1. The Parking Lot
If a given vehicle is such a supreme piece of safety-violating crap that the only legal reason it should be on the road is if someone is hauling it to a salvage depot, this vehicle will instead be driven to the nearest Wal-Mart. The belching contraption will then be utilized to further undermine society in a number of ways.
It is apparently mandatory that the deathtrap be driven by an individual so incredibly impaired that it will take at least two hours to simply park the car. And this grueling feat of endurance usually follows the same mind-numbing pattern. First, the idiot heads straight toward the front of the store, as if there has ever been an available parking slot that close to the entrance.
The car will rumble in place for roughly twenty minutes, sitting right in the middle of the pedestrian crosswalk, forcing everyone on foot to maneuver around the vehicle, with folks running and coughing and trying to protect small children from the deadly exhaust fumes by using wet paper towels and leaf blowers. While the car just sits there, the occupants (who have absorbed so much carbon monoxide that they actually glow at night) will stare dumbly at everything around them. I guess they’re waiting for Jesus to take the wheel.
Eventually, the moron driver will realize that Divine assistance is apparently not going to happen, and he turns down the busiest row of cars he can find. He will then drive half-a-mile an hour, peering closely at every occupied slot to make sure that a car really is parked there. Of course, this pointless research is conducted while the death car is driving down the exact center of the row. No one can get around the jerk, eventually we have 5 cars piled up behind him, tensions escalate, and unflattering sentiments are yelled by all.
Gomer finally gets to the end of the row, sits there an additional ten minutes in total confusion, mystifyingly flips on his blinker, then turns the other direction and heads back up the very next row, which is just as busy as the last row and there’s not an empty slot in sight, crawling along in a mental vacuum and creating yet another caravan of the dead.
2. The Door Greeter
Why are these people here? Why are they even hired? I suppose, back in the pre-MTV days, this was a “down-home” method of making people feel welcome. Today, no one pays any attention to these people, with customers rushing past without acknowledging their existence. In fact, it’s a general rule that you do not make eye contact with the greeter. If you show the slightest bit of warmth, they will leech onto you and never let go, babbling about a herniated disc or some such.
Now, I understand that some people consider the “greeter position” to be a benevolent way of providing a job opportunity to someone who might otherwise be unemployed. And I respect that, I really do, it’s very heart-warming and Hallmark-worthy. But here’s a thought: Why don’t they take the greeters, who are generally perky people who really want to help, and give them something to do inside the store?
Because many of the employees in the inner sanctum are psychotic, angst-driven people who would rather die than actually help you. If I’m wandering the aisles and just trying to find some Liquid Plumber to rectify an annoying bit of recycling turbulence in my dwelling, I would much rather ask for assistance from a kindly grandmother who only wants the best for me and not from one of Satan’s minions who snarls and hisses if I dare to approach them, seeking guidance.
(A frightening side note: I once had a dear friend who, aided by a few adult beverages, confessed to me that she would like to one day be a greeter at Wal-Mart. It looked easy and she liked to talk to people. We were sitting in one of those trendy, high-concept restaurants where a “salad” consists of a single hand-baked crouton sprinkled with imported olive oil. When my friend finished sharing this dream, I simply looked at her for a moment, then threw some cash on the table and walked out the door. I never spoke to her again.)
Why do all Wal-Marts, regardless of where they are located, reek as if something completely unsanitary has just happened? We’re not talking a slight whiff of unsavory malfeasance. We’re talking a thick fog of “oh my God what the hell” as you turn a corner. You would think that some executive at some point over the years would have done something to rectify this situation. Then again, the executive would have to actually visit a store in order to realize there was an issue, and we all know that the folks in the upper echelon of corporate America never do their own shopping.
4. People Will Leave Anything on a Wal-Mart Shelf
The trashiness of humanity is clearly evident no matter what aisle you pick. Seriously, you’re going to change the diaper on your thirteenth, still-unnamed child and then park that leftover mess right next to the Diet Coke? What happened to you in your life that you think this is okay? I realize that you might lose focus here and there, what with the fruit of your unregulated loins bringing down civilization, but surely you’ve got to understand that discarding diapers in a public setting is just not what Jesus would do.
5. The Screaming, Maniacal Kids
These filthy degenerates completely own the store. They can and will do anything that strikes their warped fancy. You can’t miss them, thundering up and down the aisles, knocking people and things over, grabbing stuff off the shelves and hurling it in any direction, and throwing themselves on the floor in a frenzied tantrum of screeching wails if they don’t get every single toy that they want.
That mess right there is why our country is in danger. Not the terrorists. Not global warming. Not the fact that any lunatic can start a blog these days. (Ahem.) No. It’s the fact that this latest crop of unbelievably sociopathic hellions will be able to run for public office in a decade or so. It keeps me awake at night. But there is one thing that’s actually worse than these demon seeds.
6. The Parents
You can NOT tell me that you are unaware that your child is out of control. After all, he just hit you in the face with a Barbie Malibu Camper. But you don’t do a damn thing to stop them. You just let them run wild, acting like you don’t notice that half the store is burning down around you. Here’s a newsflash: YOU are responsible for your offspring. This village does not want to raise your child. Get Damien under control or leave him at home with one of your relatives that is not in jail at the time.
Yes, I realize that we also have some bright, angelic, beautiful children out there, stunning little tykes that have been properly raised. And to those parents I send warm wishes and eternal gratitude. Good job. May I request that you also train your darlings for a career in public service, because we’re sure as hell going to need them as an alternate candidate come election day.
7. The Apparently Unlimited Snack Bar
Why do some people think it’s perfectly fine to pull something off the shelf, consume the contents, and then just throw the packaging on the ground? Every aisle is peppered with this evidence, not just the food aisles. You can be in the Electronics department, and make the startling discovery that someone has shoved a half-eaten burrito into a row of CDs, right between Creedence Clearwater Revival and Culture Club. (To put it nicely, Wal-Mart does not have the most current selection of music.)
Some people are obviously consuming entire meals during their shopping experience. Mystifying meals. Huge boxes of cereal are empty. (Is the prize at the bottom really all that important?) A whole watermelon rind, sucked clean of its fleshy inner contents, discarded in Women’s Lingerie. (Were you startled by the overwhelming array of polyester panties?) A depleted container of Rocky Road ice cream shoved under a stack of Levi jeans. (Why are you even bothering to hide your debauchery at this point?)
I’m amazed that these people don’t prepare a 7-course meal and serve the entire family at one of the cheap dining tables displayed in Home Furnishings. (This flimsy product is guaranteed to last at least 3 days!) Then again, such an adventure would require a lot of food-prep work, and something tells me that we’re dealing with extremely lazy people in the first place. Besides, a true sit-down dinner is just not going to happen when the children involved cannot refrain from criminal activity for longer than three seconds.
8. The Employees
Now, I can actually deal with people that might be a bit simple. It really doesn’t bother me. People have different lives and different learning opportunities. And some people just have certain limitations. Got it. And it’s nice that Wal-Mart gives everyone a chance, even if the real reason behind their hiring practices is a fervent hope that their employees won’t recognize the union-quashing tactics of their superiors.
But what I can’t stand are stupid people with an attitude.
There’s no excuse for this. They are dumber than a rock, have no concept of proper social interaction, and yet they are angry. About everything. They hate the world, they hate their job, and they certainly hate having to waste their apparently valuable energy by assisting you in any way. Even though that’s what they’re getting paid to do. This is where I have no sympathy. I didn’t give birth to you, not that I recall, so stop shoving your angst in my direction. Just tell me where I can find the 48-pack of cheap beer so we can both move on with our lives.
9. The Check-Out Experience
Wal-Mart graciously offers you three methods of escape when it’s time to proffer payment on your selected items. Two of these options are completely worthless and can lead to insanity.
Don’t ever go to the “self-checkout” lanes. You will regret this for the rest of your life. This is where all the people who can’t control their kids take up residence. I don’t know why they choose to use these lanes, but they do. There’s some kind of instinct thing going on, a very bad instinct, somewhat similar to their incessant need to procreate.
These people cannot, for the life of them, figure out how to scan their own groceries. Even if they’ve been in this line a hundred times before, and they have been. Notice how “scan their own” and “raise their own” are very similar phrases. They clearly can’t do either. They will logjam the self-checkout line for hours, banging the same can of soup over the damaged scanner at least forty times, while their kids destroy the nearby racks of candy and gossip magazines.
And don’t get in the Express lanes, either. Despite the presence of very large signs saying “Don’t even think about getting in this lane unless you have 15 items or less”, masses of inbred heathens with brimming shopping carts head right for these destinations. They obviously can’t read, and, more importantly, they don’t care. In this case, at least, I can understand why the cashiers have a bad attitude about life in general, proving that even annoying people are not amused by other annoying people.
When all is said and done, the only feasible option at check-out time is the “regular” line. This means you will be parked behind some bitter grandma who is preparing for a nuclear holocaust. She’s got enough food to sustain Lithuania for six months. But trust me, you’ll get through this line quicker than the other two options. Just take a deep breath, call your significant other to explain that you may not be home until next Tuesday, suck any available alcohol out of the cleaning products in your shopping cart, and then meditate and remind yourself that Patience is a virtue and not just a popular name for homely schoolgirls in 1920s Kansas.
10. Then Why Do I Bother Shopping at Wal-Mart?
Good question. Easy Answer. Because it’s cheap. See, I will willingly go anywhere else to purchase the things that I need to get through life. Anywhere. But after a couple months of frequenting the fancy, over-priced supermarket chains (You want me to pay five bucks for one apple that really isn’t all that pretty? Are you serious?) I start to question my spending habits. Why am I shelling out the equivalent of a monthly house payment for groceries that will only last me three days, even when I use the dang “Happy Customer Club” discount card that, in reality, barely makes a dent in the second mortgage I had to take out just to shop in this store?
(Side Note to my Progressive Friends who are appalled that I would even set foot in a Wal-Mart store: I fully understand that I am sinning. I am not a good boy. The Walton family has profited mightily from this chain by utilizing disreputable wage and labor practices that are abhorrent and wrong. Mea culpa. Let’s consider my indiscretion to be an attempt at “research” and we’ll review the validity of my soul at a later time.)
So I go back to Wal-Mart. Stupidly hoping that I won’t be traumatized this time at the rodeo. Maybe I won’t encounter rude customers who have no concept of decency or hygiene, heathen mutant offspring that serve no purpose whatsoever, and certain employees that are missing crucial survival markers in their genetic makeup. But no, it’s the same gig, the same shocking exposure to the underbelly of humanity, the same realization that this planet is in severe danger because we are no longer thinning the herd.
Once again, the experience proves overwhelming. I stagger out of the store, the frustration level so high that my voice has gone up three octaves when I scream at the drunken Salvation Army “worker” and his damn bell that I do not have any loose change. Would you please get you and your breath out of my way? Then I race to my car, dodging around the packs of slow-ass, unclean families who don’t have a clue where their rusty pickup might be.
Once safely ensconced in my car, all doors not just locked but bolted shut so the clamoring zombies can’t gain access, I then have to wait eons for a gap in the shuffling horde of humanity behind me that so I can back up. This can take longer than a Presidential Inauguration. Finally, there’s just enough room for me to ease out, and even then I narrowly miss clipping the old lady with her mysterious purchase of 120 cans of Pretty Kitty cat food. I drive away as fast as possible, hoping that I don’t run over somebody. But even if I do, I’m not stopping. They can hunt me down.
Glancing in the rearview mirror, I see that my just-vacated spot is instantly occupied by the rumbling death car that has been circling the parking lot since the last time I was here. The back door of said vehicle flies open, and 17 children pile out, thundering into the store like a plague of locusts. Then the haggard-looking mother stumbles out from behind the wheel, carrying two more babies and dragging a bulging diaper bag behind her. I’m guessing she’s got something in there that she shouldn’t, and it probably won’t be in there when she leaves.
I snap the mirror off the windshield and throw it in the floorboard. I’ve seen enough.
(Originally published in “The Sound and the Fury” on 02/07/10. Revised and updated with extra flair for this post.)