Saturday afternoon we went to a birthday party for a friend of Gentry and Lex. It was at a park across town, and the kids were excited because there was going to be a bounce house and a pinata.
We got there right on time, but the party was running a little behind schedule. Our friend, the birthday boy's mother, was running around frantically trying to get things organized, and still had to run across town to pick up her husband (temporarily incapacitated due to a foot surgery), and then run back to Wal-Mart across town to pick up the birthday cake.
I, being the nice guy that I am, offered to pick up the cake. Our friend looked up at me, disbelief and hope alternating across her face. "Would you really?" she asked, incredulous.
"Sure. I'll run over and get it. Don't worry about it, OK?"
She almost cried with relief.
I hate Wal-Mart. I'd forgotten how bad I hate Wal-Mart. I'll never forget again.
To be fair, I was already in a bit of a mood by the time I arrived. Wal-Mart is at the opposite corner of town, accessible only via surface streets. Streets jam-packed full of other motorists (all, I would soon learn, ALSO going to Wal-Mart), and littered with traffic signals, all of which were programmed to turn red anytime my car was within 50 feet. It took me a good 20 minutes to make the 5 mile trip, and by the time I parked and got out of the car, I was looking for something to break up into tiny little pieces and then stomp under my feet.
I'm proud to say that I showed some restraint (actually, it was less restraint than it was fear, in that the last time I gave in to that urge, I grabbed an envelope out of the center console of the car and enthusiastically demolished it while Shawna and the kids watched curiously. When I had finally tired and stopped, Shawna asked: "Why didn't you take your paycheck out before you did that?").
I walked into the store, and stopped abruptly. I was surprised to find that, apparently, they had chosen that day to perform American Idol tryouts in our local Wal-Mart (nowhere else have I ever seen such an enormous mass of uniquely strange, and fearsomely intense, people all in one place, all generally acting like giddy fools). Oh, but if it had only been American Idol tryouts; then I would only have had to face the harsh verbal abuse of Simon Cowell. Instead I was forced to face the horrible wrath of Bertha and her Brutal Band of Bakers.
You see, I'd forgotten to grab the receipt for the birthday cake; apparently that's one of the ten commandments of cake buying: thou shalt ALWAYS bring your receipt when you come to pick up the cake.
"Um...I don't have the receipt," I told Bertha when she came out to help me. I told her the name it was under.
Her eyes grew wide, clenched fists went to her hips, and she rose to her full 7'2", glaring spitefully at me. "YOU....DON'T....HAVE....YOUR....BAKERY....SLIP?!?!?!" she bellowed.
"Uh...no ma'am, but I can tell you--"
"SILENCE!" she roared. "YOU WILL TELL ME ONLY WHAT YOU'RE ASKED TO TELL ME! Now, what is your name?"
"Well, MY name is PJ Green," I replied, "But it's not under my name."
"Well how do I know you aren't here to steal this poor kid's transformer cake?" she questioned.
"Uh, because it hasn't been paid for? And whether it's mine or not, I'm still going to have to pay for it. Besides, I know the name it's under; how probable is that if I'm just some random cake thief?"
She glared at me for a moment, then, grumbling, waddled back to the refrigerator, and disappeared into it for about five minutes. Finally (after consenting to a check of my ID, and allowing one of Bertha's minions to take a photocopy of it--in the event the true owner of the cake decided to press charges were I to steal the cake), I was on my way to the front of the store to check out.
Every single checkout stand was open. And every single one of them looked like the Wal-Mart return line on the day after Christmas. I picked the shortest line I could find--which happened to be an "Express-Less Than 20 Items" line (for what it's worth, technically it should have said "Fewer Than 20 Items", but I don't know that Mr. Walton's faithful patrons care all that much whether or not his sign designers are grammatically correct).
Twenty minutes later, the end was in sight. I was the third in line, and the lady at the register was almost finished; soon I'd be second. The guy in front of me had only one small container from the deli (his lunch, I presume), so I was already practicing the slow, calming breaths that I would need to bring myself back to a sane state of consciousness.
Just as the lady checking out was almost finished, I saw the guy in front of me (the one holding his lunch) look over his shoulder and beckon to someone behind me. Calling them up to join him at the register--presumably to add to his one item checkout collection. I was frustrated, but too tired--and much too close to the check stand--to fight it at that point. I leaned back against the candy stand, packages of Reese's Pieces and Ring-Pop's falling to the floor, closed my eyes, and just breathed, calming myself.
Then a collective groan went up all around me. My eyes popped open, I looked around, and fell to the floor in utter, hopeless defeat.
The lunch guy in front of me hadn't beckoned back to his wife, holding a loaf of bread and a gallon of milk; it wasn't to his kid, wanting to add a package of Airheads to the purchase; it wasn't some friend wanting to get back to his party with his 12-pack of Bud Lite.
It was a Wal-Mart employee; two employees as a matter of fact, each pulling a laden pallet-jack, a pallet full of Gatorade on each.
1,440 individual bottles of Gatorade, to be exact. I know. Because they counted each one. Twice.
I'll admit, I don't understand society: we're so forgiving. A man pulls up to the "20 Items or Less" express lane with 1,441 items, and we sit patiently (or impatiently, yet quietly submissive), waiting for him to finish. We don't cause an uproar; we don't toss down our respective birthday cakes and fishing poles and fresh-baked bread and jars of peanut butter, and stalk out of the store, forever decrying the mismanagement, and pledging never to return to a Wal-Mart.
No; we grumble and complain amongst ourselves (quietly, though, because we don't want the offender to hear us), and wait our turn. And, next week when we need pretzels or Diet Pepsi or Cheez Whiz, we haul ourselves back down to retail hell, and brave the insane crowds, and brazen, Express-line-rule-defying jerks. And why? Because they have "Always the low prices...Always!"
When you think about it, we're doing old Mr. Walton's grand kids a huge disservice by NOT revolting. It's the free-market folks; Wally-world, along with every other retail establishment in the nation, depends on us to send them messages regarding their performance. Decreased business tells the business decision makers that customers are dissatisfied, and change must come. But, no: we sell our souls, or principles, for a few measly cents off a dozen eggs; for a car battery that's $3 cheaper than anywhere else; for a t-shirt that's $4 cheaper than anywhere else.
You ought to be ashamed of yourselves. If only YOU people had listened to your conscience the last time you had a miserable experience at Wal-Mart, if only YOU had stopped going, maybe they would have heard us by now.
Then I wouldn't have had to deal with them.
Can somebody start a protest?