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Walmart

Recently I’ve been going through old writing and found this piece on Walmart, which now is and seems dated. At the time I wrote this, I was in the middle of my twenties, and optimistic about the amount of time I would spend in Walmart in my life. For more from this time please check out my first book, Down and Out in California.


I’ve only been to Walmart 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 Walmart, whether or not they’re on an illegal drug-related purchasing mission. Those that are not embarrassed by (or unaware of) the stigma of Walmart’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 Walmart, I love you.

The shame colors every nuance of the Walmart experience – when you suddenly realize you know the layout, even in a strange Walmart, in a strange city. You know how to get to the housewares section from the hardware section through the maternity section.

You’ve internalized Walmart logic.

When you gleefully feel the tension ebb from your body upon seeing that this Walmart 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 shopper has their eulogy to their lost morality: the excuse story, usually just a re-direct.

Mine is “Walmart 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 Walmart and holding the front for some years. Enough that a high school friend crafted “H” stickers (with supplies bought from K-Mart) to change “Stop Walmart” bumper stickers to “Shop Walmart” bumper stickers.

Once Walmart finally won the war and moved into the town on the crest of a wave of big box stores – someone actually bombed Walmart. Or the 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 Walmart: neither it nor its customers are worth salvation.

God doesn’t bless Walmart.

The shame hit me 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. Twas the shame of thedressing 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 Walmart, not too far from the sporting goods section where they sell live ammunition and firearms. The nakedness in Walmart, against the backdrop of muzak and ads for in-store product, feels as out of place and removed from nature as the lifecycle of Walmart’s products.

The shame of being exposed for what I am. Someone who knows better, buying cheap chemically treated denim at a Walmart 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. Then shrug and give it up because one thing fully redeems Walmart: its prices.

The underlying, unifying, undeniable righteous beauty that is affordability ameliorates the shame. The furtive Walmart customers meet each other’s eyes across class and culture with a wink and a smile.

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 Walmart 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, Walmart. I extol you for taking the blame, the brunt of our wrath at our own lust for product. You ease and cheapen our consumption. You free us of direct consequence – and in return we transfer our hatred of our own compulsion on to you.


The other day I was in a Walmart in Dearborn, Michigan. Half black, half muslim, all superobese. I was there to get the vaccination for the current plague, on a whim. They conferred among themselves when I asked which one was on tap. Turns out they would have had to open a fresh vial, so they asked me to come back tomorrow.

Meanwhile I stare at the other appointees. Those getting their jab, those waiting for it.

My parents’ guru says “our sort” doesn’t get vaccines.

This is clear, looking at the line of degenerates sitting here.

Again I am here around and for drugs. It strikes me how strange this is, that I would opt into an unknown drug experiment just to get into a digital record system for a major corporation.

I wonder to myself how I would ever tell a serious reaction from a panic attack sitting amongst Dearborn Walmart clientele. I’m already itching to get out of there and once I do, I never come back. I may get the vax, but it won’t be at Walmart.


Writing from the same era


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