The rumor erupted, inviting anger to billow forth as word ricocheted around the store that the computer had blown up and would have to be replaced. A new one being shipped from Texas would not arrive for at least a week. Suddenly, the loud speaker commanded our attention. "All Shop-Rite specialists to the front ofthe store! I repeat: all Shop-Rite specialists to the front of the store!" It took some doing for the specialists to reach their goal. Nobody in line was about to relinquish his place despite the plea, "Coming through, please,coming through." The specialists endeavored to assure the agitated shoppers that it would be to their ultimate advantage to step aside. I recognized them as the product representatives who earlier had been supervising the stock boys stacking the rapidly emptying shelves. All were garbed in business suits, conservative ties, and deep frowns. They appeared to be out of their element in the role of cashier which they assumed presently. Other employees shoved through the crowds and tapped those whose carts contained ten items or less. These lucky ones were advised, "Take your selections to the liquor department." The liquor department cash register was not wired to the unfortunate computer system; smaller orders could be handled there. This proved to be token assistance, as most shoppers had stocked up for the week, but at least some in the crowd would be dismissed promptly. One man, overlooked for transfer to the liquor counter, tugged at an employee's sleeve. "Hey, buddy, How about me?" The employee surveyed the cart, then relented, "O.K. Go ahead. You have only fourteen items." An elderly lady near me, prim and genteel of mien, had six selections in her cart, "You can be waited on at the liquor counter," I prodded her, believing she had not understood the directive. "Neverl" she retorted. She was adamant. "You'll not catch me near a drop of liquor!" Doggedly, she stood her ground behind eight carts brimming with groceries. Ugly dispositions began to flare. A pugilistic man far to the rear of our line took exception to the liquor counter decision. Why should customers with small quantities be serviced and the rest penalized? Mouthing his protest in XRated terms,he rammed his heavy cart into the person in front of him. The chain reaction of cart into flesh reached me moments later, resulting in a raw heel and a run in my stockings. By the time all the victims in our line consolidated their ire, the culprit had melted into the mob. Another chain reaction erupted as a wave of furious customers abandoned their carts willy-nilly and stormed out the doors. En route, they verbalized their resentment for the indignities being thrust upon them. Several enjoined the rest of us to follow suit. "Let's show the management we mean business," one agitator cried. A few more stoic customers were embarrassed by the actions of the rash ones, and a girl asked me to guard her place in line while she did the very least she could do as a concerned citizen: return the meats and frozen foods in the abandoned carts to their proper counters. The compassionate girl need not have worried about losing her place at the checkout, for we were in the identical spot when she returned. The customers who remained-and there were dozens, even hundredsseemed resigned to waiting out the ordeal. However, most made it vivid to everyone within earshot that they had no intention of revisiting the premises. One man put it succinctly: "It's bad enough being trapped in a Grand Opening mob, but it's an aboslute crime to be kept prisoner by a broken-down machine." He vowed to scrutinize henceforth each market he enters to make certain it features ". .. good, old-fashioned cash registers." These, he pointed out, might individually cease operation on a whim, but odds are they will not all go on the blink at once. Several husband and wife duos began bickering as to whose idea it had been to shop at this store. One man accused his wife of being unable to resist a Sale, and she retorted that if he was not such a poor provider she would not be forced to buy at Sales and Grand Openings in order to live within his lousy salary. Numerous epithets were noised abroad, all hinting darkly of conspiracy in high places, infiltration of the Mafia into the computer industry, and a secret move afoot to subdue the public. The general consensus was that computer programming is the initial step toward the dehumanization of mankind, and if we submit to its authority, it will be no time before the communists who design and manufacture computers invade our private dwellings and spy on personal activities. One man, gifted with sonorous delivery, decried the implementation of computers in any capacity and spewed his hatred equally between computers which seldom operate properly to those which soon will be planted covertly on our very persons. His captive audience tended to concur with his prophecy, although their bewildered faces clearly reflected a failure to trace his blustery line of reasoning. Up ahead, two adding machines, newly located, had been moved into position at two counters. Computation at the other eight aisles would be done by pencil and paper. In short, third grade arithmetic was rushed to our rescue. Hope soared when a computer specialist arrived on the premises, but he promptly reported that the problem hovered within the jurisdiction of an electrician. It was anybody's guess when one would arrive. No matter, I detected a faintly perceptible forward motion of our line. The child whose balloon had been demolished was still whimpering, but his mother buoyed him with hope. "They're moving along now. See,'the man is adding up the groceries with his crayon. Hush! Maybe we'll get out of here some time tonight." Then, more sternly, "If you don't shut up, the man won't let you out of here!" Inch by inch, item by item, we battled our way to the counter as the Shop-Rite specialists patiently added column upon column of figures. Sometime after 6:00 P.M., my order was tallied and packed snuggly in eight brown bags. Mayhem persisted throughout the Grand Opening weekend, my neighbor reported, despite the fact that three registers returned to service late Friday evening. I shall not belabor her adventures in the store except to report that she is convinced the world will arrive at a standstill soon thanks to hysteria born of malfunctioning computers. Today the Springfield Shop-Rite Super Market basks in the glory of an operational automated check-out system, but one cannot help speculating when and where the public will be treated to the next nightmare sparked by a capricious computer gremlin. An editor read this story and commented, "How clever, it , sounds almost real" The reason it sounds real is because it actually happened and every detail in this account is absolutely true. '