Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Tenacious G Descends into the Bowels of Wal*Mart

I don’t mean to sound self-righteous, but one store I vowed I would never enter in this lifetime was Wal*Mart.

Without going into gory details, Wal*Mart has been accused of operating in a way that increases government welfare spending, contributes to suburban sprawl, uses predatory pricing to drive local mom-and-pop stores out of business, decreases employment in both retail and manufacturing while lowering the wages in both sectors, and increases our tendency to consume natural resources that we do not need. They are one of the largest companies in the world and behave like the bully on the playground.
Multigenerational portrait: Grandma, aka Tenacious G, stands at the right.

So when I picked up my saintly mother for our weekly romp, the last thing I expected was that she would guide our car into the bowels of retail hell. This sweet, gray-haired woman, somehow sensing that Wal*Mart would be an issue, told me that she couldn’t remember the name of the store she wanted to visit but would give me driving directions on how to get there. When those directions led into the parking lot of Wal*Mart, I recoiled in sociopolitical horror. I have no doubt that my late father, a lifelong union man, was spinning in his grave like a Roto-Rooter® drill.

“Why here?!” I exclaimed aghast as we circled the overfull parking lot for 15 minutes. A Mercedes Benz sports coup cut me off for one space.

“I want to buy a blouse,” she replied.

“You want to buy a shoddy blouse made in a third-world factory where someone lost his arm due to hazardous working conditions?”

She laughed. Oh, how silly her daughter was.

Finally, I found a space a few miles away from the front door. It was a hot day and it would be a long and soul-searching walk across the searing, pot-holed pavement to the entrance. I clutched my elderly mother’s arm as we tried to cross the street to the front door and were cut off by a minivan. Normally, at other retail locations, people have slowed down to let my mother cross at her tottering tortoise pace. Not the people of Wal*Mart.

The electric doors swished aside and the welcome air conditioning greeted us. The store was filthy. It looked like it hadn’t been swept or mopped since President Nixon was forced to resign from office. And it was huge. As far as the eye could see, flimsy merchandise was displayed in aisle after sloppy aisle.

I had entered the bowels of Wal*Mart. I felt dirty.

My mother began to look at the brightly colored, tissue-thin shirts that lolled haphazardly on the unkempt racks. One was a halter top fashioned from large, wooden beads. I suggested it might give her a new look. She was amused. Most of what we saw was in very large sizes and bright enough to light up Times Square at midnight.

 Photos from the very informative

Mom shuffled around and didn’t see anything she really wanted but was very excited that they were offering this hideous apparel for $11.97 and less. Admittedly, things were insanely cheap here, but for merchandise that would rightfully get you tarred and feathered on What Not to Wear.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not a clothes snob. I’m not saying you can’t go discount. There are a ton of discount retail stores that carry great stuff and I am a real fan of clearance racks. But there is a difference between a bargain and a piece of unmitigated crap. My mother soon came to this realization. A Depression child, she was loath to walk away without purchasing something that was unbeatably cheap, but even she had to admit that there was nothing to see here.

Eventually, we walked out and made our slow and precarious way back to the car. I told my mother I would take her to another, less colonic store and informed her that, as a result of this visit, I would need a long, long shower upon returning home.