It took quite a bit of bribing to make me go back there. I mean, a lot. I had only been to Wal-Mart a few times, years ago, and had freaked out so much that I vowed never to go back. Whatever few dollars I was going to save was not worth my sanity.
I don’t like crowds. In fact, I detest them. I am usually a fairly nice and pleasant person, but something happens to me when someone gets in my way. I don’t like having to walk around people or wait while they block aisles or generally just seem to wander around like a zombie, clueless and completely unaware of their surroundings. I will play bumper cars with my shopping cart if someone leaves theirs in the middle of the aisle and blocks it. I do consider it fair game. I also consider any act of stupidity to be fair game for me.
When I think of Wal-Mart or Costco or any gigantic store, I feel my heels dig in and my hackles go up. I know it’s going to be a battle field and that all I have to do is get in and get out and not hurt anyone.
So when my friend called me one day, I knew something was up right away. I could sense it in her voice, so me being me, just cut right to the chase. “What do you want? Go ahead, just blurt it out.”
She sighed. “I have a HUGE favor to ask of you and if there was anyone else I could ask, I would. But there isn’t anyone.”
I knew that whatever she asked, I would do.
“Sure. What is it?”
Long pause. “If you do this favor for me, I will take you to Chevy’s for as many margaritas and tacos that you want. I’ll drive, so you don’t have to worry. We’ll go first. How does that sound?”
“It sounds great, except…where are we going exactly?” I did not like where this was going, but I kept my mouth shut.
“It won’t take long, I promise. We’ll be in and out of there in no time, especially since you’ll be there and can help me. I want to go this Saturday.”
“Oh no! No! Don’t say it, please…”
“Wal-Mart. Really, it won’t be bad….”
“Are you kidding me? What in God’s name do you need at Wal-Mart THREE DAYS BEFORE CHRISTMAS?”
Yes, she was asking me to go with her to Wal-Mart three days before Christmas. I thought maybe I had suddenly died and taken the express route to hell or maybe this was some kind of joke.
I love Jennifer. She has been my best friend for almost 20 years. She has survived some of the most horrendous situations and now she had met the man of her dreams, they were getting married soon and she was the happiest person I knew. She was always happy and almost never asked me for anything, ever.
I knew I would go and I silently cursed the day I met her. “I hate you,” was all I could say.
She laughed. “I know, but I love you and you’ll do it because deep, down inside, you love me.”
She was right. Of course I would go but I was going to make her pay.
We set it up for that Saturday. She came by, picked me up and I snapped and snarled all the way to Chevy’s. No matter what I said, she would smile and agree. This made it very hard for me to maintain my hostility, but I tried.
We get to Chevy’s and I immediately order two margaritas, on the rocks with lots of salt. I started on the chips and kept going until the tacos arrived. I knew what was coming and I was dreading it. After the second margarita, I was feeling relaxed and a bit goofy (which is how I get when I drink) and was prepared to face the battle field.
She needed to get a couple of very specific things for her fiance and being a single Mom with two kids, money was always tight. I knew that and I silently smacked myself for not keeping that in mind when she called.
We drove over to Wal-Mart and the parking lot was packed. I took a deep breath and kept telling myself to relax and to have a positive attitude and since I had a few drinks under my belt, it seemed like it would be easy enough.
As soon as we walked in, I knew I was in trouble. The first thing I noticed was the smell of the popcorn which was being cooked in rancid fat. I felt the tacos in my stomach move around. I took a deep breath and followed her. She knew what she wanted and I trailed behind. The store was packed and we could barely move.
As I followed her, I was bumped by countless people who never once apologized or even acknowledge my existence. One woman stepped on my foot and when I cried out, she didn’t even turn around. She kept walking and I glared at her and started to follow her, but instead Jennifer grabbed me by the arm and turned me away. I tried to get out of her grasp on my arm, but she dug her hand deeper into my elbow and kept dragging me away from my intended target.
Somehow we made it to the electronics department and I froze. This is not my area of expertise. The entire subject of high-tech puts me to sleep and makes me grumpy. I’ve lived in Silicon Valley all my life and I still don’t know what anyone is talking about. I am constantly corrected at work when I say “the screen” and am told it’s called a monitor. I do not care. I just want someone to make it work. I do not know the difference between anything to do with software or hardware or anything in-between and I don’t want to know. But there I was, stuck in hell, because I wanted to help my friend. She wanted to get a very particular game for him and Wal-Mart had the best prices, so there we were.
She dashed around and I followed her as best as I could, but I was constantly getting shoved, bumped into, stepped on and not once did anyone excuse themselves. I did the first fifteen times and then stopped. It didn’t seem to matter and I figured “When in Rome…”
After a half hour, Jennifer found what she was looking for, but it was behind a locked clear plastic screen, so now we had to get one of the blue people. The blue people who had suddenly disappeared, never to be seen again. By now the effects of the margaritas had worn off and a headache had started. I leaned against the sacred plastic door and closed my eyes. I decided I would stand guard, as this would give me something to do and perhaps add some small degree of value to my presence while Jennifer went looking for one of the elusive Blue person.
While I leaned against the plastic, I put my hands behind me and attempted to get as flat against it as I could, but I was still bumped into and shoved. It looked as if there were over a million people in this store and there was some target on me that only they could see that screamed for all of them to come into this isle at this exact time and shove me further into the plastic.
Finally Jennifer came around the corner with a blue person. I moved out of the way, the sacred door was opened and the item was gotten. I jumped up and down and raised my fist in the air and shouted “Yes!” as loud as I could. This gave Jennifer a fit of the giggles and startled the blue person, who already looked scared. “It’s OK, don’t mind her,” she said as we walked away. I actually started to skip down the aisle and Jennifer joined me. We tripped a few times over the discarded merchandise, but we didn’t care. Even tripping and falling (I fell once but caught myself before landing face first in a bag of popcorn someone had dropped) seemed like heaven.
We get in line to purchase the sacred item and there is only one person in front of us. I cheer again and start laughing. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and soon, we will be free. I start hugging Jennifer and she hugs me back. I can almost see the finish line and I have become giddy with the sheer joy that soon my life will return to normal and I will be set free from this dungeon.
But that was not going to be the case. Apparently the customer was questioning each and every item that the clerk was ringing up. She had an overflowing cart and every time an item was entered, she had to look at the screen and then look at the tag and then ask the clerk if he was sure and no matter what he said, she argued. Each item was discussed for at least one minute before it was established that it was being correctly wrung up and no one was ripping her off.
I quickly estimated that based on the items in her cart, multiplied by one minute each, we would be there for a month. Just as I was about to tell Jennifer this, someone came up and stood behind us.
I know this because I smelled him before his nasal grunting began. It was a putrid smell and when I turned around to see what had died, I saw that the smell was coming from his constant burping. These were loud burps and once in a while, he would sound like he was about to spit what he had just violently snorted into his throat from his running nose.
I stifled a scream and turned and glared at Jennifer. She was holding her nose with her fingers and looking down at her shoes, avoiding my glare which I knew she felt.
Then the man behind me moved in closer and actually started to lean against me. I jumped forward and turned around and stared at him. “Hey! Do you mind?” I shouted. He didn’t flinch and slowly raised his sleeve to his nose and wiped it. He just stood there, staring off into space and completely unaware I had said anything to him.
Jennifer finally looked at me and mouthed the words “I’m sorry” and I smiled. It was OK, I told myself. We were almost done and all we needed was the rocket scientist ahead of us to finish. I raised my hand to my nose and covered it. Whatever was wrong with the man behind us was severe and gross and we just had to wait it out.
When he leaned against me the second time, I turned around and shoved him back as hard as I could. No way I was going to let some pervert get off on touching me, no matter where we were. He stumbled back and fell into the woman behind him and she shoved him. Soon he was coming back towards me, so I stepped aside and let him fall. He got up, looked around, wiped his nose again and just stood there, staring off into the distance.
Finally it was our turn. The clerk was as nice as could be and I thanked him for it. No one had said a word about me accosting a customer, as if it was an everyday occurrence. Jennifer grabbed the bag when we were done and we RAN out of the store, through the front door (we slowed down so the person waiving at us wouldn’t tackle us) and then skipped to her car.
We jumped in and drove out of the parking lot as fast as we could without killing anyone. Once we were a safe distance away, Jennifer pulled over and parked the car. She turned around, leaned over and hugged me as hard as she could. She was teary eyed and kept thanking me for going with her.
I realized that it had been an adventure and I had helped my friend. “Thanks Susie Q for behaving yourself for YOU and not getting us arrested for shoving that guy. You did good.”
Yeah, that’s what friends are for and I didn’t get us arrested. I did good.