I was sitting around one Saturday a few years back becoming exceedingly bored with the sick and the slop of winter. Because I am an American, I overcame my malaise with the American mantra, “When the going gets boring, the bored go shopping.”
Shopping, our shared cultural catatonia. ….
Just say shop!…. Just do it!…. Get out there and ….buy, buy, BUY…. something you don’t need. Then buy some accessories for it. You’ll need those to make the thing you don’t need work like you don’t need it to.
….Then you haul your not needed crap back home and add it to the other crap you don’t need. You know, all that stuff in the spare closet, room, storage bay, house, what have you; that “place for your stuff.” Finding what we don’t need and piling it up is what we do. Like many others I can resist getting “stuff you don’t need” in my normal state, but not, I find, when I’m bored. You have a similar problem.
All the little piles of stuff. And when you leave your house, you gotta lock it up. Wouldn’t want somebody to come by and take some of your stuff. They always take the good stuff. They never bother with that crap you’re saving. All they want is the shiny stuff. That’s what your house is, a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get…more stuff! Sometimes you gotta move, gotta get a bigger house. Why? No room for your stuff anymore. — George Carlin
For some strange reason, the destination that formed in my mind for this shopping excursion was “CostCo.” A vague mention of a friend about the “great deals on small televisions” put it in my mind like a BuyMe earworm. This small mental disorder was even stranger since the last thing I need in my life is another, smaller television. On second thought, the absence of a real need was probably why I really wanted one. In America, as noted above, if you don’t need it, you gotta have it.
After a few blind alleyways and false turns I pulled into the CostCo parking lot. If I hadn’t been in a Internet-overload hypnotic state this move alone would have immediately struck me as a bad idea. The sign certain? Cars shadowing shoppers slowly back to wherever they happen to be parked. Pick the wrong shopper flock and you can find yourself far, far away from the store entrance observing a spontaneous tailgate party featuring cold burritos. I got lucky and, shadowing a gaggle of shoppers, found a slot near the entrance. It was the end of my luck.
Like Rick who came to Casablanca for the waters, I’d joined CostCo for the tires. It makes a certain amount of sense since the savings on these plebeian but necessary items can be substantial. Since buying the tires, I hadn’t been back and hadn’t been exposed to the red kryptonite in the main cavern. Grabbing an abandoned cart, I entered the cavern of CostCo, flashing my card to the autonod of the otherwise unemployable person at the entrance.
Remember the haunting Cooleridge poem “Kubla Khan” that he wrote on the downside of an opium jag?
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree :
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
Well forget it. Except for “caverns measureless” and the opiate effect, Costco’s nothing like that.
I don’t know why Wal-Mart is taking all the heat for box-store degradation of truth, justice and the American Way of Really Rich Americans. A brief tour of Costco reveals it is a much cheesier organization with the exploitation of the aged, the infirm, the alien, and the disabled more obviously on display. But who knows why some companies become fashionable to disparage while others get a semi-pass? It probably has to do with the jerking knee that says either, “Biggest is baddest,” or “The deepest pocket is the easiest to pick.” It may also have something to do with Costco’s founder jamming his overflowing sewer pipe from his money bin deep into the gaping orifices at the eternal Obama campaign….. but I digress.
The Wal-Mart stores that I’ve been in have the charm of a Swiss village compared to the Gulag atmosphere of CostCo. Oh, Costco has a look. The look is as if the Costco “Decor” vice president decreed, ”Hey, just pour a slab of concrete, drop bunches of crap here and there on the grid, and be done with it. Huh? Oh, okay slap up some industrial shelves so the bodegas of the world can find their salsa stock. And bolt some airport landing lights on the ceiling so you need to put on sunscreen before entering. Just light that sucker up so that nobody can smuggle a buttload of pretzels out the door.”
It is also evident to a single person in CostCo — in about two nanoseconds — that he or she needs to rent a family of 12 illegal aliens to get any real value out of the place. I mean, I like pickle relish on hot dogs just fine, but a two gallon container is probably enough that I can pass some on to my heirs even if I live another twenty years.
But all this carping arises from, as Wordsworth decreed, “Emotion recollected in tranquility.” The truth is that the moment I entered the measureless cavern of Costco my brain was colonized by its Conquistaconsumadoros and I was plunged into a fugue state.
I glanced at the recommended “small televisions” and rapidly lost interest. Still, my reptile consumer brain said, “You’ve come all this way and the bargains abound around you. You have to get something. Shop, shop, shop, my precious…. your eyelids are getting heavy, your wallet is getting light….. shop…. shop…..”
In this brain-wiped state I rolled my cart about the wasteland eating this or that small bite of a food sample offered by one person or another for whom English was neither the first, second, nor third language. All the samples were, as I imagine most of the food “bargains” were, markedly mediocre. It was as if Costco had decided to make all the food previously “Not Available in Stores” available in their stores. The idea here is that if you take a bite of “Hoosegow Chili” you incur an obligation to by a large vat of the stuff. What you can do with a vat of Hoosegow Chili, I don’t know. Maybe open up a scrotum vulcanization stand on a dark desert highway.
At some point in my trance I must have put things in my cart although I kept wandering away and losing it, and then spending five minutes finding it again. I remember noticing, in some vague way, that the crowd and their gigantic carts was growing denser and denser as the minutes ticked away, but I did not yet understand the deeper more horrible meaning of the hordes on this particular Saturday.
Then, just as my degradation deepened, I was saved. Saved by the bell. My cell-phone rang…. loudly and vibrating at the same time. (Hard to ignore the vibrating ring in your pants.) I answered it. It was a fellow Pajamaista (who assumes that I am always in front of the screen) about a detail on the home page. He was startled when I told him I wasn’t in front of the computer and could only mumble, “I… must… shop… must… shop… must.”
He said, “Man, you’re in Costco on the Saturday before Super Bowl? Are you crazy? Flee. FLEE!”
He hung up and I found that, suddenly, I’d been slapped back into reality. And it was grim.
The horror. The horror.
I realized that I had, in my fugue state, placed myself in the back of a gigantic box-store with minor in big screen TVs and a major in massive portions of food on the Saturday before the Super Bowl.
Such a deep rung of hell is not where you want to be unless you have a burning-down football habit, which I do not. I barely know that the football, baseball, or basketball season is on; except for the fact that the basketball season is pretty much always on. (That’s the running, jumping, hanging on goalposts, very tan tall-guys game, right?) And this was before the NFL became the league of traitors, ingrates, and quislings.
How do you market yourself as a national pastime when you allow — and encourage — players to protest the flag and the national anthem that pays tribute to that flag? —
Still, there I was, blind and gulping like a cave fish in the deepest depths of the Costco caverns, the part back by the Topless Temple of Toilet Paper, 24 hours before kick-off, and around me countless hordes were preparing to feed even larger hordes.
I shoved my way through the cartlock around the beer and hot dogs to the center aisle where I could see, barely, the front of the store. In one horrified glance I saw that the Superbowlers were clogging the register lanes to a depth of about 500 fathoms. A quick consultation of my check-out line algorithm determined that if I joined the line at that very moment with my cart I might reach the parking lot with my crap around the end of the April.
This is the kind of blood-simple shopping moment that makes grown men ask, “How bad do you want the stuff you’ve got?”
Hard to answer since, frankly, I wasn’t sure exactly what I’d put in the cart in the first place. A glance down into the cart let me see my shame. It seems that in my shopping daze I’d decided I needed, out of everything on offer in Costco, two large Orchid plants and eight low-energy light bulbs. I have no idea why I put them in. Perhaps because the orchid plants made it easy to spot the cart in order to put nothing else in it.
Two orchid plants and eight light bulbs in a cart at the back of Costco equals one abandoned shopping cart, and me back in the car and heading to the nearest dive bar in order to clear my mind with six tequilas, three qualudes, and a cup of ether on the rocks.
But first I called my colleague back to thank him for snapping me out of it.
As I left the parking lot I had to drive carefully between the endless hordes pushing large carts filled with mountains of mediocre food and very large television screens. There would be a lot of cooking and assembly and swearing far into the night. I wished them well.
Now I’m back online and much more interested in what’s going on today. It’s so calm here. Just me and you… and you’re pretty quiet.
Tomorrow the Superbowl Sunday kickoff will roll around and everyone who went to Costco and all the other stores yesterday will be at home for hours this afternoon. The only thing more boring than the much-touted and now utterly predictable ads will be the game itself.
Want to go shopping? I know where you can get a great deal on orchids and light bulbs this afternoon. Go and you’ll have CostCo all to yourself. Pretty much. There will be staff there and they will have all their big screens tuned to the Super Bowl. Good place to watch the game unless you’re boycotting. Free snacks up and down the echoing aisles.