Penkava: The reign of terror of the cartis violentis

There was a biologist named Carl Linnaeus who, in the 1700s, started naming living things using two Latin words that described the predominant characteristics of the creature.

That’s how we got such terms as “homo sapiens” (wise man) for humans and “canis familiaris” (domestic dog) for our tail-waggers.

We also inherited such uncomplimentary names as “turdis maximus” for the thrush, “texananus areolatus” for the spotted leafcutter beetle and “pinus rigida” for the pine tree.

But today I will be highlighting another creature that, although it is not a living entity, has taken on a life of its own: the cartis violentis (violent wagon) or, as it is more commonly known, the shopping cart.

These shiny, four-wheeled, steel-meshed silver bullets inhabit the parking lots and aisles of stores and markets throughout our towns and cities.

They lack any internal self-locomotion but depend entirely upon extraneous inertial thrusting, primarily by the homo sapien species.

And therein lies the inherent danger, for it appears that the cartis violentis’ propellant species (homo sapiens) is not as wise as its nomenclature infers.

That becomes obvious as one enters the parking lot. There, carts are scattered from here to breakfast, dotting the driving lanes and parking spaces like cockroaches on a dinner table.

The cartis violentis loves to hide between parked cars, especially close to the front of the store.

You almost can hear it snicker as you pull into a choice space, only to see its steely grill grinning at you, daring you to squeeze in.

But that’s just the beginning of its reign of terror. When you finally park your car and enter the store, you are confronted with countless cartis neatly arranged in rows.

Somehow they have developed the ability to disgorge their abdomens to make space for a fellow cartis to fill that space.

They assume the appearance of a multiwheeled metallic caterpillar, calmly waiting for the pupa stage.

But do not let that benign countenance fool you. Trying to detach a cartis from its shimmering, segmented macro-body is like pulling King Arthur’s sword from the stone.

Unless you have some sort of predestined divine right to a royal dynasty, just step aside and let some other crooked-nosed knave have at it.

Now, let’s just say you actually got a cartis and started shopping. Just when you think you’ve got it under control, you feel something. It starts as a slight jitter. Then it progresses to a shiver and a shimmy and a shudder. Eventually, as your speed picks up, you have a full-scale wobble on your hands as the left front wheel is quaking like a paint can in one of those mixer/shakers at Home Depot.

Your hands on the handle become numb from the vibration. People begin to stare as the wheel now emits an oscillating, high-pitched banshee shriek that starts to shatter the glass pickle jars.

You stop and find yourself standing in puddles of brine and dill. Although you are at the corner of condiments and canned goods, psychologically, you find yourself between fight or flight.

You abandon the cartis and flee to your car, only to find one of those sterling chariots parallel parked alongside your side door, next to a long scratch line just under its protective guard strip.

You grab it and send it reeling into its parking lot depository. You dive into your car like Luke Duke into the General Lee and make your escape, desperately glancing into the rearview mirror to see whether any cartis are giving chase.

But they aren’t.

They know you’ll be back. And they are waiting … waiting like a midnight colon ready to wrap its arms around the bad chili you had for supper.

• Michael Penkava taught a bunch of kids and wrote a bunch of stuff. Someone complimented him on his colon simile. He replied, “Shucks, it was alimentary, my dear friend.” He can be reached at

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