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The Gift of the WalMagi

In New England in December the cold does not come in on little cat feet. Instead some mountain god of the great north woods throws open the door to Canada late one night. When you step out the next morning your scrotum promptly goes into hibernation somewhere around your arm pit. The cold gets hammered down tight. And it stays that way. Until, oh, somewhere in the middle of March.

I’d come to New England after many years away and, in Seattle, thought I’d packed well for the trip. I’d made a point to bring my very warm Seattle jacket. I stepped outside into the New England winter this morning and between the door and the car I knew, based on testicle retraction velocity, that my coat had nothing to say to this winter. I might as well have packed and dressed in a Speedo. At least I would have been rapidly arrested and taken to a warm jail cell until my need for medication could be determined.

In the car, having cranked the heat to fat end of the red stripe on the dial, my thawing reptile brain hissed, “Get a coat or die, monkeyboy.”

But where? I was only going to be here for a few weeks before going back to the temperate zone of Seattle. I knew that various stores around this township would have vast stocks of sensible and warm winter coats but I didn’t really feel like investing somewhere north of $100 in some multiple layered goose-down body blimp that would warm you even within fifteen yards of Al Gore. I just needed a warm and dependable coat at not too much money… $75 to $85 … that would get me through the New England nights without frostbite.

Then I remembered that this town has something that Seattle didn’t because Seattle is just far too “smart” to have one – A Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart, the greatest thing to happen for working people in the United States since trade unions and, today, a lot more beneficial to them as well. This town had two vast Wal-Mart’s. It was bracketed with them. I set off confident I could get a temporary coat at an affordable price. Little did I know.

I pulled into the vast parking lot and got out. Between the car and the door my core temperature dropped about ten degrees and I shivered as I took the warm cart and got the warm “Welcome to Wal-Mart” from the silver haired grandma at the door.

Inside the store stretched out before me like a land of dreams so wonderful so various so new…. Everything new. And shiny. And, well, cheap.

I got distracted at first in the food area of the store that could have held six of my local Seattle market inside it. I picked up a half-gallon of milk, a couple of bottles of club soda, and a jar of imported cherry jam ($3.00 less than what I paid for the same thing in Seattle). Then I pushed the cart off into the deeper realms of the store where banners proclaiming “UNBEATABLE” and “ROLLBACK!” loomed out of every aisle.

I found the basketball court sized area marked ‘MEN’ and turned in. Fleece coats, fleece vests, overcoats, Dickie work coats, and then winter coats in the quilted style that simply shouts, “You’ll stay toasty inside even in Nome!” And, amidst three or four circular racks, I saw a selection in blue, grey, black, green, and red of bright and shiny new winter coats. Above the racks was the simple sign in red and it said: “$7”.

Yes, I blinked and looked away. I looked back. It still said: “$7”. Above it a smaller sign said, almost in apology, “Was $15.”

Among dozens of these coats I found my size. Perfect fit. Smoothly made. Ample pockets. Serious zipper for closing. Nice shade of blue. And reversible to another nice shade of lighter blue with ample pockets on that side as well. I zipped it up and felt my temperature rise until it was uncomfortable to keep on.

I placed it in my cart and rapidly made my way to the register in order to get out of the store with it before they realized they’d left a zero off the back sides of the $7 and the $15. As I checked out I noted that the milk, water and jam had cost more than the winter coat. I put it on in the doorway and walked back across the lot to the car not feeling the cold at all from my thighs to my neck.

I can’t get over it. A winter coat for $7? The Goodwill won’t sell you a dead man’s old winter coat for $7.

And yes, it was “Made in / Hecho en China,” but…. well… how? Is there some darkened cavern that stretches for miles under the Gobi desert in which harvested brains in wired jars control robotic Chinese infant arms that stitch endless winter coats from the sheets of polyester that flow in a dark river beneath the factory floor? And then they’ve got to pack them up and ship them from the wastes of the Gobi to the racks of stores in New England. And then they price them at less than a small bag of groceries? How? Is? That? Possible?

It’s not. It’s a miracle. It’s a manufacturing, wholesale, supply chain, retail miracle on such a staggering scale that we can’t even begin to perceive it up close. We just walk into any one of the thousands of Wal-Mart stores and buy a winter coat for what it would take a homeless beggar about thirty minutes to cadge out of passing people on a downtown street on an average afternoon. It’s more than amazing. It’s a magical gift of modern American corporate capitalism.

It’s the gift of the WalMagi. It’s keeping me warm this Christmas season. And tens of thousand of other people too.

[First published…. 2009]

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  • ghostsniper December 23, 2017, 1:35 PM

    Everybody’s out and about spending their last serious money of 2017 but I did all that 3 weeks ago via Amazon, so now I have to deal with that mountain of smiley face boxes stacked in a corner of my office, tonight.

    Me and Shannon will sit way out here in my office tonight, and of course my traditional qt bottle of Fireball cinnamon whiskey, and an endless stream of 60’s-70’s rock toonz roaring out of that awesome Pioneer SX-1250 receiver thru 4 stunning Pioneer HPM-100 speakers will keep us spellbound as we wrap, and wrap, and wrap some more.

    I wrap like a son of a bitch.

    The shit I wrap looks like it cost $20 per gift, with all the ribbons and bows and shit all over the place. But by the time me and Fireball get to the last one it looks like it fell off the truck going 99 mph.

    The BIG snow started this morning and it looks like the season is having a pillow fight with itself – BIG feather like snowflakes piling up all over the yard, the deck, the driveway. When I saunter into the house at 11pm I will most likely be stepping down in it with each frigid step. crunch-crunch-crunch

    I’ll let Shannon out to do her last business of the day and she’ll race full speed across the deck all the way to the other side some 80′ away and then back again. She drops down to her elbows and plunges her mug all down into the snow and looks at me out the extreme side of her eyes but she’s not watching me. Oh no. See, Shannon thinks the snow is a thing itself and it’s out to get her. And she ain’t about to let that happen. So she tunnels into it and comes up what she thinks is behind it and attacks it from that side, then off again to the far end. Over and over. In about 10 minutes time that gurl will have footprints and tunnels all over the deck snow. She doesn’t realize that her packing the snow down like that makes it more difficult for me to shovel away in the morning. That’s when I break out my home made Stihl 300 mph leaf blower with 40,000 btu propane blowtorch. I’ll go ahead and throw some pork chops down and cook them up for breakfast….. nom nom nom

  • Gordon December 23, 2017, 4:58 PM

    Geez, Pioneer HPM-100s. I owned two of them, back in 1979. I bought them at Radio Shack, back in the days when you could buy top of the line stereo equipment and also all of the resistors and capacitors and breadboards on which to mount them.

    Ghost, I await the details on the devices you have devised to thwart the porch pirates.

  • Sam L. December 23, 2017, 5:52 PM

    Ah, yes, I remember this well. Another classic, Gerard.

  • julio December 23, 2017, 6:38 PM

    Holiday Classic…never fails to entertain me and be appreciative of this incredible world we live in. God bless and Merry Christmas!

  • ghostsniper December 23, 2017, 6:41 PM

    Gordon, if you bought them in 1979 they were 2nd generation. Still very good but connoisseurs believe the 1st gen (with the silver blow hole) were best. I have 4 of each and believe it too.

    In 1977, my last year in Germany before jetting back to Fort Campbell for my last 7 months, I went all out and bought the full monty in the high end Pioneer audio equipment line. Came back home in the summer of 78 and everything was fine til I made a lifestyle change in 1980 and everything I owned was turned into dollars. I lived to rue the day, for many days and years after.

    In 1998 or was it 1997?, I discovered eBay and all that old audio equipment was available if your money was right. Over the next 2-3 years I spent around $40k buying all the top of the top of the line Pioneer and Sansui equipment I could find. At the peak I had almost 100 pieces of equipment. Had all the accessories too. Then in 2006 I had another major lifestyle change and most of that stuff was turned into dollars.

    My current rig consists of:
    Pioneer SX-1250 stereo receiver with 160 REAL watts of power.
    (I also have a Panasonic 7.1 surround sound receiver that claims over 1000 watts but I’ll tell you what, no matter which way you cut it watts today are nowhere near what they were yesterday. If I crank that Panasonic with say, “Stranglehold” wailing, it sounds like you know what. On my SX1250 it’s like being right front row center in front of the band. No comparison, at all.
    4 Pioneer HPM-100’s and 4 more (gen 2) in boxes in the garage. Really, it don’t get any better’n this. JBL Century 100’s try but fail. Same with the 4350 monitors. Fail.

    Audio tip o’ the day. Back when, we used to test speakers with 2 songs of the 70’s. Close to the front of Boston’s “Rock & Roll Band” (0:56) the drummer does a hellified down roll and if you hold a lit zippo 12″ from the blowhole on an HPM100 at full volume that last bass drum thump will blow the flame out. No other speaker will do that. None. All others must be closer. It’s all about moving air. Your ear drum moves back n forth and so do the speaker cones. Move a lot of air, hear a lot of sound, and in the case of the HPM’s, giant, quality sound.

    For the high end tweeter test there is nothing better’n Heart’s “Crazy on You” where at (4:26) Ann lights up this 7th octave screech that will crystalize the voice coils on most tweets at 200+ watts but the 100’s take it easily in stride with zero distortion. amazing. BTW, gen 1 HPM’s cruise at 100 watts and peak at 200 but will take much more. Gen 2’s will only go half that, 50 and 100.

    Next up is the SG-9500 equalizer to truly curve the music to taste before recording.
    Then thru the RG-1 Dynamic Processor, a range expander and noise reduction.
    Into the SR-202W reverb to add some depth, though I don’t record with it, I’d rather add the reverb after the fact.

    Much of my source material is original vinyl played on a PL-570 direct drive turntable with an unbelievably rare Empire 2000Z cartridge. Way back when I used to record onto cassette tapes via my CTF-9191 cassette player but now it mostly just sits there lookin purty. I don’t do much recording any more but when I do it is to my RT-1020 10″ reel to reel at 3-3/4 IPS. Yep, more than 6 hours of continuous, per side, tunes just the way I like em. For the past 2+ hours it has been playing various traditional christmas tunes and right now Trans-Siberian Orchestra is up to bat.

    All of this except the speakers is installed in a custom rack I built out of ambrosia maple and curly walnut on 8″ aluminum mags with pneumatic tires filled with silicone. Yes the turntable is sitting on tippy-toes and silicone sponges.

    All of this equipment is in show room condition and was gone over by an old skool tech about 12 years ago and a few things inside were replaced, but all in all he gave it a stellar rating. Very high end equipment that looks like traditional furniture. whoa. I’ll keep it til I die. Oh yeah, I keep all that solid walnut exteriors looking better’n new with a generous dousing of Old English every few months to keep it from drying out and looking pallid.

  • Ed December 24, 2017, 1:21 AM

    A while back I’d have taken notes from all that audiophile knowledge, ghost. Alas, my ears have gone south. If not for my cochlear implant, I’d be deaf as a stone. Don’t know why my hearing has gone away. I’ve had my share of shooting, blasting, rock music, chain saws, and working around heavy equipment, but not enough to explain this. I think a low grade infection coupled with some indiscriminate antibiotic prescriptions are the root of it. Mom died in 2014, just 5 months shy of her 100th birthday, and she could hear far better than me for the last 20 years or so.

    But why I’m here is the Walmart theme, and pj’s. I’m particular about my jammies cause I spend a lot of time in them around the house. Like ’em roomy, warm, durable, etc. So every couple years I have to replace them. I had good luck with Amazon, until I bought some
    pajamas that, for the price, should have been the cat’s meow. They sucked. Short rise, tight in the crotch, snug in the ass, and they shrunk. I’d laundered them by then, so thought I’d probably voided the return policy. At that point I went to Walmart and got two pairs that met all my expectations for less than the price of one of the Amazon products. Then I went back to Amazon and wrote an honest review. The vendor got his feelings hurt. I began receiving whining emails telling me how great their products were and asking what they could do to “resolve my issues.” I wrote back that I’d resolved my own issues at Walmart. I avoid Amazon any more unless it’s something absolutely not available elsewhere and clearly to my advantage. I’m in a remote location, so there’s much that’s not available nearby, but by waiting until my order goes over $50, I get free shipping. Australian Arnica cream for muscle spasms comes to mind.

    Anyhow, that’s my Walmart story for today.

    Wish we had some of your snow, ghost. My dog, Jack, lets himself in and out of the house, so I don’t have that chore. But he must have been born in a barn, cuz he never closes the damned door behind him. He does the same snow celebration as Shannon.

    Thank you, Gerard for reposting this, and also the one about the Creche by the Side of the Road. I’d driven the Grapevine many times back then and never saw that manger scene. That drive always reminds me of the goofy artist Christo who erected big yellow umbrellas all along the landscape bordering the Grapevine. I drove through there then and even stopped to take some photos. The tragedy that’s never spoken of is that some poor fella was killed while dismantling Christo’s damned umbrella art project when a gust of wind knocked him ass over teakettle. Or something like that happened.

    Good night, all. Merry Christmas.

  • Gordon December 24, 2017, 2:44 AM

    I never heard of the Zippo trick, and I used to know a couple of tricks of a similar nature. They were good for sausage fests but not so good for impressing girls.

    Now as for Heart and “Crazy on You,” well, one can look up the live performance from back in the 1970s and see Ann mugging to the crowd, making it very clear exactly what she’s singing about. My one chance to see them live back then evaporated when the truck with the sound equipment showed up six hours late. Heart, Johnny Rivers and LeRoux, and the tickets were $7.

  • ghostsniper December 24, 2017, 4:49 AM

    @Gordon, concerts used to be affordable back then and I went to plenty. And fun too. I always bought a T-shirt for around $10 or so. Bought the tickets at the front door with no problems.

    The last concert my wife and I went to was about 8 years ago up in Noblesville and it was an outdoor venue – which means they oversell the tickets because they have no limits on capacity like the indoor venues do. The primary band was RUSH and it was pre-reported that it would sell out fast, so my wife ordered them online and within 30 mins of the tickets becoming available they were sold out. None the less she was diligent and secured 2 tickets for more than $100 each.

    When we got there and the place was slammed and the lines were all the way out through the parking lot. We spent more than an hour in that line as the tyrants ran scanners over everyone, all purses, backpacks, etc., were searched and all drinking containers were confiscated. Jeez, were we entering a federal prison?

    As soon as the first notes hit the air everybody stood up and remained standing for the next 2 hours. At 5’2″ my wife is short so she never seen the band again. But then, with 40,000 in attendance with all seat in “general attendance” we were about 1/4 mile from the stage and the band members were barely seeable.

    And the assholes. Did I mention them? This was a new phenom for me, I hadn’t seem it before. Seemed like a majority of the spectators were not there to see the performance or even to hear the music but rather to irritate the shit out of as many people as possible. We changed positions several times but no matter where we were the assholes were the majority.

    We ended up leaving early as many other people did to and on the way out we passed a T-shirt booth and they were selling for $45 and that’s WAY too much for a simple t-shirt that will fade drastically after the first laundering, so that didn’t happen, but I bought a cheezt $10 keyring instead. I had to have something to prove my gullibility for future reference.

    Even though we left early it still took almost 2 hours before we could get on the main highway as the line sinewed this way and that, in the dark, with a battalion of workers with red coned flashlights blindly lead everybody on a wild goose chase to the single exit.

    Like I said, this was our last concert and I meant it.
    But then, it’s kind of embarrassing watching 60+ year old doodz hopping around on the stage like they were 20 something all over again, and who needs reminded the end is nigh?

    I have a couple DVD’s of RUSH concerts when they were in their 20’s and 30’s and I prefer to watch them on our big screen in the comfort of our living room where the beers are better quality and less expensive and there is a stunning absence of assholes and my wife gets to see the concert too and when it’s over there is no wait to leave, just hit the off button and go do something else.

    Guess who sang this line (it was not RUSH)?:
    “Too many people, and not enough eyes to see.”

    (The answer is in the question.)

  • Mike G. December 24, 2017, 6:23 AM

    Speaking of high end stereo systems, I was lucky enough to find one at the local “recycling” center as the owner was throwing it out. Its a Kenwood receiver pumping out 150 watts per channel with a Technics 5 disc CD changer, a Yamaha dual cassette deck and a Technics turn table channeled through two pairs of Bose speakers. I also have a pair of KLH speakers sitting unused because they’re 4 ohm instead of 8 ohm.

    I can’t believe someone was actually going to throw it out. I’ve had it for over 10 years now. It sits on a shelf in my work shop surrounded by 100’s of CDs, cassettes and a few vinyl albums I picked up at said recycling center and a couple at yard sales.

  • Snakepit Kansas December 24, 2017, 6:25 AM

    Gerard,
    Great re-read. Scrotum travels to the armpit. THAT is cold!

  • Ann K December 24, 2017, 6:36 AM

    I look forward to reading your Christmas posts every year. Thank you!

  • ghostsniper December 24, 2017, 9:09 AM

    Has anyone else noticed the distraction that seems to be baked into the cake with MP3 files?
    I’m not literate in how audio stuff works on a precise level but the best way I can describe it is, the volume very discreetly increases by a few watts over a say 3 to 10 second interval then suddenly drops back down to it’s original level then starts the increase all over again, again and again through out the song. I have not noticed this in spoken word MP3’s like ebooks and such. I’ve asked several people who were sitting here in my office while the subject MP3’s were playing and none of them could hear what I was talking about. Normally this is not a problem for me but, when I do notice it it then sticks in my head like one of them songs do sometimes. I can’t not hear it. Very irritating when it happens.

    BTW, you know how a certain songs lyrics go thru your head over and over all day long and even if you change the song you’ll eventually go back to the original one?
    Notice if you will that the cycle starts where you know the words in the lyric and ends where you don’t know the word. Remember to check this out the next time it happens. It never happens with songs where you know all the lyrics, only the ones you don’t. So the cure for this irritatating phenom is to go ahead and memorize the whole lyrics of the offending song(s) and violin! it will be banished from your psyche forever more. yeah r i g h t

  • Mike G. December 24, 2017, 9:48 AM

    GS, never having had an MP3 player, I can’t speak to this. But there is one thing that irritates the hell out of me. It’s when you’re watching a show on TV and you have to turn up the volume to hear the dialogue, then when a commercial comes on, you get blasted out.

  • Suburbanbanshee December 24, 2017, 10:09 AM

    Yup. Because they run the TV dialogue on only one or two sound channels at a time, with the rest devoted to ambient sounds or nothing; but the commercials use all the sound channels at once.