My 49 Hours at Wal-Mart: an announcement of possibility

posted by Mark Dixon on December 17th, 2005

Letters to the outside:

Hi drew,

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
Always
Mark

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.

Love
Mark

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

Fun Exercises:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Haiku Tank: Write a haiku every fifteen minutes for twelve hours.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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!

Book Review:
“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.

teddy bears with lard
Teddy bears with lard

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 (***) ***-****”
–Bathroom wall

“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

See also: Thoughts on “My 49 Hours at Wal-Mart” and 49 hours at Wal-Mart vs. 39 hours in an abandoned building.

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14 Comments Leave a comment.

  1. On March 29, 2006 at 16:36 Dread Pirate Robert said:

    Wow, you really capture the sleep-deprivation pschosis thing well… I just got here after reading that another guy only lasted 41 hours. (Hey, did you know you’ve been Boing-Boinged? Congrats!) That Utopia game sounds like fun too, if you’re in (or only partially in) the right frame of mind.

    Keep fighting the good fight!

  2. On March 30, 2006 at 08:16 ob1 said:

    Wow, this is deep. I start to get really antsy after an hour in Wal-Mart. Target still holds me for up to two hours, but only because the one where I live is new, less than a year old. I want to try some of these tricks. The most fun I have is putting things in other people’s carts.

  3. On March 30, 2006 at 14:16 BB Sent me said:

    I always sort of thought you would implode if you spent more than one hour in a Wal Mart. Interesting experiment. You totally kicked that college kids ass too. 41 hours – hah. You were probably just having your 17th hot dog at that time.

  4. On March 31, 2006 at 13:12 Mike (Worcester) said:

    There’s a scan of Mark’s orginal zine on the project at Subnote. To correct an error in the Boing Boing summary, Mark put the zine out in 2001.

    teddy bears with lard
    Teddy bears with lard

  5. On March 31, 2006 at 23:42 Jacob said:

    Heheh, great experiment. But, man I don’t wish it was me. I have a hard time being in there for 10 minutes. You might like the Walbtn at http://www.jacobhanson.com/walbtn/

  6. On April 2, 2006 at 11:50 Dr Kaihsu Tai (Oxford, England) said:

    Don’t go see the film Czech Dream now.

  7. On April 2, 2006 at 12:42 Mike (Worcester) said:

    I never heard of Czech Dream before. So these two guys made and publicized a fake store? When you say “don’t go see the film,” are you being ironic or did you not like the movie?

  8. On April 2, 2006 at 13:29 Dr Kaihsu Tai (Oxford, England) said:

    It was a brilliant and thought-provoking film. I was being ironic: The fake hypermarket’s advertising campaign said “do not go” etc. See also the Wikipedia entry for Czech Dream.

  9. On April 2, 2006 at 13:31 Dr Kaihsu Tai (Oxford, England) said:

    Come to think of it, Modern Art Oxford is doing an excellent job. I got introduced to both Tehching Hsieh and Czech Dream because of it.

  10. On April 2, 2006 at 23:42 mark dixon said:

    Mike, thanks for posting the correction and the scan of the back cover of my zine. I did the piece “my 49 hours at wal-mart” beginning the day after thanksgiving, 2001. I was at the North Versailles super wal-mart outside of Pittsburgh, PA. I spent less than 5 dollars at wal-mart during that performance (and before, and since). wal-mart caries everything necessary for its own undoing but, as always, you cant buy it. Happy shopping. -md

  11. On November 14, 2006 at 08:29 Brett said:

    What the hell? That was fantastically hilarious, especially since I stumbled upon it while trying to figure out walmarts’ hours on google. Though, as a young adult in retail, I found this pinch of humor to be right up my ally (and I don’t mean lodged in my rectum).

  12. On December 18, 2007 at 23:45 Chrissy said:

    you are hilarious! i once tried to do the same thing at a jamesway (smaller crapmart in nj) but only made it from midnight until 9AM before i cracked. i even purchased something – a virgin mary nail clipper – which incidentally broke the first time i used it

  13. On March 27, 2008 at 11:57 amanda szabo said:

    this is fantastic. i really appreciate the humor and it’s true that as this big machine idea/structure gets bigger so do the cracks. beautifully (would prefer “beautifully” to be in italics) demonstrated.
    i like how clear the clash between mark ordering a meaningful reality was explicitly destructive to their operations, and they resisted this reordering as their job.
    hey, and for anyone reading this who isn’t mark dixon, check out the think tank videos under mark dixon and safety bike to see more of his stuff, and his moves…20 questions is a favorite.

  14. On March 27, 2008 at 11:57 amanda szabo said:

    oh, the videos are on youtube.com
    love!

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