Someone new is exploring the shelves at your local Walmart.
I turn heads pulling into the Walmart parking lot. Few people have seen a gold-plated Prius before, let alone one repping a LIVURLIF vanity plate and one bumper sticker for each presidential candidate on the Republican ticket between 1948 and 2012. Many can’t bear the sight of it, and those that do goggle with frozen eyes. I never let the attention bother me. I’m here for business.
I search the parking lot for an open spot for seven minutes before pulling into one of the handicap-reserved spaces. I am legally entitled to park in these spots, but I prefer to get the exercise. No such luck today.
I step out of my babe magnet and am immediately faced with an awkward situation. A scratched up, gray Honda Ridgeline is stopped at the edge of the crosswalk hashes on my left, waiting for me to cross. She must have hit the breaks as soon as my door swung open. As I slam my door shut, I can see the silhouetted driver’s jaw drop. Perhaps she has noticed the Balmoral bonnet I sport, or the women’s size six, beige Air Jordan 1’s I wear on my hands. I maintain a fixed gaze on the driver as I cross the street to be sure she doesn’t choose to run me over.
My stride shortens as I near the automatic doors. They never seem to open for me, so I always drift about until I can follow someone else through. Today works out to be especially awkward. Minutes go by without anyone approaching the doors, so I kneel down to retie my hand-shoes. My thought is that this way they can’t boot me for loitering again. Bad idea. When an old woman finally approaches the entrance, instead of walking into the gosh-darn store, she awkwardly stops, looks at the ground, and asks me about my shoes. Last time I wear my Jordans in public.
I’m in. Upon entering the store, an outdraft envelops me with the scent Walmart. I remark to the pretty greeter how notable it is that “No matter how many smells there are, it is always still one smell.” She smiles at me, but I kick myself for not saying something—anything—more eloquent. I skeptically smile back at her as I choose a cart from the selection. Just as I suspect, her smile vanishes all too quickly.
I set out meandering through the aisles. I'm here to purchase only three items, but that does not mean this will be quick. I think it would be faster to buy twenty baked goods, all in the same aisle, than to buy three items for a séance. Part of me wants to reapproach the greeter and remark how each Walmart aisle represents a category of life. Maybe these categories are useful for most people, but I am less than enthusiastic. Heh, when your categories don’t align with Walmart’s, expect to do more walking than shopping!
I happen upon the bookshelves where I scan for the first item on my list: the fiftieth-anniversary edition of Andrey Kotkin’s “Selling-Methodology: Cuz in Dough We Trust.” I only search through the titles that appear to be 131 pages long, but I’m still overwhelmed by the plethora of books. Luckily, an intelligent-looking woman is walking in my direction down the aisle, so I illicit her help. We find the book in five minutes.
Next I head to the greeting card aisle to find an apologetic letter for my mother. I’ve become well-acquainted with the cards at this point and know exactly which one I’m going to get. It has a pretty-pink outside cover on which a pop-art-type lollipop is drawn above the caption: “I suck! (I’m sorry).” When I arrive at the aisle, the card is exactly where I remember it. And there are still some left! What’s great about this card is that the inside is blank, so I can even write some personal details. Part of me wants to run back to the greeter and remark how funny it is that the same greeting card can be used in so many different cases.
I trudge toward the checkout. The last item I need is located near the conveyer belts, next to the other products Walmart thinks you might buy even though it’s not on your list. I have the last laugh though, because I actually have it written on my list to purchase People Magazine’s Queen Elizabeth edition: Keeping calm & carrying on… at 94!
No line at lane four! I roll my cart over to be the first. The cashier greets me with a smile. As I unload my items onto the conveyer belt, I notice her shoulders slightly trembling. And she keeps looking at my bonnet! I decide to call her out. “What?!” I snap. Still smiling, she unleashes her chuckles and responds: “Well, it looks like you didn’t need a cart after all!” I look down at the small stack my book, greeting card, and magazine form on the conveyer belt. She continues laughing throughout the purchase, and I remain silent.
I turn to exit the store with my head down. A tear falls from my face onto Queen Elizabeth’s in my cart. As I walk toward the exit, I count down with the checkout lane numbers that I pass by. It comforts me.
The laughing cashier behind me fades from my perception, but another laugh arises from somewhere ahead. I wish it would all go away.
I raise my head and discover the source of the new laughter: the greeter. She’s lurching forward in an unceasing fit of laughter, but she keeps steeling glances in my direction. It becomes more intense as I draw closer. What may have started as a light-hearted chuckle is now a violent release. A release of whatever laughter releases. The floodgates are open.
I feel sorry for her. I’m close enough to see into her eyes. People often associate laughter with joy, but aren’t they forgetting the terrors of the tickle monster? One look into the greeter's fearful eyes confirms to me that laughter is neither joy nor suffering, but separate altogether.
I’m steps away from the greeter. I wonder if there's any way to apologize for the condition I have put her in. Another tear drops upon the cheek of Queen Elizabeth, this time from the greeter. Suddenly, I know how to make all things right. I reach into my cart, grab the greeting card, and hand it to the greeter.
As I leave the store, another sharp escalation of laughter pierces my ears from behind. Someone else's laughter reverberates from the store. A howl of pure, utter hysteria. I suspect it's the devil himself. I don’t look back to see if it is.