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Tom goes grocery shopping—and realizes our country has reached a stupidity tipping point

America has been dumbing down for the past few decades in what has been an intellectual death of a thousand cuts.

From exponential grade-inflation at Harvard to the fact that even one person in this country would watch Jersey Shore, it has been a long, steady slide into mediocrity. It is with great regret that I report that the national period of dumbing down is coming to an end, having been replaced with an accelerated program of stupiding down. Apparently, the old way wasn't creating morons at a rapid-enough pace.

I witnessed the tipping point the other day and experienced a sadness that defies description. I thought that God, having revealed to me the depths to which our society could sink, was going to take me right then and there. However, He didn't; maybe God was busy elsewhere, or perhaps He just doesn't give a crap about me. Or maybe there isn't even a God at all to give a crap about anybody. (Exhibit A: Syria.)

We've all seen the signs leading up to this point. There were little things, like the idiot woman who sued McDonald's because the hot coffee she spilled on herself turned out to be ... hot. It doesn't cost McDonald's anything to print a warning on the cups, but the warning is only there to keep McDonald's from getting sued by the next stupid person who doesn't know what "hot" means.

When I was in Yellowstone National Park recently, there were signs everywhere warning people not to walk right up to the bears or the bison. You really need a sign for that? Actually, it appears that they do, because the week after I was there, some guy got thrown in the air and stomped on by a buffalo he had walked right up to.

I remember my dismay when the University of Arizona changed the letter grade F to an E to keep from hurting people's feelings. What the heck?! You're attending a major university; you didn't complete the course in a satisfactory manner. You failed; you didn't eail. Besides, a little bit of failure is good for people. It teaches us to strive for and appreciate success all the more.

Anyway, to my Armageddon Moment: I was in a grocery store. Having gotten everything I needed, and after staring at the fried chicken in the deli section for way too long before eventually turning away, I approached the checkout stands. I only had a few items in my shopping cart, so I looked for the express lane. And then I saw it, the sign that marked the beginning of the end for our civilization. In the express lane, there was a sign that read "Around 15 Items."

This goes way beyond catering to the scofflaws in our society who believe that speed limits are merely suggestions. This is telling people that they don't have to take the time to count to 15 (!) before they inconvenience others. It's insane!

We've all been there before, stuck in that line behind people who are unloading a full cart, oblivious to those around them, as well as to the concept of numbers.

It has happened to me so many times over the years that I began to categorize the jerks. I have never seen an African American do that. I don't know if that means that they are especially polite, or maybe it's just that only 2 percent of Tucsonans are black. I haven't done an entire demographic breakdown of the phenomenon, but I do know that the mode (that which occurs most often in a statistical sample) involves a woman who thinks that she's better-looking than she actually is.

One time, I was behind this woman who probably had 30 items. I pointed out the sign to her, and she said, in Spanish, "I can't read English." That makes it OK?!

I asked her, also in Spanish, "¿Como se dice '15' en español?"

She repeated that she couldn't read English, at which time I said, "So that means you don't drive, because you can't read the street signs, right?" That woman is basically the poster child for the "Re-elect Joe Arpaio" campaign.

Even Lindsay Lohan, who is as dumb as a stick, said, "Math is the same in every language." Oh of course, it was in a movie, and Tina Fey had written the words for her, but she did manage to get through the line without passing out, throwing up or hitting somebody with her car.

Another time at the store, a teenage girl looked back, somewhat embarrassed, and said, "I guess I can't count up to 15."

I said, "Yeah, that home-schooling sucks."

I now know that most home-schooled kids can, indeed, count to 15. They would just never be in a supermarket with other human beings.

Anyway, I sought out the store manager and asked him about the "Around 15" sign, and his response (speaking for the entire grocery-store chain) was, "Well, you know ..."

When I assured him that I most certainly did not know, he said, "Like, what if they have 16?"

I don't know if I'm going to shop there very much in the future. If they can do something like that, then pretty soon, they're probably going to be selling stuff called Maybe a Mango or Sorta Steak.

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