SINGAPORE - Despite a vow to never take up membership at a store, I have somehow amassed a stack of plastic cards. I don't know how they got there. I must have been in a retail trance.
Memberships make relationships with corporations strange. Before I had that card, I used to buy things because I wanted them. It was simple. Now I have to go through a checklist: Am I a member?
Is the card with me? Am I using every privilege to which I am entitled? Will I hate myself if I find out that I missed out on a perk, so that when I look at the card in future, all I see is a reminder of my life as a series of missed opportunities?
Looking at it another way, a store membership is like being forced to spend time with odd family of someone you like.
When there is a problem with the card - what with renewals, points and rebates, problems are just a matter of time - I have to go to Customer Services, a place usually located in a forgotten corner of the building, in a room criss-crossed with ropes to show me where to queue, because that is what I do there mostly, staring at cream-coloured walls bearing posters declaring that oven toasters are 20 per cent off this month.
Recently, I had to visit one such centre because of a card problem. I had been at the cashier point, saying that sentence I take far too much pleasure in saying, "Wait, I'm a member", then flashing the proof.
I don't know why, but I need that woman at the till to be impressed. I half-expect her to gasp and look wide-eyed, as if a prince has emerged after shedding his peasant's disguise. It hasn't happened yet.
But this time I searched the wallet and found cards for a dozen other shops, just not the one I needed. The items I wanted to buy were put aside - there was no way I was not getting my 5 per cent rebate - and I stalked off to Customer Services to ask about a replacement.