February 5, 2012

Every time I shop at Walmart a small part of me dies.

Walmart is a grim place to be any day of the week, but it is especially so on the first Friday afternoon of the month, I’ve come to learn.  I experienced this the other day, when I, needing to purchase practical things like TP and paper towels, ventured in at 4 PM.  I, like the rest of middle class Americans, prefer Target, but sometimes Walmart, grim and filthy and annoying as it can be, is generally the least expensive option for these kinds of goods, and besides, I don’t happen to have a Target in my town anyway.

So, in my effort to be more budget-conscious on such goods, Walmart is a practical option, even if I feel a little bit soulless whenever I exit the store, armed with flimsy white bags containing the most cheaply produced products possible.  

On this particular Friday afternoon, I had a very specific list with me.  On it were these fine items:
  • Birthday and V-Day cards
  • Hair conditioner
  • Scrunchies
  • Hard candy
  • V-Day candy
  • Two boxes of Balance bars
  • Wastebaskets (3)
  • Wall clock
  • Nylons
  • Toilet paper
  • Paper towels

All of these items totaled approximately $102, which is pretty fair considering the extent of my list, and the fact that I went with the jumbo packs of paper towel and toilet paper.  It also helped that I saved 65 cents per box on the Balance bars and a dollar on the pack of scrunchies, which I can’t stop talking about because I think it’s hilarious that you can still buy scrunchies in 2012, not to mention the fact that I still wear scrunchies in 2012.

It’s not necessarily going to Walmart, the store, that makes me feel so icky, because if you think about it, every store where things like toilet paper and conditioner are sold is a big-box, chain bang these days.  We are not living in a day and age where mom-and-pop grocery stores even exist anymore.  It’s also not the employees who necessarily create the foreboding atmosphere.  They are typically friendly, hardworking folk, who are doing what they need to do to make a living in America.  Ya can’t knock the hustle, as Jay-Z says.  Many of its patrons, on the other hand, are a different story, because that place – every single time I go there – is a little like being at the National Dregs of Society Convention.  But, let me qualify this statement: I'm not referring to such folks who are Walmart shoppers merely because they are poor or are simply being budget-conscious (as I am), but rather those, who in my personal experience, happen to comprise the general demographic of shoppers who are generally rude, pushy, and in some cases, high on drugs of the prescription or street variety. 

In the checkout line, I had a This-Is-What’s-Wrong-With-America moment while observing the overweight family of three checking out in front of me.  Before I embark on my observation of this family it should be noted that they appeared to be a nice-enough family, not visibly on drugs or not particularly pushy or rude, but nevertheless still showcasing the kinds of dire issues that are plaguing our American culture today, namely that of which stems from overindulgence, lending itself to such issues as obesity, disease, as well as a whole slew of other issues. 

Judging from the long skirts, adorned by both the mother and daughter, paired with slippers, they were probably of the Pentecostal faith.  They weren’t the only ones with this kind of footwear -- I actually saw a lot of people wearing slippers that afternoon.  The daughter was maybe 13, but could’ve easily passed for a 34 year old if you blurred your eyes because of the 100 or so extra pounds she was carrying.  “I want some Reese's,” she said to her mom, debating on whether she should get multiple packs of the candy or a king-size.  Her mother responded, “Why don’t you get two packs so you can have variety?”  The girl settled on the king-size pack. 

Continuing on with business, the mother and father hefted their goods one by one onto the conveyer belt so slowly I had to fight the urge to just take over and do it myself.  Their goods consisted of the following iconic American fare: two sausage pizzas, a stick of pepperoni, a canister of sugar-free Carnation Instant Breakfast, one out-of-season watermelon, several boxes of pudding (various flavors), some other stuff that I can’t remember, and a quarter-drunk plastic jug of water.  The mother said the cashier, “That’s opened because I got thirsty.”  Her daughter added, “She has diabetes.”*

As soon as there was enough space, I mounted my items to the conveyor belt.  An incredible sweet old lady waiting in line behind me – a stark contrast to all the folks around us and an example of What’s Right With America – said to me with a smile, “We’ll get through this line eventually.”  After my items (which amount to as many as the family before me) were already on the conveyor belt I realized she only had one item, a navy blue sweatshirt (size: Medium).  Suddenly, it occured to me that I should’ve taken notice that she had one item to my 20, and that I too, am yet another case of This is What’s Wrong With America.

Finally, I was expelled through the exit doors, and not only did my soul feel a bit depleted, but I felt filthy and my eyes were burning from the poorly recycled air.  And, for what?  Just to save a few bucks on some cheap paper and plastic wares.  But I suspect that, just like that feeling when you’ve eaten too much Chinese food and you vow never to eat it again, you know you’ll be back.  I hate to admit it, but I’m sure I’ll be.

*This is a true story.  The dialogue was not edited in any way for the purpose of entertainment value.
Photo Credit: PeopleofWalmart.com.


Cheri said...

Oh Sarah, I couldn't have said it better myself! On the other hand,a trip to Wal-mart can always serve as a little self-esteem boost. Find the silver lining, right?

Sarah said...

That is an interesting point, Cheri. It always helps to look at the glass half-full. :)

Danielle said...

Rather than a self-esteem booster, I find my occasional visits to Wal-Mart a very humbling experience. Although we can perpetually debate who is truly responsible for this grave change in American lifestyles, I will say that, at the end of my Wal-Mart visits, I am even more thankful for the quality of life that I have had the opportunity to work hard for. Personally, Wal-Mart trips aren’t about writing cynical and negative reflections about the store’s “personnel” but rather, it is a reality check displaying these very real and sorrowful problems that we have brewing at the heart of America’s families.

Sarah said...

I like that perspective, Danielle. I agree about the store's personnel. As I said in my post, they are hardworking people trying to make it, just like many of us. The experience of shopping at Walmart is just a microcosm of some of the harrowing issues plaguing our society as a whole.