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.”
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?