Mark of the Beast

My job mostly revolves around inputting price changes to merchandise sold in a well-known chain of department stores.

In the old days, my predecessors probably walked through the stores, putting stickers on stuff on the shelves, but we are pushing toward the 21st century and it's a marvelous high-tech world — we use computers and key in UPCs, the barcodes pre-printed or attached to everything in every store.

With that introduction, here's an email, verbatim, from a junior executive at the store. I guess he sent it to me because he knows I work with UPCs, and he and I have talked about weird non-work stuff a few times. Nothing this weird, though:


Could you guys procure a written explanation for me of the universal product code? I am particularly interested in the existence or nonexistence of an unlisted break digit (probably a 6) that divides the 12-digit UPC into two 6-dogot sequences.

I have heard from a number of sources, most recently a movie called Naked, that the break digit is either a single 6 placed between two other 6-digit sequences, or a treble-6 sequence, thus fulfilling (in some people’s eyes) the prophetic mark of the beast. You’ll recall that, as detailed in the Apocalypse of John, one cannot do business without this mark.

Anyway, I would be most grateful if you could obtain this info for me. I shall be immensely disappointed id this is not the case, as I’ve always thought that we retailers were doing the devil’s work, agents of the Prince of Darkness, etc.

—Burton Keith, assistant buyer, Domestics Dept.

Sorry, Mr Keith. UPCs are annoying and possibly evil, but they’re not the Anti-Christ’s calling card.

Honest to Satan, there’s no unlisted break digit. We have a machine in this office that prints UPC labels. I’ve used it. It's 12 keystrokes, sometimes 13. There are no hidden digits. 

And yes, they can actually be 13 digits, not just 12. Products made in Europe generally have 7-digit UCCs (that’s the first portion, which identifies the manufacturer), so European UPCs are longer, which sorta blows the 6-6-6 thing.

If you’re looking for signs of the Apocalypse, I suggest watching Dan Rather nightly. The UPC is simply an inventory-management tool, which allows us to make more mistakes, more quickly.

—Doug Holland, dumb flunkee, Merchant Services Dept.

What I didn't say is, Try not to be a dolt. UPCs aren't even new. They've been around for twenty years, and commonplace for at least ten. People are idiots and they'll believe anything, no matter how farfetched.

Also, I've heard that Mike Leigh's movie Naked is good, but I have not seen it, and this makes that less likely.

From Pathetic Life #8
Tuesday, January 10, 1995

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.

Pathetic Life 

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  1. Testing 1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34,55 . . .

  2. Before we were interrupted and, with thanks to god, reconnected by the standard Fibonacci sequence, you asked a question. The answer is:

    Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan (before 1976), Paul Simon, Simon & Garfunkel, They Might Be Giants, John Prine, David Bromberg, the Beatles, Mose Allison, Dave Brubeck, Muddy Waters, Joni Mitchell, the Sonics, Howlin' Wolf, the Fugs, Booker T & the MGs . . . very long list to follow someday; these are very roughly in the order that I enjoy their music. Obviously it's complicated. For example, "You Can't Always Get What You Want" is one of the best songs ever performed, but I'm generally not a big Stones fan. And, growing old, I probably spaced over some of my serious faves.

    johnthebasket (now appearing on gmail under a different name)

    1. My knowledge of music is shallow, but I know and have appreciated about half the nouns on your list, so I'll check out the other half.


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