My 49 Hours at Wal-Mart: an announcement of possibility
Letters to the outside:
Believe it or not, I am writing you from Wal-Mart. I am now well into my thirty-seventh hour of continuous occupation. My plan was to stay for seventy-two hours but I have had absolutely no luck finding a suitable place to sleep—go figure! Actually I just got busted trying to bed down. I guess the camping section manager saw the rack of orange camo cover-alls wiggling as I tried to get comfortable below. Just as I settled down I saw a pair of feet approaching. “What are you doing under there?” she asked. I assumed that I’d be escorted out the front door (or worse) so I didn’t bother with an elaborate excuse. “Hiding,” I said as I climbed out and waited, like a good criminal, for the firing squad. But the strangest thing happened! She just stood there looking at me. I know she wanted to open the application but she didn’t have the right program. After a few seconds I just walked away. I took off my wig and spent the next few hours hiding in the magazine section. Now the “Radio Diner” is open again and I’m back in the booth where my “refill” cup hides… I think the whole thing’s blown over.
Always Wal-Mart tm
Hi Mom and Dad!
Guess what? At 12 noon, the day after Thanksgiving I entered this here Sooper Wal-Mart. That was about forty hours ago and now here I sit in the X-mass section trying not to hallucinate too much so I can dispatch some reports (I haven’t slept for two nights in a row).
I know you guys think this stuff is strange but it’s an important experiment. The hypothesis: that the bigger and more horrible this capital machine gets, the more blind spots, cracks, crevices, and orifices it has that we can play in (gross huh? don’t forget the K.Y!) Anyway, my hypothesis is holding up beautifully. There are a couple of employees who recognize me (as this is their third straight shift that I have been present for) but they don’t do anything. I’m The Eternal Shopper! According to Wal-Mart legend the future can be told in the items that accumulate and then are discharged from my cart.
Don’t worry, by the time you get this card I’ll be back at home safe and sound.
We work our days to make fat the princess. We starve that we may feed her lavishly, beyond even her own insatiability. Overdriven and dyspeptic she cries out, shits and hallucinates; pieces of spittle fly from her barking cavities and become our world. And if we are some times miserable or lost, it is ok because in her fold we have found creation.
—The Mart Shopper’s Creed
- Role-Playing: Observe your fellow citizens until you find someone who fascinates you. Go shopping as that person. Fill your cart to overflowing. Deposit the cart in isle 168. Later your character will be played again by the employee who rezones* her selections.
- A More or Less Arbitrary Encyclopedia: Choose a category that is not represented by a section or shelf in the store (i.e. clear things, cylinders, things with horrible textures, things that begin with the letter “Y”). Then, cartload by cartload, establish a new section of the store for your totally legitimate category.
- Casting Spells I: Search for products that seem to have a kind of magical resonance (in a Mart this should be difficult but not impossible). Concentrate these things in a place that you divine utilizing a shopping cart and a snow globe. Using intuition, compose the items as if words into a sentence.
- Casting spells II: Use your movements to forge dangerous connections between different sections of the store. You might spend a few hours stitching together the baby formula isle and the allergy medication section. Or burn a little path between the labor saving device isle and the exercise equipment.
- Haiku Tank: Write a haiku every fifteen minutes for twelve hours.
- The Guardian Angel: Find some tired looking customer (towing along three or four screaming kids). Go to an assistant manager and give her/him the tip off that the customer is a “secret shopper” here to observe and rate the store’s service practices.
- Bum an Apple: Borrow an extension cord from hardware, use it to plug in a microwave, prepare a meal. Beg for food, give food away, panhandle.
- Utopia: Pretend that all the customers are on a secret mission and doing a much better job with their character than you. This is way more fun than it sounds.
*dig my new mega-mart vocab!
“Made In America”
(the autobiography of our leader Sam Walton)
Just to nit pick a bit, “made in america” describes neither the book nor ninety percent of the items in Sam’s kingdom. Such “technicalities” not withstanding, Made in America sucked. Though I’ll admit that I was sucked in at first. Its large children’s-book print and small children’s-book vocabulary gently persuaded me that Sam is a simple man, “The man that I would want to be,” I thought, “if I were simple.” From the text I learned: Sam doesn’t love money, he’s not greedy, he’s a family man. Sam reassures us (in so many words) that he has only ever fucked one woman: his wife. Sam loves dogs.
Made In America rhythmically washes us with anecdotes and guest testimonials about the little things that make Sam such an inspiration. Sam drives an old pick-up truck. Sam gets his clothes at Wal-Mart (just like us!). Sam cares about people. Sam lives in a modest house. Sam stays at cheap hotels. Sam even gets his hair cut at his local small-town barbershop. (Wal-Mart hasn’t put it out of business yet.) We don’t have to wonder why Sam doesn’t tell us stories about his buddies at the local hardware store or pharmacy. What about the infant Chinese factory workers? I suppose they are like children to him.
The scowling critic presses on.
The true sensitivity of a walmart:
This place is way too frantic about undoing my work. It betrays the fragility of the order that Wal-Mart’s world depends on. People want to believe that things in the world, are normal, “As Seen on TV.” If the stuffed Santa Claus dolls are suddenly holding gallon tubs of lard between their legs it’s really really bad. I was flabbergasted to see a customer voluntarily lend a hand to undo my Santa project. I guess if the anomalous cannot be denied it must be “fixed.” Its kind of pitiable, like Jackie trying to put JFK’s brains back into his head.
Best-of overheard conversations:
“Oh I see, this is so worth it… when you go through, the bump thing starts.”
–Savvy consumer, Isle 12
“You ain’t gettin’ nothin’, I’ll whip your mother fuckin’ ass”
–Passionate anti-consumerist statement made to small child
“Oh my god, they have the best thing at K-Mart! I would have got it if it hadn’t been like fifty dollars. It was this dog thing and it like stood up on its back legs and I guess it boxed or something.”
–Mother on cell phone while child screams
“Green acres is the place for me…”
–Sung loudly in the greeting card section
“Lovely house wife needs loving. Mary (***) ***-****”
“If it can’t fit, don’t force it, let it go.”
–The Buddha of Wal-Mart
“High blood pressure is stressing me out.”
–Man figures it all out at the blood pressure machine