With Ken gone to Chicago for a weekend of beer guzzling and air show veiwing with his eldest son, I rummaged through the sale fliers and percent off mailers that arrived at my house this week: 15% off at Kohl’s, $5.00 off at PetSmart, $5.00 off at the hardware store. List in hand, I walked out the door at 10am into a sweltering, humidity-soaked August morning, jumped in my car and pointed it in the direction of what I have come to call The Black Hole of Shopping. These days it’s almost impossible to tell one suburban enclave from the next because of their idential shopping areas which feature a few large box-shaped stores that sell everything you need, surrounded by smaller stores that specialize in things like shoes and hair care products and scapbooking supplies. The smaller specialty stores are, themselves, surrounded by fast food joints and chain restaurants like Chili’s and Applebee’s. If you were parachuted out of an airplane and landed in one of these black holes, you’d be hard-pressed to tell which part of the country you’d landed in. “Hmmm, there’s a Home Depot next to a Michael’s – I could be Texas. Or maybe this is Cincinatti…”
After completing the errands to use up my coupons, there were still a few items I needed, so I headed for the mother of all big box stores, Walmart. Like them or not, everybody eventually ends up at Walmart. Yes, they’re responsible for the demise of many local businesses, and they’ve been sued for unfair labor practices worldwide. But where else can the public go to quench their insatiable appetite for cheap goods imported from China? And where else but Walmart can a person buy both a gallon of ice cream, and a trampoline? You just can’t beat cheap variety like that, my friends.
It’s usually not my intention to hit Walmart at noon on a Saturday. I like to get there around 9am, before the dregs of human society have awakened from their long night of boozing and fighting and stumble to the Wally World to replenish their supply of Pampers and Budweiser. But I must admit, a busy Walmart is a fascinating study of people – the crippled, the maimed, the morbidly obese; those with all their teeth and those with only a couple; tired mothers with unruly children, and teenaged boys zombied out in front of the gaming displays. And everywhere there is the clatter of shopping carts, because it is a rule that every Walmart shopping cart must have at least one wobbly, gimpy wheel that will make it seem as if you’re pushing your cart down a cobblestone street. I’ve found the rattle affects my brain in a way that causes me to pick up and consider purchasing objects I have no use for and would normally have no interest in – ceramic figurines shaped like toadstools, or enormous wall clocks set in elaborate wrought-iron designs.
Today’s gathering of afternoon shoppers were what I’d come to expect. I passed one particularly strange looking female whose face looked as if she’d been in one too many bar fights. Sure enough, I heard her mutter to her companion as I passed by “The next time I see that whore, I’m gonna kick..her..ass”, the threat uttered in a voice that sounded like a marinade of cigarettes and Wild Turkey. She looked like she’d probably win, too. Then there was the young couple who were arguing over the relative merits of various toothpastes – she in a too-tight shirt that displayed her ample body in a most unflattering way, he in a dirty tshirt and ballcap (worn backwards, of course). “I told you not to buy that Colgate shit. I gotta have the Crest cause it don’t hurt my teeth so much.” Adding to this symphony of down-home, rural Missouri vernacular was a chorus of wailing children, and parents threatening to give them “a good whuppin’ when we get home if you don’t shut the hell up now.” A voice on the loudspeaker droned out a list of items with newly rolled-back prices, the volume so low I wondered if it was actually some kind of subliminal advertising to “buy more, buy more.”
The cart clattered ceaselessly, slowly driving me mad as I pushed through the throngs of poorly dressed amd gramatically-challenged citizens, my final goal in sight: The check-out line.