Hello loyal followers! I’ve spent most of the weekend putting the finishing touches on a short story, so there hasn’t been time for much else. So to tide you over, I’ve decided to bring back one of my favorite pieces from the past. Originally posted on facebook, the following piece is a harrowing look at a visit to one of my least favorite shopping destinations. As always, thanks for reading. Enjoy!
“And I told him it ain’t none of his business how I bring up my own kids. They can play anywhere they damn well please. I’ll tell him just what I think too.” The woman spoke loudly into the cell phone which she clenched in one meaty hand. The overpowering smell of cheap, flowery perfume drifted off of her skin in waves. Her huge, sweaty form blocked any and all means of exit.
Shrinking away from the loud, abrasive voice, I swiveled my head about, looking for a way out. Yet I knew, somewhere deep in my soul, that there would be no escape for me. I stood, waiting for the line to move. Behind me, a man wearing skin tight jeans and a “U can’t touch this” T shirt began to cough. And cough. And cough. I took a step forward, then a step back. Nowhere to turn, and nowhere to run.
The Voice of God sounded from the overhead speakers, promising bountiful blessings of “buy one get one free” frozen dinners. I turned slowly in a circle, the single item I had come for clutched limply in one hand. Finally, sensing an opening in the throng, I slipped between the M.C. Hammer guy and a display of books by that titan of literature Nicholas Sparks, and fled deep into the dark recesses of the abyss.
I had planned on a quick visit, which should set to rest forever questions about my ability to read a situation. My judgement is legendary; legendarily bad. Now I tossed the bottle of shampoo I had so foolishly hoped to attain aside and focused solely on survival. To my left, offspring of an indeterminate species shrieked and bellowed. To my right, huge, sluglike creatures crept along, pushing carts filled with pork and beans before them. Somehow I managed to avoid contact with these strange beings, though I was forced to retreat even farther from the exit in the process.
Nearing panic, I rounded a corner and found my path blocked by an aisle display of jalapeno flavored Cheetos. I glanced back over my shoulder in an effort to find an alternate route and was immediately accosted by a brood of rednecks demanding to know “if they got anymore of them Dale Earnhart Jr. bandanas.” I pushed my way past them and made a break for it. Suddenly I detected a shopping cart bearing down on me at warp speed. Saved by instinct, I leaped to one side an instant before the cart crashed into the display, showering the area in Cheeto confetti. Seconds later a red faced man with tobacco juice dribbling through his beard stubble barged onto the scene.
“Dammit Buddy! You almost runned over somebody. How many times I done told you to quit doin’ that?!” the man bellowed as he snatched up the young boy who had been piloting the cart. The boy grinned an orange crusted grin at the man through a mouth full of Cheetos. “Give me that,” the man said, taking the bag away from the kid. The boy, obviously very attached to the snacks, reached for the bag, grunting in protest. Taking advantage of the commotion, I faded deeper into the labyrinth of aisles. I had begun to doubt my ability to find my way out, but what other choice did I have?
Moments after fleeing the scene, I came upon a sign promising restrooms to the right. Needing a minute to collect myself, I ducked into the men’s room and went straight to the sink. I splashed cold water on my face, then gazed at the wild-eyed, frantic creature which stared back at me in the mirror. How had I gotten into this mess? Had I really believed that I could make a quick stop at Wal Mart? It won’t take long, I thought. I’ll just be in and out. What a fool I had been! There is no such thing as “in and out” at Wal Mart. There is only “in,” as in “infinity.” Steeling myself for the harrowing events yet to come, I dried my face with the least absorbent paper towel ever manufactured, and pushed my way through the restroom door.
Back in the main part of the store, chaos reigned. A massive throng of creatures, some of which closely resembled human beings, had descended on the customer service desk. All talking at once, some to the clerk, some on cell phones, and some to no one in particular, they jostled and elbowed each other for position in line. Unable to bear the grim spectacle, I ducked my head and bulled my way through the crowd. At one point during this ordeal, I thought I heard someone call my name, but didn’t chance a glance up. If anyone I knew was in the middle of this cluster, I figured they were doomed anyway.
At last, I broke into the open. Hurrying through the electronics section, I exited an aisle and found myself face to face with one of the indentured servants who worked at the store. The man wore a blue vest, a yellow smiley-face pin, and the blankest stare I had ever seen. “Can I help you find something?” he asked, the corners of his mouth curling in a grotesque smile. “The exit!” I yelled. “For God’s sake, where is the exit?”
The man stared at me for a long moment. Finally, he spoke once again. “Exit? What exit?” he asked incredulously. “You poor bastard,” he said, looking at me with pity in his eyes. “You must be new here. You’ll learn soon enough.” He then began to laugh in a high, quavering voice which chilled my blood and pierced my soul. Feeling as if I might go mad at any moment, I pushed the man aside and set a course for the front of the store.
I walked up the main corridor, keeping an eye out for potential hazards on either side. At long last, I caught a glimpse of sunlight! The door stood just fifty yards ahead! With a cry of jublilation, I headed for freedom. Then I heard the sound of footsteps behind me. I looked back over my shoulder, and immediately wished I hadn’t. They were coming for me: Employees with matching blue vests; scantily clad obese women, dragging their children behind them; camouflage-covered redneck men, pushing carts loaded with Budweiser and Copenhagen.
Horrified, I broke into a run. I ran with everything I had left. Instantly, I was bathed in sweat. I dared not look back for fear they might be gaining on me. Heart pounding, I glanced at the door. It wasn’t any closer than it had been before! What the hell was going on? I pushed on in an attempt to run even faster, but could feel myself gradually being overcome by the ignorance which permeated the air.
Finally, I reached the checkout lanes. A long line clogged each one! I ran along the aisle, looking for an empty space, but to no avail. A line of customers, each one with a cart overflowing with products, stretched out of sight at each counter. I slipped between two carts, ignoring the unintelligible grunts of protest from the creatures waiting in the eternal lines. Suddenly, I felt a hand on my shoulder.
“Did you find everything you were looking for?” someone asked. I turned slowly and stared into the bloodshot eyes of the store manager. “Were you satisfied with your visit to Wal Mart?” he asked, a weary smile playing around the corners of his mouth. Revolted by the feel of his hand on me, I twisted away and spun toward the door. I dodged the bag-checker and exploded into the foyer. An electronic voice informed me that I must stop, for I had violated the Wal Mart inventory control system. “Sir,” called the checker, “I have to check your bag.”
“I don’t even have a bag!” I screamed. I rushed toward the outer door, only a few steps from emancipation. I glanced back over my shoulder and found that they were watching me; all of them. Unable to pass through the inventory control sensors, they were powerless to intercede. Laughing uncontrollably, I tore open the door, spun around, and collided with a huge, shapeless form. I fell to the floor, cracking my head on the tiles. As I faded into unconsiousness, a disembodied voice drifted faintly to me:
“And I told her she better just keep her ass on her on side of the street or I’ll call DFACS on her. She ain’t nothin’ but white trash anyway. Who in the hell do they think they are? I’ll tell you one thing, I don’t give a damn what committee he’s on. They can both stay out of my business……….”
Things are so much better for me since I’ve put the terrible ordeal behind me. No more fear, and no more angst. I work every day, just like I always have. Only now I wear a blue vest and a yellow smiley-face pin and greet people at the door when they enter. I smile and welcome them to our wonderful store. I always get perfect scores on my performance reviews, and why shouldn’t I? I do excellent work. People like me, and I like them. I go above and beyond, and why not? We sell for less, and I love my job.