, if anyone, truly benefits from CVS’s Gordian Knot of manipulative pseudo-targeted advertising? Certainly not the environment, and I have yet to even mention the ecological impact of the paper receipts that will presumably wind up in a landfill and continue to decay long after the coupons for a dollar off Tic Tacs have expired.

Brawny Paper Towels will be on sale 2-for-1 until May 23.