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Monday, June 02, 2008

WAL-MART: The Long Hard Siege Is Over... I Have Succumbed

Well, there it is, folks... since December 9, 2002, after more than five years (in fact, 2,002 days, by my reckoning!) of tooth-and-nail fighting, battered castle walls, and trumpet-blasts of resistance, I have succumbed to the overwhelming military superiority of Wal-Mart. I've written of this in a previous post ("Five Years Without Wal-Mart," Friday, December 14, 2007) so I won't re-hash all that again, but I'd admitted in that essay that I'd probably cave in sooner or later, and here's the sad tale of my defeat:

Our telephone has been dying a slow, painful death for about the last month, and now that it's on it's last legs we had to have another one. Which meant a long, 140-mile round trip to Santa Fe, or a trip to Wal-Mart. Kim was busy. It was up to me.

Kim and I have just returned from our honeymoon in Ireland, and for a couple of days now I've been on the verge of posting an essay about how non-foreign it felt... when I was there, it felt like I was home... now that I'm home, it still feels like I'm there. I think I've finally hit a point in my life where I truly feel the oneness of all humans, and I just can't buy that we're really all that different. Maybe being on the land of my ancestors had something to do with it, like genetic memory or something. Also, maybe the fact that I've been there three times now, and that they speak my language, literally and metaphorically. Maybe I'd feel differently if we'd honeymooned in say, Senegal, or Mongolia, or Iceland.... but I've been feeling at one with the world and quite mellow and comfortable with myself since our return....

Until today.

Jeezus Frickin' Christ in a Chickenbasket!

You know, almost anything is new and strange after a five-year hiatus, but damn! A Wal-Mart store is about the weirdest place I've ever been. And mind you, this isn't even one the BIG buggers, a supercenter... this is just our own local, "normal" Wal-Mart. I parked as far away from the front door as possible, took a few deep breaths of outside air before I plunged in, closed my eyes, and jumped.

The first thing I noticed was that the very air seemed filled with some sort of globules of plastic. The whole place smelled like plastic, looked like plastic, and I swear walking down the aisles was like plowing through some sort of plastic vapor... I could almost feel it clinging to my skin, and by the time I left, my throat hurt. Psychosomatic? Maybe....

From the greeter at the door to every other "associate" I encountered, I have to say I was a little surprised... I'd expected them to act like Stepford-automatons, but they were apparently human. They seemed human, anyway, and no one treated me badly or was rude. But maybe that's their plan... maybe they want me to think they're human... and.... aaaarrrggghhhh!

Just kidding.

I'm certainly not going to personally rag on the customers, after all, they've been thoroughly trained by the propagandists that there "isn't anywhere else to shop" and they probably think they've got no choice - not to mention how many local businesses Wal-Mart has killed (and the prices, which I'll get to in a minute). But they were a remarkably odd bunch, marked by a tendency to obesity and a sort of glazed blandness, broken only by the occasional quasi-psychotic expression of unquenchable shopper-lust. Hell, I can't hold anything against them... after five minutes in there I probably looked just like them.

But... are we really all one? I gotta say, when I was in the belly of the beast, it didn't feel like it. I really felt like these people - both the "associates" and the customers - were of some alien race that I was merely visiting. It was the most uncanny, dehumanizing, and utterly uncomfortable feeling I've had in a long time.

Anyway, I headed for the shoe section to see if they sold Converse tenner shoes. They didn't. I threw a pair of plastic sandals in my buggy. Nine bucks. I found a phone I thought we could live with, one that didn't automatically come with fifteen "free offers" and "connections" and so forth. Thirty-two bucks. I strolled a while in the media-electronics section a while, and the crazed shopper lust look kicked in. Wow! A DVD special-edition copy of "The Terminator" with a 3-D slipcover for just eight bucks! Whoo-hoo! WAIT A MINUTE! I'M STARTING TO NOT FEEL UNCOMFORTABLE ANYMORE! OH SHIT! I grabbed my guts and steadied my trembling hands... sanity returned and I left "Ah-nold" behind. After all, it's Wal-Mart... he'll be there when I need him.

Finally, I scored a pack of Sharpie pens (can't you buy just one pen? apparently not...) and I've already figured out the tips aren't what I wanted. But they're already opened. Oh! But it's Wal-Mart! I can return them! Screw that. I've breathed enough petrolium by-products for one day, thank you.

I'd been in-country for about thirty minutes by then, and figured I'd better get out while the gettin' was good. No telling when the Stepford Associates might come for me. I paid with my credit card, just to complete the all-plastic vibe of the expedition, and ran for the truck.

Holy shit... so that's what virtually every American endures almost every day. Thank God we don't have a supercenter here in Taos... but there is one down in Espanola... I wonder what they have... STOP IT! STOP IT! GET OUT OF MY HEAD, YOU BASTARDS!

Damn, everything is so cheap! At least compared to "the competition." Did the prices go down even further since I was last in there? Hell, I may never buy office supplies anywhere else again. But... CDs and DVDs for pennies... iPods for seventy bucks... shoes for nine bucks... and I didn't even go into the dog food section! There's no wonder all my friends thought I was crazy for not shopping there, and no wonder that I'm broke. But you know, why the hell is everything that cheap? Well, it's because some poor leperous bastard somewhere in a hot, humid, squalorous factory in China is getting paid two cents a day to make all this shit.

Out of plastic.

To make matters even weirder and more grimly hilarious, I got home from Wally World to find my mail waiting, and a fine old friend of mine had sent Kim and I a belated wedding gift: a gift card to Wal-Mart! My lord....

Shit. I've opened up a big damn can of worms and I don't know what I'm gonna do now. I'd like to try to still shop at my locally-owned stores, and I certainly don't look forward to the "experience" of being in another Wal-Mart anytime soon. But I am virtually broke, and the plastic crap really is dirt cheap, and occasionally... just occasionally, it might be necessary to give it up and head into the pit once again. I'll probably survive it, and my local organic grocer probably won't go out of business just because of me. I hope and pray.

ButI feel damn strange about it, damn guilty about it, and deeply sad that I've lost, at least for the moment, that feeling of oneness with the world.


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original artwork by Chipper Thompson

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