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From the Magazine: The Morton Williams Ticker

In the latest issue of The Blue & White, available this week, staff writer Sylvie Krekow discovers enlightenment while in line at Morton Williams.

I think the real answer is "sadness."

Illustration by Liz Lee

Calling itself the “University Super Store,” the Morton Williams supermarket on 116th Street and Broadway has a storied, eight-year history on campus as the home of overpriced goods, under-enthusiastic employees, and walls adorned with photographic Columbia idolatry. But for all its—shall we say—character, it is one single piece of technology that gives Morton Williams the upper hand in the battle for neighborhood grocery supremacy: the ticker, a half-functioning beacon of knowledge and inspiration that hangs from the ceiling’s perimeter and scrolls quotes like “WHAT DO SNOWMEN EAT FOR BREAKFAST? SNOWFLAKES – AUTHOR UNKNOWN!” across its blinking, red LED matrix.

As with any sign, the ticker theoretically communicates messages to the store’s customers. It’s really okay, for example, that you just paid way too much for that Haagen Dazs because “AUTHOR UNKNOWN!” can cheer you up with a clever pun. But the ticker’s high, out-of-the-way placement means that customers often overlook it. Even one Morton Williams employee was surprised to learn of the ticker’s existence when we pointed it out to her during an interview.

Those who do happen upon the mythic ticker may have their shopping experience brightened by the food-related quotes from William Shakespeare. Or the wisdom that “COOKERY IS NOT CHEMISTRY. IT IS AN ART. IT REQUIRES INSTINCT AND TASTE RATHER THAN EXACT MEASUREMENTS,” a quotation from some man named Marcel Boulestin who presumably had something to do with food before he died. Or, maybe he’s still alive—your guess is as good as ours on this one. Morton Williams’s manager couldn’t offer us much help, either: “We don’t pick the quotes. They come in the machine pre-loaded,” he said.

So to that nameless signmaker out there who apparently gave up a career as a littérateur to become a mere letterer, we hope you take comfort in the fact your ticker has enlightened us. But we do urge you to reconsider your profession. Pursue your passion for literature before it’s too late, for as your own ticker says, “THE APPETITES OF THE STOMACH AND THE PALATE, FAR FROM DIMINISHING AS MEN GROW OLDER, GO ON INCREASING – CICERO.”

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