When the commercial came on, I keyed in the History Channel numbers on my cable remote, but nothing happened. I tried it again; still nothing. By then the late Billy Mays had come on, and very loudly started trying to sell me some “Miracle Putty.”
“Dang it,” I said, frantically pushing several buttons on the remote, desperately trying to get to another channel, any channel. Even the Mute button didn’t respond, nor the Power button.
As a last resort, I got out of my lounger and went over to physically turn off the TV. I finally found the TV’s off button, but not before Billy told me about a dozen times the number I should call to get the putty.
“I’m going to go get some batteries,” I hollered to my wife in the next room.
“Where are you going?” she asked. Uh-oh, I thought to myself
“To get some batteries,” I said.
“What STORE, I mean,” she said.
“A store with batteries,” I said. Please, God, no!
“Why don’t you go to Wal-Mart? I need some things.”
She hastily wrote out a list and handed it to me. I said nothing. I just took the list and went out to the garage and got in the car. Then, while sitting there in the darkness, I put my head on the steering wheel and wept bitterly.
It’s not that I don’t think Wal-Mart is a fine company, or that they don’t have fine stores with wonderfully abundant, well-priced merchandise. It’s not that I don’t think their employees are friendly and semi-helpful. It’s not that I don’t know that without Wal-Mart in our economy America would become Uganda or France. It just that their stores and parking lots are so…so…vast. In the future, when scientists talk of the distances between the planets in our Solar System, they will replace Astronomical Units – A.U. - with Wal-Mart Units to make the expanses more understandable – Distance from the Sun to Pluto = 4,000,000,000 miles or 2 W.U.
No matter what time of day you go to a Wal-Mart the only parking slot available is the one located next to the street. Even then you have to get out of the car and push the five or so empty shopping carts out of it before you can pull in. The store from there is just a glow on the horizon, if it’s night. If it’s daylight, it’s best to have some Boy Scout skills, or at least a Boy Scout with you, to find an entrance. I was lucky this day. A teenaged cart guy wandered by in the nick of time, leisurely gathered up the carts in an otherwise empty space, consulted the GPS device he had on his hip, and started slowly pushing the half-mile long cart train he’d assembled toward the glow on the horizon. I zipped into the slot, narrowly cutting off a van with a handicapped sign dangling from it’s rearview mirror, and quickly jumped out to follow the cart kid to the store before he disappeared in the distance.
When I finally walked into the front entrance, I smiled at the older gentleman standing just inside. I nodded to him and said, “How’re you doing today.”
“Whatzat?” he replied.
“HOW ARE YOU DOING TODAY?” I repeated.
“Yeah, it sure is,” he said. “You need a cart?”
“No thanks. I’m fine.”
I smiled again and shook my head no. If I was going to gather up all the things my wife had on that list, I sure as heck would need a cart, but my pride wouldn’t permit me to take one. Real men didn’t push shopping carts through Wal-Mart.
As I walked past the “foyer” and into the front of the store, it opened up before me like a cosmic dome. You’d get claustrophobic in Carlsbad Caverns next to this store. I must have been standing there with my mouth open, because a very friendly young man with blond hair and a blue vest approached me and said, “Can I help you find something, sir?”
“Yeah,” I said still looking into the distant haze near the other end of the store. After a few seconds, I looked at him. I could see enthusiasm in his eyes and a bright friendly happy expression on his face. You could tell he was eager to please me. If he’d started panting, it would’ve been hard to distinguish him from a golden retriever.
I looked forlornly down at my wife’s list. “Where would I find the…um…well…these things.” I showed him the list.
He didn’t hesitate. I obviously wasn’t his first husband shopper. “Go down this main aisle to double P, turn left and follow that through Housewares until you get to Business Supplies. From there veer to the right until you see a sign that says ‘Phoenix, 2 miles.’ You’re almost there. Keeping the lawn tractors on your right, stay on that aisle until you reach the next major intersection, then turn left, then right, then right again, then left. You can’t miss it.”
A couple of hours later, laden with a dozen bulging plastic bags, I walked past a different older gentleman at the entrance/exit. I surmised there must have been an older gentleman shift change since I’d come in.
“Thanks for shopping at Wal-Mart,” he said.
I grinned and hefted my bags. “Quite a load,” I said to him.
“Whatzat?” he asked.
When I got home, the wife helped me un-bag everything and put it away. But she looked puzzled.
“So,” she asked. “Where are your batteries?”
It was a rhetorical question.