I’ve only been to Wal-Mart seven times in my life. The first two were as a freshman in college, with seniors buying liquor. I was just happy for an off-campus ride. I bought toiletries. The other five times I’ve been were all to purchase some sort of drug paraphernalia or accessory to drug use. And three pairs of jeans.
Everyone looks furtive at Wal-Mart, whether or not they're on an illegal drug-related purchasing mission. Those that are not embarrassed by (or unaware of) the stigma of Wal-Mart’s lack of social responsibility are ashamed of their poverty. No one is proud to be there, from the poor obese souls that spend their lives re-stocking, with cramped hands under multiple hangers, heavy with synthetic approximations of trend – to the greeters in all of their retirement-denied false cheer. Welcome to Wal-Mart, I love you.
The shame colors every nuance of the Wal-Mart experience – when you suddenly realize you know the layout, even in a strange Wal-Mart, in a strange city. You know how to get to the housewares section from the hardware section through the maternity section. You’ve internalized Wal-Mart logic. When you gleefully feel the tension ebb from your body upon seeing that this Wal-Mart has self-service checkout – that based on your innate ability to locate bar codes you won’t have to be acknowledged for buying pie tins, copper wool, extension cords and pyrex by a pockmarked tween who is surely in college in an alternate universe.
Every Wal-Mart shopper has their eulogy to their lost morality: the Wal-Mart excuse story, usually just a re-direct. Mine is “Wal-Mart is the largest retailer of organic foods worldwide.” To “But are they really organic?” I say “it doesn’t matter, it’s a driving force behind the brand 'organic', and that in the long run that makes the market change”.
My hometown is noted for both successfully rebelling against Wal-Mart and holding the front for some years. Enough that a high school friend crafted “H” stickers (with supplies bought from K-Mart) to change “StopWal-Mart” bumper stickers to “Shop Wal-Mart” bumper stickers. Once Wal-Mart finally won the war and moved into the town on the crest of a wave of big box stores – someone actually bombed Wal-Mart. Or the Wal-Mart parking lot, anyway. Poorly. And it was reacted to even more poorly by the local police, who simply shot the bomb with a shotgun. This only reinforcing the authoritative opinion on Wal-Mart: neither it nor its customers are worth salvation. God doesn’t bless Wal-Mart.
The shame hit me, in Wal-Mart, in the changing room trying on jeans. It wasn’t the shame of a middle size fitting perfectly, of thinking of underpaid Chinese women creating garments sized and shaped for the American body. It wasn’t the shame of getting three pairs of jeans for less than $50. It was the shame of the Wal-Mart dressing room – a roving set of walls 10 feet high in a 30 foot high room, walls that should they disappear would leave one naked, next to others naked, in the middle of Wal-Mart, not too far from the sporting goods section where they sell live ammunition and firearms. The nakedness in Wal-Mart, against the backdrop of muzak and ads for in-store products feels as out of place and removed from nature as the lifecycle of Wal-Mart’s products. The shame of being exposed for what I am – someone who knows better, buying cheap chemically treated denim at a Wal-Mart in planned community in suburban California. A greedy, naked, dreaming American in American-Dreamland.
I start to worry that the drug experiences will be colored by where I got the tools to create them and the jeans I’ll be wearing for them but then shrug and give it up because Wal-Mart is fully redeemed by one thing: its prices. The shame is only ameliorated by the underlying, unifying, undeniable righteous beauty that is affordability. The furtive Wal-Mart customers meet each other’s eyes across class and culture with a wink and a smile because behind that shame we know we found the deal, we know we get it. We know what’s really important, not this PC objection bullshit, but what we spend the money we’re not spending at Wal-Mart today on… (drugs). We are all deserving of this cheap child-crafted crap from China. We can have it. It’s for us. We don’t have to hide.
Thank you and God Bless,Wal-Mart, I extol you for taking the blame, the brunt of our wrath at our own lust for product. You ease and cheapen our consumption, freeing us of direct consequence – and in return we transfer our hatred of our own compulsion on to you.