Monday, March 14, 2005

Walmart

I just finished up Bird by Bird. I can't promise it will make me a better writer or make it easier for you to enjoy reading Tiny Cat Pants, because it wasn't until the very end of the book that I realized I'd read it before. So, obviously, the chances of any advice in there sinking in and doing any good is somewhere between slim and none. That being said, Anne Lamott advises that we should not be afraid to confront the things that cut us most deeply and expose them through our writing. That's probably because the things that cut her most deeply are great injustices like hunger and poverty and war. The thing that cuts me most deeply is Walmart. Going to Walmart, having to shop at Walmart, makes me feel like shit. Partly, it has to do with the overwhelmingness of the whole thing, the aisles upon aisles of everything you could possibly want--as long as it's not too unique--brought to you as cheaply as possible through the exploitation of your neighbors. God, it's unbearable. If you see me at Walmart, look down the aisle and see my Dad. I'm there because of him, either he needed to buy some thing that he just couldn't do without while I was visiting or he had to check to see if the inventory had changed since the last time he was at Walmart, approximately twelve hours ago, or he's finally lost his mind, wandered off, and I've come to retrieve him. I'd like to have a good, liberal "they exploit the workers and ruin small town downtowns" argument against Walmart, but I don't. Maybe because I grew up in towns where the town squares were populated by a VFW Hall, a drug store, and five bars, it seemed like the downtowns were already pretty dead before Walmart showed up. And it's not like rural folks aren't already used to shopping out of big boxes. We shopped at Pamada, Jack's, and my beloved Farm and Fleet for all sorts of stuff before Walmart moved in. It's true enough that they exploit their workers, but at least Walmart provides people jobs close to their homes. Also, usually Walmarts go in near strip malls or strip malls spring up near them, so with them comes conveniences like McDonald's and the Hallmark store. So, I don't believe it's easy enough to say that Walmart has ruined small town living. It seems to me that they just saw an opportunity and took it. And I hate that folks talk about Walmart like it's some cancer spread out across the heartland burrowing its way into even urban areas. Seriously, if a Walmart opened up in East Nashville or in the Bronx, what's the worst that could happen? It's like they think being rural and poor is contagious and if you go into Walmart to pick up some detergent, chips, and a bean bag, you're going to come out with a gun rack, a hunting cap, and the uncontrollable urge to beat your children in public. Or maybe it's like they think Walmart is some symbol of everything that's wrong with America and by keeping it out of their communities, they're somehow making a stand for decency and a living wage. I don't know. But I don't like feeling like the war against Walmart is indirectly a war against people like me (and I don't like that I feel that so viscerally that I don't quite know what I mean by it.) But, all that being said, I don't shop there. I'd rather go without things than shop there. I'd rather pay more at Target or Walgreen's than shop there. I don't like that there's so much stuff, so many choices and then so many individual units of whatever it is that they have. I am paralyzed by that. I don't like that the floors always look dirty, even at brand new Walmarts. I don't like that there's never enough check out lanes open, so you end up standing for what seems like hours behind some woman trying to herd her kids while her husband reads the back of his deer-urine scented hunting spray and ignores her. I don't like that you can't buy any cold medicine that might be used to make meth without going up to the pharmacist and everyone just accepts this as if it's just how things go, that we all have to be treated like children because some dumb-asses cannot refrain from poisoning themselves and their communities. I hate the jewelry at Walmart, especially, because it's so flimsy and fake looking, like anyone who shops at Walmart ought to be just fine with a cross pendant with her imitation birthstone attached to it and the arms so flimsy that they bend almost immediately once she starts wearing it. And all the watches, like all people who go to Walmart have is time and the time to watch time pass. Which is true, in some respects, as we're all herded through the store and up and down the aisles and queued up in line to pay to leave. But most of all, I don't like that the whole store seems set up to deliver to you everything you really need, as if this is the official store of America, the place to get everything you need to have "real life." As if your inability to find what you want there is not some fault of the store, but of you for over-reaching, for being extravagant and unreasonable, for you not fitting in and understanding your proper place.

3 Comments:

Blogger the Professor said...

I can rarely find what I want in Walmart. It might be that there is too much and I am just overwhelmed. But on 2 occasions--and I have only been to the local Walmart 4 times in 3 years--I have even asked for customer assistance and have still not found what I wanted.

If you really want a crazy experience, try Sam's Club. I have a membership now, and the bill goes home to my mother. We could try that for our next shopping adventure. Too bad I don't have room in my home for anything in bulk size.

3/15/2005 11:16:00 AM  
Blogger Steve Pick said...

Walmart? That place is still around?

My problems with Walmart, in addition to the general distrust I have of any vehemently anti-union, pro-religion, pro-censorship, pro-overseas sweat shops purveyor of cheap and mostly ugly goods, are more to do with personal frustration. I hate that they figured out a way to make me want $6 DVDs that I'll never watch (except the Red Skelton DVDS, which were pretty cool.) (Another aside on that subject is when I noticed my wife had set up our Digital Video Recorder to record "Diner" the other day, when I knew that we had bought the DVD at Wal-Mart two years ago, and still hadn't bought it.)

I hate also the fact that they stopped carrying the vitamin brand I actually used to trek out to Wal-Mart to buy. Why be so suddenly picky about something I found useful and cheap? Now, the only thing worth buying there is socks and underwear.

Walgreens isn't really much better of a company than Wal-Mart. They love to pay low wages and put smaller drug stores out of business, and if possible, to knock down historic buildings every few weeks to build yet another Walgreens. And, I say this despite the fact my mom was gainfully employed there for 30 years.

Actually, most chains have big problems somewhere or other. Not that I boycott them or anything. I'm a man of convenience.

3/15/2005 01:23:00 PM  
Blogger Aunt B said...

Can Sam's Clubs in Tennessee sell bulk whiskey? As much as I loathe Walmart, there's something about buying whiskey by the gallon that appeals to me, and so, I like Sam's.

Steve, we have that same problem with Walgreen's here. The worst part is that the second a Walgreen's goes up, Eckerd's feels compelled to open a store right across the street.

3/15/2005 02:59:00 PM  

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