Mike ErvinEvery time I go to Costco, I always conduct a social experiment.

There’s an employee posted at the entrance, and that person says welcome. And then every entering customer flashes their Costco membership card. It’s an unspoken ritual.

I wonder what the job title is for that employee. Greeter? Card-checker? I suppose if someone without a membership card demands to be let in, it’s that employee’s job to grab them by the collar and throw them out. So maybe their job title is bouncer.
But anyway, when I enter, I always just stroll right by the friendly bouncer without showing my card, as if I don’t have a clue what’s going on.  I try not to make eye contact. If he or she says welcome, I say thanks. I always have my card strategically tucked in my side pouch where it can easily be whipped out and flashed if they should ask to see it. But they never ask. They always let me slide on by. Every single time.

What does this social experiment prove? Hell if I know. I guess it proves that Costco bouncers are somehow intimidated by my crippledness. Thus, they give me special treatment. But should I be insulted by that? I’m probably not intimidating them in the good way. They’re probably overwhelmed by my frailty. Maybe to them I’m a fledgling, newly-hatched baby chick. Or maybe they think I’m deaf. Or maybe there’s a perceived language barrier — they don’t speak cripple.

Or maybe they’re afraid that if they card me, I’ll burst into tears. Or maybe it’s the opposite. Maybe they’re terrified that I could be one of those bitter scofflaw cripples they see on the news protesting about who knows what. And if they ask to see my membership card, I might say, “Screw you, you ableist jerk!” And then they’ll be placed in the unenviable position of deciding whether or not to grab me by the collar and throw me out. If they do throw me out, surely somebody will capture it all on their cell phone and the video will go viral. But if they don’t throw me out, their authority will be permanently undermined. It’s a no-win situation. Better for them to leave well-enough alone and just pretend they don’t see me.

Or maybe it really is the good kind of intimidation, like when people are intimidated by how smart you are. Maybe when the Costco bouncers see me they think of Stephen Hawking and they are rendered speechless by a lightning bolt of star-struck awe.

There’s one sure way to test all these hypotheses. The next time I go to Costco, I’ll make it a point to be accompanied by a vert (which is what I call people who walk). Maybe I’ll dress that vert in a nurse’s uniform or surgical scrubs, so they’ll look like my keeper/translator. And we’ll both stroll in cluelessly, like I do when I’m alone. And we’ll see if the bouncer says to the vert, “Excuse me. Does he have a membership card?” Like when a cripple and a vert go out to a restaurant and the server takes the vert’s order first and then points to the cripple and says to the vert, “And what will he be having?”

If that happens, then I’ll know that the vert was the variable that led to me suddenly being recognized, and therefore I should be offended by my previous special treatment. It was rooted in the bad kind of intimidation. I’ll hunt down the manager, present him or her with the findings of my social experiment and demand that from now on I be carded like everybody else. I could demand that all Costco employees receive cripple sensitivity training as compensation for my humiliation, but I’ll settle for a free lifetime membership.

The one thing my Costco social experiment proves conclusively is that I am a sad man with too much time on my hands. Why can’t I just automatically flash my membership card like a good citizen? Why do I feel compelled to passive-aggressively taunt the bouncers, read all kinds of stuff into their reaction and then get all worked up about it? What have those poor mopes ever done to me?

I really need to get a hobby or something.