I’ve been mulling entirely too many things in my head in the past hours: I suppose that’s what happens when all you really have to do is focus mostly on cleaning, cooking, primping and being a hypochondriac (a mild one, to boot…. too chicken to bother a doctor). Oh, and being pregnant, of course: the bizarro-world constant in my life, and the reason I can go from normal female to ravenously hungry psycho in a matter of nanoseconds. And then, there’s the peeing: I would say my life is divided now between periods of peeing and not peeing. I could become like a pee-ghurry and start telling time that way. Anyway…. as it turns out, no one ever warned me that one of the more urgent, less understood, and more disturbing of the symptoms of being with child would be the irrational need to go walk the aisles at Wal-Mart.
Look: for all my highfaluting demeanor and jaded disdain of most things on this earth save perhaps goat cheese, cats, and cashmere, I have never really felt a need to despise or disrespect Wal-Mart. Really. I mean, sure, Wal-Mart threatens local economies by offering their prices much lower than any other store’s sale item; and Wal-Mart does not support unions; the list, I’m sure, goes on and on. But let’s be disgustingly honest for a second and admit that when you’re shopping in your beaten-up flip flops, nasty shorts and sweaty t-shirt, no store beats Wal-Mart for a breath of cool air and some quickie shopping. No one cares what you look like when you go into the ‘Mart. You will get to pick up a Slurpee, motor oil, some funky yarn, kitty litter, and a couple of bar stools in less than fifteen. You can even check yourself out. You may rail and be disgusted, but you probably have also been captured by the closed-circuit ducking into the ‘Mart well past midnight for some toilet paper on sale.
Anyway. Wal-Mart haunts me. I cannot drive past it without making a list of possible items I could buy. So today, resolute on “just browsing” I went in and I realized that Wal-Mart appeals directly to the vestiges of our hunting-gathering ways: the aisles and the plethora of merchandise make it easy to stalk and gather and pounce on unsuspecting articles–the idea is to hoard as much as you can, and Wal-Mart’s low, low, low prices make sure you can do just that. It also seems to have a modern-day (McDonalds, duh) high-calorie watering hole: a kid-friendly place where the village can graze and delouse. It’s also terrifying, because it shows me vignettes of lives that could be mine: blank, despondent mothers with five children trailing; nasally-challenged mothers shouting at the top of their lungs at their daughers, who chime back in a similar thunderous voice; appallingly large women toting large McDonalds bags; desperate-looking young girls clinging on to distressed, crying babies that they don’t even bother to shush anymore; women with old, dirty, callused feet trying on slippers and walking off with them, leaving their own old shoes behind. The contact with realities that are not mine makes me nervous and angry at the same time: the nerves, from knowing that I like my life far too much to contemplate the idea of trading down (in my view); and anger because…. because I am angry that some people, either by circumstance or by choice, live those lives every day. If you think I’m selfish, you’re probably right.
One tableau particularly struck me and made me so choked up I had to physically turn away. A tall man was clutching onto some crutches and weakly walking next to his wife and children. He had a military haircut and was wearing fatigues; and they looked like they were trying to relate to one another in an awkward manner. She wasn’t sure of where she should be walking, and he was trying to inch away from the aisles and from the basket she carried at the same time. I didn’t want the sight of them to make me think: think about where he might have been, and where he might have gotten hurt; think about what he might have seen, and the horrible void in her life as she tried to go about her regular life without him. I didn’t want to think about their struggle to start building a life together again, after being apart. I didn’t want to think about the war, and I didn’t want to think about America, and what it means to serve. I didn’t want to think about how people detest Wal-Mart. I wanted suddenly, as I fervently want now, to focus on the fact that sometimes you have to take a walk around and see that out of evil corporate America comes good. That Wal-Mart is for many people not just a place to buy cheap things, but a small oasis of peace and relative quiet; a place where you know you won’t be judged by how loud your children are, but a place where you will just be able to get something and buy it and perhaps buy one more thing, because the price is right– because your budget is too low to afford the higher prices anywhere else. That perhaps it’s easy to judge, but then we should remember the wise words of Indie Rock Pete, “Ethics are a luxury for people who can afford new pants.”
But I bet you can afford some pants if you get yourself to Wal-Mart.