I.

I loathe grocery stores.  The big ones, I mean.  Where going in for cigarettes or milk or a bag of coffee is a 30-minute ordeal.

I don’t loathe them for political reasons or ethical reasons or anything like that.  With full awareness of the first-worldliness of my problem, the basic truth is that I can’t stand to have my time so discourteously pissed away walking the quarter-mile in from the parking lot and standing in line for 15 minutes.

When my husband asks me to step foot in the chain grocery store, I writhe and whine and make excuses and come down with exotic diseases.

I complain that I’m not wearing any pants.

“Well, you could put on pants.”


Yet, when we had to go out to round up supplies for our part in last year’s Thanksgiving Day meals, I had a go-getter attitude.

“Let’s go get this over with,” I said, pulling on my Sorels over bare feet.

“I was thinking we could drop some stuff off at Brad’s after we go to Sam’s Club.”

My go-getter attitude vanished.  Sam’s Club is the end-boss of all huge chain grocery stores. I became panicked.

“WHAT DO WE NEED AT SAM’S CLUB?!?!?!”

“We can get a relish tray there, then stop at Cub for shampoo and stuff.”

(Cub is the local, non-bulk, chain grocery store.)

“I’m not going to Sam’s Club AND Cub in the same day.  It’s grotesque.”

I stood there, worry-browed, unwashed ponytail poking out the bottom of my too-big stocking cap.

The problem was–and he pointed this out to me quickly–Sam’s Club doesn’t carry our brand of shampoo and conditioner.  In fact, they don’t carry most brands.  They have monstrous (however reasonably-priced) 10-gallon squeezy bottles of exactly 3 different kinds of shampoo and conditioner, none of them the kind we usually prefer.

This makes for odd hypothetical scenarios.

It is entirely possible that, if you were well-acquainted enough with the 3 flavors of hair care Sam’s Club does offer, you could, with decent odds, identify a fellow Sam’s Club shopper by smell:

“Ah.  I see you’re from the Garnier Fructis Sleek-N-Shine tribe. I myself am of the Pantene Moisture Balance clan.”

Their limited deodorant selection could make for an array of sub-groups.

I decided I’d rather be a part-time member of the Pantene tribe of the Sam’s Club Nation than go to two grocery stores in the same day.  So we settled on Sam’s Club only.

Sam’s Club, for those of you who are unaware, is the bulk/wholesale arm of the Walmart dynasty.  There, with membership, you can buy way too much of anything at a cost (usually) much less per ounce than you would spend if you were to by significantly less of it elsewhere.

To be perfectly honest, for non-perishables, coffee, etc., it’s generally worth it.  But they don’t just sell non-perishables.  They sell clothes and furniture and tires and electronics.  All of which you can get “a really good deal” on.

People who shop at Sam’s club are always eager to tell you about the “really good deal” they got on something.  Unfortunately, it’s usually something kind of cheap and ugly and shitty.  Not always, but usually.  They’ll say it’s “pretty nice,” but it’s not.  It’s only nice for that price.  Though I am not–nor have I ever been–wealthy, I come from a sort of half-assed, pseudo-bourgeois lineage: None of the money and all of the pride.  Though I can’t afford to shop like a rich person, I hate to admit I shop like a poor person.

As the husband and I stalked the aisles, I developed a sort of tic.

“We should really just shop fresh every day.  Like Europeans.”  “Jesus.  Look at this place.” “Maybe when we get home we can make some kind of plan to shop fresh cheaply and at least 4 days a week.  What must that old Hmong lady think?  Jesus.” “I know I hate when people talk like that, ‘Europe this and that, blah blah blah,’ but this is incredible.  It’s too much.”

I said ‘Europe this and that blah blah blah,’ in a high-pitched, snotty voice.

I dropped a box of frozen, microwavable White Castle cheeseburgers into the cart.

“I know, but there’s something to be said for it, probably, even if just to be healthier.  We could stand to eat better,” he said.

He pointed out some novelty thing that we could get a “really good deal” on.

“Ugh.  No.  I don’t think we’re allowed to buy that.  We don’t have mullets.”


II.

My vacillating class allegiances play out on odd stages.

I’m sure you’re all familiar with the website “People of Walmart.”  I’m not linking there because I don’t want to deal with the fallout from a pingback.  If they find me, they find me, but I’m not going to invite them here.

When the site first came to my attention, I remember reacting violently.  I remember being bewildered by my own reaction.  I, of all people, should not be the sort to lecture others about being mean.  In high school, my best friend and I used to remark, after an extended, choking, gasping, laughing jag at someone else’s expense, that in all likelihood, karma would cause our own children to be born fat, ugly, and mentally disabled.

Nevertheless, I crawled right up on my soapbox and started flinging elaborate derisions and “Tsk tsk.  That’s mean.”

Generally, the defense of the website and the grim spectacle surrounding it goes something like this:

“Well, come on.  If you’re going to go out in public looking like that…I mean, they bring it on themselves.”

The gist of the argument is basically sound.  The thing serves–in addition to making us feel better about ourselves by reminding us that we are not so poor, fat, ugly or badly dressed as someone else–as a provocative bit of social commentary, both directly and indirectly.  Nothing (as far as we know) that is depicted there is fake.  The point is indeed humor, but the pictures, by and large, speak for themselves.  It just IS.  It’s a depiction of an American reality, both with regard to the people it showcases and what people’s reactions to the photos say about them.

I don’t know what my reaction says.  It probably says that I am a hypocrite.


While making fun of poor, fat, ugly, or badly-dressed people is nothing new to humanity, one thing about this website that I noticed immediately is that it features a disproportionate number of less-than-convincing cross-dressing men.  Any anomaly like that deserves attention.

And it dawned on me that the photos were all taken by someone(s).  Someone who was also at Walmart.  It is an elaborate record not necessarily of socially, economically, or aesthetically aberrant individuals, but what the people out there with the camera phones and computers uploading the pictures deem socially unacceptable enough to advertise, “This is unacceptable.”  It tells us who the other people of Walmart think they aren’t (or fear they are…or what?).

The people behind the cameras don’t know they’re revealing too much, just like Ms. Juicy Booty there in the too-short shorts and violently pink hair doesn’t realize that her cellulite isn’t attractive.  Same same.

I want one of these fat, ugly, or badly-dressed people to spin on the people taking the pictures and snap pictures of them.  Start their own website.  For the sake of science.  I wonder who’s there?  I wonder who I think would be there and what that says about me?

Who DO I think will be there?

You?  Hipster guy who insists he never shops at Walmart, wearing a guilty look on his face underneath his conspicuous facial hair?  Planned community mom scrimping on cosmetics costs to afford her Xanax and Ambien?  North Face eco-hippie fleece and corduroy connoisseur dude, stocking up on power bars?

How do I know it wouldn’t be just another fat, ugly, or badly-dressed person?


How do I know it wouldn’t be me, in my pajama pants, winter boots, dress coat, and toque with a reservoir tip, wandering the aisles with a scowl, bitching to a half-listening husband about contemptible bourgeois xenophiles and poor people mullets?


Who do I think I’m not?

Who exactly do you think you aren’t?


Can I smell your hair?



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BECKY PALAPALA is the author of many unpublished poems, diatribes, and terse letters, which she holds captive in a homely tote bag in her bedroom. The poems that escaped can be found in online publication at Strix Varia, Paper Darts, and in other nooks and crannies of the internet. In 2008-2009, she served as a poetry editor for Ivory Tower. After an iliadic battle with higher education, Becky graduated with a B.A. in English Literature in the spring of 2010. She currently lives with her husband, daughter, and dog on the outskirts of the Twin Cities, where she pines for her rivertown home and attempts to befriend the rabbit that lives in her yard.

93 responses to “The Other People of Walmart”

  1. Marybear says:

    I’m allergic to perfume so smell my hair …now my armpits ….ok NOW you understand the bear.

  2. From one pantsless, whining wastrel with a dirty ponytail, to another: this was delightful.

    a.

  3. Lorna says:

    I stopped shopping at Walmart this year because every time I was there people would give me their hard luck story and ask me for money. Also, I don’t funtion well in large crowds and unless I’m there at 6 am, Walmart is like being in China. I do occasionally still shop at the Walmart Neighborhood Markets which are groceries only, although our family has taken a preference to the Fresh and Easy chain which is based on a limited amount of popular products and self check out (get in, get out fast). Also, people have never asked me money at Fresh and Easy.

    I have never taken a picture of someone at Walmart AND posted it on that site.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      To be honest, I’m more of a Target shopper myself, so Sam’s Club is my primary interaction with Walmart-based shopping experiences.

      Unless I’m looking for something that Target doesn’t have.

      Here in MN, Walmarts tend to be kind of ghetto and Target tends to be a little cleaner, more organized, etc.

      But I remember when I lived in Florida it was the opposite. I couldn’t believe it when I was advised to go to Walmart because it wasn’t “gross like Target.” But they were right. Target was a shithole in FL.

      Presumably (or at least probably) this has something to do with where the companies are based (Target’s based here in MN, Walmart is based in Bentonville, Arkansas).

      • Matt says:

        It’s not just NM. The one’s here are exactly the same. Worse, they seem to be honeypots for every mean asshole redneck in the general area. Even the ones right in the urban center of the city. And because of this, the shelving and checkout are always, ALWAYS chaos. They always seem to be more dimly lit than Target, too.

  4. “I don’t think we’re allowed to buy that. We don’t have mullets.” Bahahaha! I loved this. So funny. I would agree that it’s the whole *experience* of these stores that’s the real turn off. The crowds. The lines. The crap. Crap in big giant bins. Crap shrink-wrapped on pallets. Costco is the big thing in our area. They even sell coffins. Coffins! I can’t imagine the sort of coffins they’d have if their 48 count toilet paper is any indication.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      I don’t even know how to describe it. I mean, it’s some combination of awe/reverance and fear/loathing.

      I mean, there’s a macabre sort of fantastical element to a place like that. I don’t always know if I want to sit there all day and watch people, like it’s airport, or if I want to scrub with brillo pads when I get home and never, ever go there again.

      Do they only sell 3 kinds of coffins?

        • Ugh. That link didn’t work. Trust me, then. Four glorious Costco coffins.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          AHA!

          But there are only 3.

          The two Silver ones are the same casket, just with different shipping methods.

          Huzzah!

          But man, what’s with that high-end lady casket? Who do they think they are, the Galleria?

        • Erika Rae says:

          Cynthia, I don’t even know what to say. Coffins? Our Costco sells cars and shit, but coffins??? Now I want to buy one. Convo at checkout:

          “Would you like boxes today?”
          “No thanks. Just stick it all in the coffin.”

          I am currently trying out the Garnier Tribe. I am not disappointed.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          I used to be in the Garnier tribe, but it was unrelated to the Sam’s Club Sleek-n-Shine clan. I can’t use sleek-n-shine anything. My hair is already stick-straight and super fine, so using frizz-control products is like dumping baby oil in my hair.

          I can’t believe CostCo sells coffins AND cars.

          Sam’s Club is clearly inferior. I feel dumb having even written about it.

          It’s not even that weird or impressive, all things considered.

        • I don’t know about you guys, but I’m strongly considering joining Tawni’s rosemary-mint tribe. Somehow I think the world would be a better place if we all smelled like Tawni.

  5. Art Edwards says:

    My stance on hair care products is well known, but I’d like to also add here my preference for Suave Tropical Coconut Body Scrub.

  6. Ashley Menchaca (N.O.Lady) says:

    I tried to comment on this yesterday but I couldn’t. Something about comments being disabled. Boo!

    Anyhow, I laughed out loud more than once while reading this one. I hate to admit it but I’m a Wal-Mart shopper. As much as I hate it in there, it’s the only place that has just about everything I need at the best prices. If I could afford to do my shopping at Whole Foods, trust me, I would!

    The thought of having to shop everyday or go to more than one store in a day with a wild 4 year old boy makes my heart race. Panick is setting in and I’m just thinking about it! Ugh.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      I know. I have no idea how the hell that happened.

      I posted and shut down my comp, watched TV, went to bed. Woke this morning to see comments were off.

      God. I don’t know what will happen when I have kids. I’d never considered that it could suck more than it already does.

    • Erika Rae says:

      I’m with you, Ashley. I live 30 minutes from the nearest store and usually have btwn 1-3 children in tow when I grocery shop. (Yep – I’m *that* mom.) I’ve been forced into symbiosis with Costco. Just the fact that they are the only place that allow 2 children to ride comfortably up top…ugh. Costco. Can’t fucking live without it.

  7. I bought a trash can at Walmart, the one with the twist lock top. After I took out the trash, I came home from work to find the emptied can thrown in my back yard. I thought it would have occurred to the trashman to actually read the instructions on the top on how to twist the top off.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      Well. If it was emptied, he must have gotten it open, right?

      Still, being outsmarted by a garbage can long enough to get angry about it is really probably something very shameful.

      It probably only compounded his anger.

  8. pixy says:

    i have a love-hate relationship with walmart. i love it because they’re open 24 hours and i can get lost in there for hours at 2am. it’s a little creepy then, but i have sleep issues. i hate it for the same reason. since, most recently, i’ve lived in places that afford me other options (nice 2-story targets, h-marts, co-ops and hippie shit) i can say that it’s been about a year since i’ve been in a walmart. and then it was only to buy mass amounts of topo chico in las cruces, nm.
    but i find it funny how walmarts are conveniently hidden in certain parts of the country. here’s my breakdown based on where i’ve lived.

    alabama: it used to be that walmart was the store for everything else after going to the piggly wiggly. now the winn dixie AND the piggly wiggly have closed and it’s a SUPER walmart with a grocery store in it that is the size of the pw & wd combined. it’s the only thing in “town” except for mcdonalds, dairy queen and hardees. it’s ok, you can get microwavable monkey bread there.
    san diego area: they didn’t have walmarts until the mid to late 90s, but once they got them, it got weird. it’s kind of in the middle, really. some are out and proud and some are hidden. the ones that are hidden are in the richer neighborhoods and are much cleaner and neater. the walmart in vista v. the walmart in poway = 2 vastly different worlds. you cannot get microwavable monkey bread here.
    seattle: when i lived in seattle, there weren’t any at all, but they wanted to put one at northgate REALLY bad and everyone was protesting it.
    texas: they’re out there, loud and proud and, sometimes, the only option you have. granted, it’s pretty flat there, so it’s not like they can nestle them in hills or anything. no microwavable monkey bread here, but they DO have the frozen yeast rolls so you can make it yourself the right way.
    portland: i have yet to drive by a conspicous walmart. and i’ve been here almost a year. about 6 months ago i noticed the phenomenon and then started actively looking. still haven’t really found one, but i know they exist here. monkey bread verdict is stil outstanding pending my first foray into walmarts of the northwest.

    i lived in new york briefly, and there’s just not room for one there.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      Pixy, you’re a dear human for any number of reasons, but certainly one of them is comments like this.

      At least I’m not alone in my perception of a creepy political/socio-economic “otherness” subtext when I look at Walmart.

      It’s this funky-ass, fucked up, semi-silent cultural symbol of American hyper-politicization and polarization. Which is also an economic polarization, a cultural polarization, a religious polarization, and an intellectual polarization. Or at least, maybe more correctly, a perceived one.

      I remember, many years ago, many of my more conservative family members refusing to shop at Target (some even refusing gifts bought there) because Target made contributions to planned parenthood, but at the time, the political climate simply was not ripe for it to become major agitative national news.

      Regarding Walmart at 2 a.m., though. I believe there was a whole South Park episode about that. Did you see it?

      • pixy says:

        a south park episode about walmart at 2am? NO! i haven’t seen it. that sounds like quality programming right there. do you know what season the episode is in? i’ll netflix it or something. i’m very portland-y and have no cable.

        it’s so funny to me, those super nice hidden walmarts. it’s like the bastard child of the fancy neighborhood: everyone knows it’s there but no one admits it or admits to using it. which is surprising with all those “millionaire next door” books out there about how people get rich slowly by being frugal and going to places like WALMART. funky circles.

        i prefer funky chickens.

  9. Joe Daly says:

    I have never been inside a Walmart. True story.

    Closest I ever came was when they were selling some album, can’t remember whose, and at the time, they had an exclusive distribution deal where Walmart was the only place to buy it. I remember sitting in the parking lot for about five minutes before driving away.

    I hear there are some interesting characters there, both on and off the payroll, but I have no personal experience myself. The tranny thing is fascinating, though. Who would have thunk that Walmart would be such a lightning rod for the transgender crowd?

    • Becky Palapala says:

      Well, that’s kind of it.

      I don’t know that it’s a lightning rod for the transgender crowd at all.

      All I know is that, based on the website, if you are transgender and you go to a Walmart, odds are, someone will take a picture of you and put it on a website that mocks people, and specifically people who go to Walmart.

      But not just people who go to Walmart–specifically fat, ugly, gender-weird, badly dressed, potentially insane, and/or obviously poor people who go to Walmart.

      There is not a website for “people of Baker’s Square” or “People of Hot Topic.”

      So what I’m getting at, maybe too subtly, is that somewhere out there, in the cultural zeitgeist of our fair nation is the notion that Walmart and social aberration are synonymous. Virginia is for lovers, and Walmart is for lowlifes.

  10. Tawni Freeland says:

    I shop for our bulk groceries at Wal-Mart because it’s the cheapest place, and we’re really poor. But I prefer Target. It’s cleaner and less cluttered. It feels a tiny bit less like wandering around a giant dirty warehouse. I actually worked for Target as an undercover price detective for two years. My job was to sneak around Wal-Mart and get the prices of things. It was kind of awesome. Hey! Maybe I’ll write a TNB piece about it. Start a new “theme.” Haha.

    My husband got a Sam’s Club membership to save money. I think it’s a load of bunk. We have to buy such ridiculously huge amounts of everything that half of it goes bad before we can use it. I could see a large family actually saving money there, but I don’t think our small family ever does. And I make him go alone, without me, because it stresses me out. Crowded places make me want to run for an exit.

    I know you’re straight, but if you smell my hair, you will fall in love with me forever, because I use Noah’s Naturals organic rosemary mint shampoo and conditioner. It smells like heaven and makes my scalp feel tingly. I buy it at Wal-Mart: http://www.walmart.com/ip/Noah-s-Naturals-Rosemary-Mint-Shampoo-10-fl-oz/10317315

    • Becky Palapala says:

      It being the case that I live in MN, where Target is based, I had the opportunity to sit down and drink beer with one of its minor executives, marketing, I think, mostly because he was an acquaintance of a friend who really wanted a job at Target and I’d been enlisted to make the schmoozing seem less conspicuous.

      I made the mistake of mentioning that though I really prefer Target, I do the Sam’s Club thing for the better prices.

      Got a full-on earful about how Sam’s Club and Walmart are NOT necessarily cheaper and how it’s this major headache for Target to get people to realize that.

      Upon further investigation, he turned out to be right. Target was cheaper for a lot of stuff. But not the stuff we needed the very most of.

      And plus, the Target closest to our house is one of the earliest ones; it’s little and doesn’t carry groceries.

      So sorry, exec guy. Don’t cry.

      Can I interest you in a 5 gallon bottle of salsa? For your trouble?

  11. Gloria says:

    My hair usually smells like coconut lately, ’cause Tree gave me some expensive shampoo that didn’t work with her hair type. And since I don’t base my shampoo purchasing on “hair type” so much as “cost” and because I love free, coconut chi-chi (she-she?) shampoo it is. Normally I use Garnier products because they’re moderately priced and, for whatever reason, I can go longer periods of times between washing. Which may sound gross, but my hair gets really, really dry and frizzy (like Rosanne RosannadannaM) if I wash it too often and I’ve never found a shampoo that allows me to wash it every day, but I have found some shampoos that allow me to go greater lengths of time without washing it. And I have NO idea what they put in it to help me with my first-world problem of healthy hair (thanks access to proper nutrition!) that just drinks moisture, but it could be BP crude oil that can only be mined from an off-shore rig in the last pristine coral reef on the planet and as long as I didn’t know, I’d keep buying it.

    So, even though I think I’m not just another selfish, consciousless drone, I probably do fall on that spectrum somewhere.

    Nontheless, I do so hate the People of Wal-Mart site. But then, I’m generally allergic to mean-spirited. Then again (again) I’m not immune to acting in that particular ass-hat way myself.

    Still hate the site, though.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      My high school BF had hair like that. He’d shower daily, but not wash his hair daily. He, too, was a redhead.

      He made the transition to pomade briefly, but it was ultimately deemed nonsensical: “I put all this greasy shit in my hair just to be able to (have to?) wash it 2-3 times more often than I normally would. I am actively creating a glut of needless grooming work for myself.”

      That kind of thing.

  12. Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

    My vacillating class allegiances play out on odd stages.

    I relate to this. Big time.

    I don’t relate to Walmart probably because I’ve honestly never lived near one. I’ve been inside of a Walmart a handful of times in my life, mostly when I lived in New Mexico and once in Georgia. Bulk scares me. My mother gave me a gift of a Costco card and I returned it for the cash. A family of two doesn’t need a case of granola bars. Especially since when I run out of money and I’m tired and hungry and freaking out on my kid, I’d eat the entire case of granola bars and burst into tears and that would be my evening. No thanks.

    I totally dig the flipped photo shoot idea. I say you give disposable cameras to a bunch of fatsos and tell them to take pictures of the most ridiculous people they see in the store. It might be fun insight, but more likely as predictable as hipster irony. This is making me depressed. Is America totally generic?

    • Becky Palapala says:

      Well, the question of whether people are the same are different is strange because they are both. And I don’t think it’s just America.

      I just think that people are usually not all that different in the ways they’d most like to think they are, especially when they’re thinking in terms of whole groups. Like, if I go walk into my local Walmart tomorrow, odds are, it will not be filled primarily or even disproportionately with rednecks, fat people, or the transgendered.

      Yet, we have this website indicating that should most certainly be the case.

      I think it will probably be filled, mostly, with people trying to save money. One of whom could be Tawni or Ashley or Pixy (Pixy would be trying to battle insomnia, but whatever).

      If any of you saw me walking around Sam’s Club that day and didn’t know who I was, you certainly wouldn’t suspect me of being a writer, sometimes poet, active intellectual-type person…

      I looked like a dirty redneck. I even showed up in a Ford pickup.

      As usual, I’m interested in, to some degree, how and why we declare a given person or group of people “them” or “other.” (Who we’re “not.”)

      The great irony being that people ARE really different in all kinds of ways, but usually the reasons we choose for declaring someone “other” are not very substantial or even made-up entirely, and those misconceptions need to be promoted quite vigorously, reaffirmed constantly, and defended psychotically to even survive, but when they are, they’re fairly insidious.

      • Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

        Ahh, yes. It’s right there in the title. Self vs. Other. Always an interesting discussion.

        I recall making a conscious transformation, I believe it occurred in my twenties, when I disinherited anti-definition. I began thinking in positive terms regarding identity. I no longer defined myself by what I am not. I no longer identify others this way either. It is liberating.

        I think our self-consciousness, derivative in natural defenses, creates a necessity for The Other. But society is evolved to where this defense becomes destructive in the modern world. In abandoning that fear, authenticity is, perhaps ironically, a much gentler road. I think of your presence in this sense, Becky. On a recent thread of ours you discussed your intellectualism perhaps throws a wrench in your artistic process, but you seem to me to be very sincere in your critical capacities. You’re good at it. In this context, you are (at least apparently) very much yourself. I think it’s why you’re able to present intellectual debates with resonant humor. You elevate yourself to such a level that you can see both sides of the fence without looking down on anyone.

        I’m currently revisiting The Power of Myth, the Joseph Campbell discussion with Bill Moyers, and a particular insight of Campbell’s struck me. He says, “It is a terrifying experience to have your consciousness transformed.” I can attest to this, and I believe it is entirely concurrent with the experience of giving up The Other. We are culturally unprepared to *be ourselves* despite the self-centered societal trend. The two don’t actually have anything to do with each other. What we have are a lot of lost egos in a loud contest for attention. This often involves slighting The Other, primarily because, it appears to me, these people have no idea who they are. They can’t be humble because it is too scary. Campbell would say this is because the world is changing so fast, we don’t have new myths and people are not taught the old myths… They don’t have stories in which they identify. Entity is lost on them. The world’s dreams and the archetypes of humanity are elusive to the individual and to the community… The world dream of democracy is eluded by war… War is created by individuals whose Self is identified in terms of The Other… Humanity is without cohesion. It’s a spiritual crisis.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          That’s very nice of you to say, Lisa. I think some people would say my rhetorical/intellectual style is just obfuscating or non-committal, but I prefer your assessment.

          A lot of it, for me, comes from having been so embarrassingly wrong (or at least unconsidered or unprepared) so many times, I finally broke down and realized that any explanation or perception can, at any moment, be met with an equally valid and/or plausible alternative explanation or perception. So the challenge eventually becomes one of predicting all the alternative explanations/perceptions and holding them all in your head at once.

          I try to do it.

          Sometimes I do okay at it, sometimes not so much.

          There’s a whole philosophical theory centered on this notion of people becoming aware that everyone’s internal narratives, their perceptions, their way of talking to themselves and convincing themselves of morality, reality, etc. are inherently flawed and insufficient. And unfortunately, that includes their own. So they can never really, completely, hold any opinion too strongly.

          The theory relies really heavily on language. It’s Richard Rorty’s theory of the Ironist.

          I’m a hug fan of Joseph Campbell. Talk about a guy who could hold a shitton of perspectives in his head. As a person who is compulsively trying to tie information into one great big over-arching theory, I consider Campbell a DaVinci character.

          The DaVinci of metanarrative.

        • Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

          Yes, Campbell does elevate thought to art… So, when you apply rhetorical aspirations to that volume of illumination it annihilates accusations of obfuscation altogether. I woke up yesterday morning with a message – I sometimes awaken with a clear idea spelled out in language. There was an underlying principle of Judgement I understood to be the foundation of this simple phrase, meant to inspire the nature of my actions. The phrase was: Understanding not Offensive. So, I woke up with a realization that in my judgement of others in situational relationship to myself, I was to think and behave with understanding rather than offensively.

          To be practical, I’d been reactionary with my son the prior evening, which resulted in flinging insults instead of pausing with regard to his emotional capacity and point of view.

          I realize I’m using both a value and its opposite, which may appear to contradict my earlier pronouncement of disinheriting anti-definition, but I don’t believe it does. Naming the opposite is only a matter of clarifying an otherwise opaque principle value of Understanding. Relationship in language – in thought – provides discretion that can actually liberate us from our need to identify and oppose in relationship to people. Right thought precedent to right action, it diffuses the negative and encourages perception of likeness in spirit. Empathy is the foundation for true independence. I’m finding it’s only by accepting conformity that a person can truly discover individuality. Reaction vs. action. When you define yourself as *different* you only define yourself by what you are not. I don’t believe this enlightens anyone as to who they actually are and essentially necessitates a breeding ground for hatred, quite often to include flagrant self-loathing, because, deep down, I think we all know we are the same. We are all human.

          Metaphorically speaking, We all shop at Walmart.

          I can relate to innumerable accounts of being embarrassingly wrong. In the face of this, your pursuit of predicting all the alternative explanations/perceptions and holding them all in your head at once is noble, though I must admit it seems impossible.

          From what I can tell, pursuit of the impossible is the absolute best way to live. Cheers.

        • Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

          P.S. I’m unfamiliar with Richard Rorty. Sounds interesting.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Now that I think of it, it might not be that an Ironist can’t hold a strong opinion, just that s/he can’t do so without being dogged by the knowledge that any number of similarly plausible/valid opinions exist, some of them diametrically opposed to his/her own, making his/her opinion largely arbitrary and lacking in any kind of fundamental concrete truth value.

          In that sense, s/he can only hold an opinion, so to speak, ironically…I think that’s how it went. Hence the name.

          The most interesting part of the theory, to me, had to do with “final vocabularies” the given words & phrases that make up the end game of any person’s expression of his/her world view, beyond which he/she finds it impossible to argue his/her worldview without invoking the worldview itself. The point at which a perspective’s only explanation is itself. “Faith,” “science,” “goodness” are examples of really common elements of final vocabulary, but it can be anything.

          I’ve only really read the 15-minute version of it. Apparently he worked on it for much of his career.

          Fascinating, anyway.

  13. I’d never stepped inside a Wal*Mart until I came to China. I’d also never tasted PBR until I stepped inside a Wal*Mart. I could live without doing either of those things ever again, but neither were as awful as I’d been lead to believe.

    Do American Wal*Marts stock their shelves with millions of chicken feet and duck heads, or is that just a Chinese thing?

    • Becky Palapala says:

      Hmmm…I’m guessing it’s regional. You’d never find heads or feet of anything in MN, but down in AL, AR, GA, etc. you might find some pig’s feet.

      • Yum.

        Apparently a lot of the feet here come from America. American companies will send feet to China cheaply because they’re considered a waste product, whereas in China it’s the most valuable part of the animal.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          We’re not kidding when we say them Chinese is bass-ackwards. We know it. For a fact.

          They want the wrong part of the chicken and everything.

          Suckers!

  14. J.M. Blaine says:

    What do you
    think my hair
    smells like?

  15. J.M. Blaine says:

    a thousand
    laughing babies
    dancing
    in a mango orchid
    just before
    the storm

  16. Laura says:

    Thanks for directing me to “People of Walmart”…or not.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      Yeah. Sorry about that.

      I decided it was a necessary evil. Ultimately, I concluded it was a conversational piece, and if you were standing in front of me, I’d have told you what it was called.

      Besides, if I’d left it out, my title would have made significantly less sense, and I was married to that title from minute one.

      • Laura says:

        It’s all good, my 17 yr. old son took over the computer, and had an hour of “entertainment”.

        I’m just hoping he forgets it exists.

        • Gloria says:

          Oh, Laura. Kids only forget the instructions you’ve given them when they enter the grocery store. They don’t forget this type of thing, though.

        • Laura says:

          Gloria, luckily he hasn’t seemed interesting since. More stimulating obsessions on his radar, like XBox games and girlfriends. People of Wal-Mart would have been more interesting to him at age 12 or 13.

  17. Laura says:

    BTW…Fun piece Becky!

  18. Robert Vaughan says:

    I went inside a Wal-Mart and never left. I’m still living inside of it. Please send Kool-Whip, and Jaclyn Smith lingerie. Not money. (They always run out of my favorite items too fast). hehe

    Becky- I adore you and your writing is, as always, hilarious and insightful!!!

    • Becky Palapala says:

      Hey thanks! I’m totally into being adored.

      By the right people, anyway. If the wrong people adored me, I’d get nervous.

  19. Richard Cox says:

    “And it dawned on me that the photos were all taken by someone(s). Someone who was also at Walmart.”

    Yeah, this is the reason I keep my Walmart pictures to myself. Hahaha.

    On a completely unrelated note, Trent Reznor just walked onto the stage in a tux and accepted his Oscar for film scoring. The world is a strange place.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      One of my fb friends was like, “Trent Reznor just won an Oscar! The world is right again!”

      And all I could think was how impossibly fucked the world must actually be if the deluded masses believe that Trent Reznor–close-shorn, clean, and dressed in a tuxedo–walking on stage, happily and graciously accepting an Oscar for a blockbuster motion picture is in any way an example of things being normal or “right.”

      I look at that, and I look at “Starfuckers, Inc.,” and all I can wonder is what the fuck happened.

      That was not Trent Reznor. As Cynthia remarked: “That was the guy who ate Trent Reznor.”

    • Becky Palapala says:

      Easily one of the most disturbing (and interesting) videos I’ve ever seen. Turn up irony sensitivity for the 3:35 mark-ish, where Trent psychotically (certainly not reverently) waves around an award statuette.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-90SRUJXydM

      These are dark times, my friend.

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