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Tuesday, November 16, 2004

I finally headed down to the Wal-Mart Supercenter in my neighborhood just to see what all the hoopla was about.

There were no parking spaces near the entrance of the behemoth building so we drove across the great expanse of asphalt and, once parked, hiked our way back in to the west entrance.

Once inside Wal-Mart, I found it a sight to behold. From the shiny white teeth of the greeter at the door to the shiny linoleum floors and the shiny happy people shopping within, it was like the 1964 World’s Fair, a Republican National Convention, and Disneyland – all at insanely discounted prices – rolled into one.

As my friend and I headed down one of the endless upon endless aisles, the oversized signage screamed as we passed…

Always Low Prices, Save – Save – Save, Wow! Check Out This Value and, as if everything wasn’t already priced nickel on the dollar, Super Item! Save Even More.

“How can everything here be so cheap?” I wondered. “Substandard pay and health care benefits for the employees,” my friend replied. God bless America, eh?

Another prominently displayed sign read 200% Satisfaction Guaranteed. Two hundred percent? Now I’m not real good with numbers, but that either implies we’re supposed to shop in pairs – a shopping “buddy system” as it were, like when you’re in the wilderness or lifting weights, so nobody gets lost or hurt – or else somebody in the advertising department needs to go back to community college and brush up on those math skills.

Discounting the impossible percentiles, we moved along to the canned aisles. Canned fruit, canned vegetables, canned meat, canned pasta – everything anybody could ever want for a four-course meal all canned for your convenience. The can openers were thoughtfully displayed at the end of the aisle. Boxed dinners, however, were in another aisle because, after all, mixing cans and boxes only leads to confusion and a ruined meal.

The canned beans were located at the end of another aisle too, the one marked Latino. That’s also where we found the “Wal-Mart Tortilla Supercenter”, a stand-alone display that finally answers the question, “When will tortillas get the respect they deserve?”

Nothing says respect like your own Supercenter.

There was a wide selection of cereal; all the colors of the rainbow were represented. Wal-Mart doesn’t discriminate. If you want something manly like oatmeal you can find it, if you prefer something a little fruitier it’s there too. Both bagged and boxed cereal lined the shelves and free-range cereal was left to roam the aisle.

We soon happened upon the ‘Institutional Sizes’ aisle, for those who think 12oz. of anything just isn’t enough. I suppose they have a point. The last thing I need, or want, is to have my heart set on eating a salad only to find out – oh no! – I’m out of ranch dressing…again! With the 1-gallon tub of buttermilk ranch dressing, it would be many a season before I had to face that horrific day again.

The alcohol section – home of Quality Beer, or so it said – displayed what had to be my favorite sign: Get Drunk for Less!

Ok, I might have made that last one up. Or maybe not.

After trekking a couple of miles, we hit the firearms department. There was a wide selection of rifles, ammo, knives, bb guns, dart guns and paint-ball guns to choose from.

However, there were no handguns. But there was a sign, which read: “No firearm or ammunition sales after 10pm.” Wal-Mart knows it’s customers and it doesn’t want any trouble. At least not after 10pm.

Curiously, the bedding department was located right across the aisle, where one could buy sheets, shams, and feather or foam pillows – which is good, because nothing makes me sleepier than an afternoon spent killing God’s creatures.

I do have one question, though – What’s a sham?

Answer: Wal-Mart.

Haw haw haw! Sorry, just my little attempt at gentrification humor there.

As we headed to the checkout lines, we saw a 40-something woman with her preteen son. As we passed, she muttered, “It seems like we’ve been here forever.”

I stopped to strike up a conversation with the woman and found out that, in fact, she had been.

She first entered the store with her own mother, when she wasn’t much older than her son is now. She later met the man who became her husband at the jewelry counter. Their son was soon born in the Baby Care department. In fact, her mom recently died of a stroke in aisle seven and is now buried in the Garden Department. The family currently resides by fresh produce.

Once in checkout, I scanned the magazines and guess who made the cover of O Magazine again? That damn Oprah! Well, that’s understandable because everybody loves Oprah – especially Oprah. And, in White America, nothing sells like a non-threatening black person. Look what it did for Aunt Jemima.

As we headed toward the west exit, we passed the indoor bank. Just in case you didn’t “Save Save Save” as much as you thought you would, have no fear because there’s an ATM in the building.

We also strolled past a McDonald’s, which I guess is there for those shoppers either too hungry or too lazy to go home and actually cook the food they just bought.

When we got to the door at which we had first entered, it was locked. A new sign posted there read: “These doors locked at 9pm.” It was 9:05 by this time.

As we headed eastward, the shopping cart became heavier and heavier with each passing hour. We eventually exited Wal-Mart and finally made it back to the car just as the sun was rising.

While driving home, we passed by a long-closed building down the road. It was once the small grocery store where I used to shop, owned by a couple that grew old with the neighborhood.

After Wal-Mart opened, the couple’s dreams soon turned to dust. Eventually their bodies turned to dust. The inside of that building is now covered in a thick layer of dust.

It is all dust blowing in the breeze and the only safety to be found is in numbers. The number of products, the number of discounts, and the number of huddled shopping masses gathered inside the monolithic walls of Wal-Mart Supercenter at any given moment some 24 hours a day.

That’s a fact that’s 200% guaranteed -- with little in the way of satisfaction.

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