Sorting through irritants, personal embarrassments, judgments and self-centered ravings for topics. What things are currently filling my head, driving me, ramping up my pulse rate, keeping me awake at three a.m., worried, breathless, agitated, contemplating life in prison? Weight loss, Music, the Olympics, the Mars Landing, Back Pain, Heart Disease, Death, Zombies. What must I unload from my brain; what is blocking free flowing creativity and causing inappropriate conduct?
I just found out that my friend Arnie died. He was big, loud, funny, arrogant and demanding and he lived to be 80 years old. Considering his lifestyle, he had an impressive run. I’m thinking about resurrecting my semi-fictional study, “Advice from Arnie”. It’s an interesting project; all the bad advice, boisterous diatribes, obscene comments and guilty apologies. It would be sensitive, funny, enlightening and a wonderful tribute to an impressive friend who has passed on.
Instead I went to Wal-Mart. I needed some earphones for my Ipod; the right side has shorted out and I like to listen to music when I walk on the mesa behind my house. The volume has to be loud enough to drown out the ringing in my ears.
The small town in Northern New Mexico where I live is limited in its commercial offerings. Art galleries, organic food, massage and specialty stores, but very little in the way of mundane day-to-day real-world products. Of course we have a Wal-Mart.
Wal-Mart was perfectly fine. Totally OK. I know I’m supposed to abhor and despise it, the management, the politics, the prices, products and people. I don’t. I don’t care much about Wal-Mart. I have enough things in my life that instill remorse and regret and blame.
I was on my way up the mountain last week to hike for an hour. Clear my head. Quiet the voices. Turn down the volume. Smell some pine, feel the air, look at a tree, throw rocks at a squirrel. Forgot to bring a t-shirt. I guess I could have turned around and gone back home, a 40 minute round trip at the best time of day, or I could drop into one of the many used clothing/junk/garbage stores in the area, moving from bin to bin, sorting through dead people’s garments until I fount the right size shirt. Something without ground-in dog-doo or blood stains.
Wall mart. Brand new t-shirt, extra large, 4 dollars. And it had a picture of a space ship on the front.
If I need printer paper, what the hell am I supposed to do? Go to some local artisan paper co-op and have them create a ream from hand-dipped, organic, acid-free, renewable whatever-the-crap-they-make-paper-from? I need printer paper. Wal-Mart. $3.87.
Vaguely guilty, I roam around with my giant cart, self-conscious, suspicious, watching everyone else and avoiding any kind of contact.
Suppose I’m spotted by one of the local arbiters of proper modern behavior and marketing, a busybody of political and cultural conduct, an evaluator a what is right, hip, cool, proper, green and doesn’t exploit disabled foreign orphans and suicidal piece-workers?
But, what the hell would they be doing here? Research? Reconnaissance? Shopping for discount bomb materials? Screw them. All I want is to listen to some music with both ears, bilaterally, without wondering if I’m going deaf or if I’ve had a stroke.
While I was roving the store I remembered I also needed hand soap. You know, bars, not too aromatic? I ambled back and forth, peering down every aisle, drifting, passing the other customers two or three times, lost, hungry, tired.
Finally I saw a plain young woman with lots of hair and a Wal-Mart name tag.
“Can you tell me where the soap is? The hand soap. Bars.”
She pointed south.
“Um, where would that be?”
“Back there. End of the store. I think that’s were you’re probably gonna find it.”
End of the store. End of Wal-Mart. Hardly visible in the distance. Thataway. She thinks. Unclear. Probably gonna find it. Big store. Long walk.
Slowly scanning every few feet of crowded, colorful, shelves. Cheap hair dye. Laxatives. Lots of laxatives. Probably best not to buy food at Wal-Mart. Ramen noodles. Ten packages for a dollar. Cheap food. I ate Ramen for a week one time. It was very salty. By the end of the week I was hungry, swollen, and sweaty. Definitely don’t buy food here.
Soap and earphones. Should be simple.
Eventually I found a substantial stock of hand soap. Plenty of different brands, aloe, shea butter (no idea), rose, vanilla, cranberry. Really, cranberry soap. I was hoping to avoid decisions. All I want is white soap, plain, for use on sensitive parts of the human body, without strong perfume, mystery herbs and produce.
I fumbled a block of 12 bars for $3.67 into my cart. Looked around. No one saw me.
In the Home Entertainment sector I walked by a wall of flat screen TVs. Good prices and built to last 6 to 18 months. A bin of DVDs, five dollars each, representing the absolute worst that Hollywood has to offer. Selling well, too. I guess we Wal-Mart shoppers can’t get enough of Adam Sandler, dismemberment, and the History Channel’s love affair with Nazis.
The nine-dollar ear phones, hundreds of them, nicely arranged on hooks according to price and color, were just what I needed. I tugged on the package and it wouldn’t come off the rack. The hook that the package hangs from is locked with some kind of sophisticated Post-911 security puzzle and a shopper has to ask for help from one of the rare members of the Wal-Mart family. Makes sense that people would steal earphones. I would. Small, built to fail, easily concealed.
I found three dour people with Wal-Mart identity cards pinned to their XXX-L t-shirts, chatting, staring, dozing off near the plastic shoes.
“Hi. Could someone help me get some earphones off of the rack?”
“Earphones?” The fattest guy. Jerrold.
“Yeah, I need some earphones and they are locked up.”
“Yep. All safe and secure. Can’t shake them loose. Maybe I’m not pulling hard enough.”
“Can you get then off the goddamn hook?”
“Just a minute.”
“OK. Thanks. Jerrold.”
He took a call on his cellphone, turned away from me. The other two had vanished into weed-killer and petroleum-based lingerie.
I was hanging out in the middle of the store, waiting, shuffling my feet, reading labels. I looked for Jerrold and saw him leaning on a counter, his head down, texting his autobiography into his phone.
I should have left. Save some grief, pay for the soap and listen to music through one ear. Send away for earphones. Amazon. Another hated company.
Instead I leaned into a kiosk of batteries and tipped them over. The sound of the display case as it crashed to the floor got Jerrold’s attention. He closed his phone and lumbered in my direction, quickly, frowning.
“Man, I’m sorry. I just touched it and the whole thing fell over. Probably not assembled properly.”
“Yeah. Hey, can you get me those earphones now? Right over there. The white ones. Nine bucks. On that rack. Long as you’re here.”
I carefully edged towards the electronics section of the store, cautious, so as not to startle him, pointing, looking over my shoulder occasionally, to make sure he was still following me. I felt like a Sherpa. I stumbled into the DVDs, the case wobbled dangerously, and he caught up. At out destination, he flicked the hook with a clever utensil attached to his belt and the earphones popped free.
We parted more or less amicably.
The lady at checkout was really pleasant. Very nice.
“I’m sorry, I’m out of little bags. Is that OK?”
“Yes, do you mind?”
I shook myself out of a near-coma.
“Great, fine, no problem. No Bags.”
I left the store with the earphones in one hand, gripping the heavy brick of soap under my arm.
I was grateful that the aged security team at the front of the store didn’t ask to see my receipt. I wasn’t feeling stable. I should take a walk to unwind, listen to some relaxing music, and have a shower afterwards. I had all the necessary supplies and at a reasonable price. I was hungry and confused. I turned and looked back at the store. A hell of a good deal on Ramen, though.