I park near the garden section and get out my shopping list before headed into the Saturday crowd of the Palmdale walmart. The whole mix of low income palmdalien freaks are out today, and I’m mentally preparing the course to avoid as many of them as possible while not backtracking. Every cart is fucked up, with a tremoring wheel spazzing out, or a sharp rhythmic squeak that accompanies you with every inch you push. I pull one out and it’s a good cart aside from having twine twisted up and dragging out of a wheel. I push the cart carefully around a melted mcdonalds ice cream cone, and wonder if the parents gave a shit when their kid dropped it any more than the employees care now.
I dart down aisles, scooting my cart past a surprising amount of daydreaming shoppers, blocking the aisles like obese boulders. When I get to the cold refrigerated section, I head to the eggs. Searching the cartons of eggs makes me feel obsessive as each carton contains a broken egg. I imagine someone watching me and judging my behavior as a palmdalien eccentricity, But god damn, I just can’t find a carton without a broken egg.
Ice is on the list, and I need to ask the person checking me out to charge me before I get it from the freezer on my way out. I usually forget.
Beer isn’t on the list, but I head to get a case anyhow. Only the alcohol aisle has as much colorful cheer as the candy aisle. The Reds and Blues of Budweiser and Bud Light American beer. The Yellows of Corona and Pacifico Mexican beers. The Green of Heineken, St. Paulies Girl, and Becks skunky German beers. Murphys and Guiness Black Irish beer. I look at the beers and buy Guiness. I buy a backup of Budweiser to stock my fridge completely.
The produce aisle has been re-arranged, and it doesn’t afford shoppers anymore room. I park my cart in front of the plastic looking bakers confections, feeling it is an out of the way spot, and I dive into the mix. A few able bodied people zip around in the wide mopeds provided by walmart. The dull look in their eyes indicate that they no longer enjoy the thrill or feel the guilt of riding one. They’ve become accustomed to another convenience. I grab handful of produce bags and dodge around people to get what I need. I get strange looks as I bend around people looking numbly into their phones. A glimmer of confrontation goes through me as a white guy my age glances at me from the side of a text message or whatever social media shit people use. He slowly steps away like a cow and his eyes go back to the screen.
I’m finally checking out after all my stupid stops, and I find a somewhat empty line. I always intend on zoning out in line to make the experience go faster. The celebrity magazines are on display, still enticing the same generation that pays for land lines, newspapers, and physical copies of music, but luring them in with a younger generation of people and their new drama. Hideous pictures of celebrities are portrayed above embarrassing intimate details of their life and I guess that’s the price they pay for their fame and fortune. I have a lot of pity but not for them. I don’t even pity myself so fuck them and their millions of dollars.
“Sir?” the check-out lady calls. I look up and she informs me that I’ll be the last customer. There is a silent obligation to inform everyone that comes behind me that this line, this very short line, is closed. A lot of people would get hard having this sort of power and responsibility, but I’m irritated. Now I have to talk with people I don’t know and give them the bad news. This tiny chore will never be addressed in any lifetime. It is such a mild inconvenience that it is too petty to address, but I’ll be petty right now.
So, let’s say I zone out like I like to in line and someone comes up behind me. After a period of them waiting I realize they are standing there, and I tell them the line is closed. They’ll get irritated and blame me for wasting their time, if not out loud, I’ll still be blamed in their heart or perhaps by a dirty look. If I was an uncaring asshole, it would mean nothing, but since I’m not, I would feel guilt for having wasted their time and I would validate their vented irritation by understanding where they are coming from. It’s not my fucking job, but yet somehow it is, and the Waltons stay all the richer for not having to employ someone for this obligation. You can be an asshole and let your cart drift wherever you want when you’re done shopping, and they pay people to retrieve them, but there isn’t anyone for this stupid little job. Still, I do it. It isn’t the check-out ladies’ fault.
I tell a few people the line is closed. Each person I speak to has a quick cautionary look of “why is this stranger speaking to me” before understanding my message and walking away without a reply. They acknowledge me as a servant, or in other words, they respond to me the way most near-sighted assholes respond to employees, stripped of their personhood for the time being. Whatever, I think to myself, I’m doing the check-out lady the smallest solid I could possibly give her, yet in a way I’m sort of pissed that I’m doing the Walton family a solid too.
The check-out lady is a black woman in her forties, and she’s very kind and personable, and thanks me for letting people know the lines closed. She’s checked me out many times before, and we always make small talk. She appreciates that I get my I.D. out without a hassle when she scans the cases of beer. People want to abuse things like a system until it becomes an inconvenience, and then suddenly they want to the system to show some humanity. “C’mon, you can TELL I’m over 21”.
I pay for my stuff, and I swipe my card. This point of time is currently the transitioning period from swiping your card in the payment terminal to entering your card like a hotel key for the machine to read your chip. We’re going to forget about this period pretty soon. Every time I enter my card, it tells me to swipe, because chance has it that I always try to conform with machines that have a broken chip reader, or the software wasn’t installed yet or whatever other reason it doesn’t work yet still has the little slot for me to enter my card. When I swipe because this error happens so much to me, people inform me of the new technology all over again like I’m new to this shit.
I pay and load up my plastic bags but before I leave the building I am stopped by one of two tall black security guards in crisp uniforms. Security guards in this walmart have only been around for two years at most. They check my receipt, treat me with gratitude for not complaining about the brief inspection of my cart, and tell me to have a good day. Maybe it was their attire or their manner of speech, but they seemed to be a higher class of people than the rest of us. I leave the building and the automatic doors slide open ushering in a ton of heat. Fuck, I forgot Ice, but no way am I going back in for what should seem like a quick purchase.
I exit and see a black guy asking a Mexican guy and his wife for a donation of some kind. He begins asking for the donation, by asking a question about what area they are from. The threat, “where you from” pops in my mind, though I know his question is far from a threat. The guy wants money.
The Mexican stares at him with hostility and slowly shakes his head. The slow shake seems more like a rude gesture to indicate his having been inconvenienced rather than a reply. I push my cart between them knowing I won’t be hassled for money because they are already engaged. When you are in front of Walmart, any point during midday is an opportunity for someone to ask you for money or for a signature. This Mexican dude is taking it far too personal, but hey he’s in front of his woman and maybe he can’t help himself for blowing this moment out of proportion. Must be an insecure weak spot.
We all have weak spots, I think as I walk to my truck, as I suddenly realize I parked my truck on the far other end of the enormous parking lot by the garden section.