Author's Note: The following post may, in fact, be offensive to you. If it is, um, tough.
I have a confession to make: Wal-Mart scares the holy hell out of me.
Whenever I walk into that blue building, I feel like an alien from Mars. Seriously. I grew up with local stores. You wanted food, you went to the market. Meat? Go to the butcher. You need a hammer, you head to the local hardware store. Wally World (as I call Wal-Mart) removes that need, which I guess makes it convenient (hence the term convenience store) but it loses something because of that. Should we be proud of the fact that we can pick up a pair of jeans, a jug of milk, steel-belted radial tires, and a blanket in the same store? I guess there's nothing more "American" than Wal-Mart (except maybe Target), but I miss the mom and pop stores. I could go to Winchell's Hardware on 22nd and put it on "the tab." Sure, at the end of the month it had to be paid off, but the service was such that the people there knew who you were, knew about your life, and maybe even knew what you needed to pick up before you even told them. That's great service. Now, at the Big Blue Box, you get people who look at you and make assumptions without even asking. As I walked around Wal-Mart this afternoon, I was looking for a cat carrier. You see I have a few precocious cats who are heading to the vet on Monday. When they are returned to me, they are usually in fowl moods and turn their joint carrier into steel cage death matches. I decided to end this and by separate carriers for them. I started to walk toward the pet section (which is behind the pharmacy and next to auto parts....Auto parts and pets? Ok then.) when I was stopped by "Gerald." Instead of just asking me if I needed help, "Gerald" told me, "the diet section is right over here." He then flashed me a big ole smile. Now, how would you react to this. Sure, I admit I'm overweight, and kinda short...just look at my picture...but that doesn't mean that I should be pointed toward the aisle o' Slim Fast. I just smiled at "Gerald" and said, "Hey thanks Chief," and I kept walking toward the pet section. Within seconds, I heard him helping someone else toward the toothpaste aisle.
I think my real problem with Wal-Mart occurred to me while I waited in line to check out. All of the magazines near the check out counter had country stars or (and I quote) "Bitchin' Cars," on the covers. The guy in front of me, AND the woman behind me as well as the cashier had mullets, and the music twanging over my head was countrireffic. A quick glance around showed me that no one working nor anyone shopping was anything other than white. The woman behind me with the gorgeous woe-man mullet wore a shirt that read, "America. Love it, or I'll kick your ass out!" Classy all the way. Yes, my ultimate problem with Wal-Mart, and the reason I feel like an outsider is that, honestly, I felt like everyone there (and I really hate making generalizations) that I had contact with was white trash. It's one thing to be a patriot. It's another to have a giant tattoo of a bald eagle facing one way and President G.W. Bush's face going the other with an American flag in the middle. I know this because in the next aisle over, a rather large pregnant woman was wearing a mid-riff revealing shirt and the tattoo was popping out. Other problems? The pet section had a huge hole in the wall (about the size of a fist) with graffiti next to it. Why wasn't that cleaned up? Don't you want your store to be clean and look good for the general public?
My wife has a similar take on the whole thing. She feels that Wally World is nothing more than a warehouse designed to make us feel that there's nothing better out there. "Poor lighting, subpar choices make us feel that we can't get any better. This is out lot in life." I feel bad, because my cynical nature is rubbing off on her.
Now don't get me wrong, it's not just Wal-Mart where I feel out of place. A few weeks ago my wife dragged me down to the Galleria near the Southdale Mall to look at furniture in Gabberts. From the moment I walked into the place, I was uncomfortable. The gentleman and his wife (or girlfriend or mistress or whatever) by the door were talking about how, "the $3,000 Eames chair was cheap," and they should, "buy two for the guest house." Sigh. The guy even had that Thurston Howell III (the Billionaire on Gilligan's Island) accent. "I loove Moneeey." If you've seen the show, you know what I mean. Seriously, walking around that place and seeing how much stuff cost was appalling. I felt extreme rage at not only the prices, but the way people were talking about money in the store.
Seriously, is there any middle ground anymore? During the election, one pundit talked about how "Bush's audience is the Wal-Mart crowd", and, "Kerry's audience is the Williams-Sonoma crowd." Is that the division we have now?
So why does Wal-Mart scare me? Because it represents so many things I don't really like. The death of the independent shop, the fact that it still seems to be ok that women are paid less than men and still treated like second class citizens, the fact that cheaper has become more important than better, the fact that God can still be used as a weapon against those we don't like, and the fact that if you walk into a place and don't "look the part" of the people usually there, you will be singled out and questioned. I fully admit that I go there, and Target, to find certain items that would be harder to find else where, but I would rather schlep 40 minutes away to a co-op than give Wal-Mart my grocery money. I would rather go to my local hardware store and scrounge for the right size screws than head to Home Depot. Sure, there are things at HD which are easier to find, but you have to support your local economy, don't you?
Maybe it's just me. I don't know. Perhaps life will seem better after some much needed wine. Have a good weekend everyone.