So, I go to Walmart during lunch, which I try to do as rarely as possible because of all the Walmartians.
From the wizened and ancient greeter at the entrance, who, Charonlike tries to entice you into taking a shopping cart as if he is offering you your one chance to save your soul…, to the flocks of Nazgul, obese, with oxygen tanks, a busted leg, or no visible infirmity whatsoever, who prowl the floors of Walmart in the motorized courtesy handicapped carts, lurking to suddenly drive around a corner and kneecap you in a collision…, to the hordes of the damned wandering the floors three abreast who suddenly stop and hold a conversation in the middle of an aisle, blocking everybody… Walmart always reminds me of surreal mix between a Tolkien novel and Dante’s inferno.
The sales associates though are different. They come in two varieties… just like the demons in hell. The first is for whom this is a reward. This is where they want to be, where they belong. Lank, greasy hair, beady eyes, the smiley face flair on the vest, the disdain for the shoppers, and the rejoicing in the small power of belonging to a bureaucracy. Ask not this type for help for they will lord their superior knowledge of the dark contents of the shopping aisles over you and misdirect you in spite. Or, worse, they will look at you in pity and contempt as they inform you that toothpaste is in aisle three to the left. The statement “and how could you be so stupid as not to see that?” will be left unstated but obvious in their demeanor. The second type are Fallen. They had hoped for something better. They believed in something better, but somehow they took a wrong turn on one of the many crossroads of life and now here they are… working at Walmart. For some it is temporary, a purgatory, a sentence to be endured for a period of time. For others, though it is permanent… and the hell of their existence and their punishment begins in the moment of realization.
This is the story of such a person, such a moment… and of my shopping list, which brought the two together.
“Claire” was a brunette appearing to be in her early 20s. Possibly a single mother, or possibly a student, or possibly just trying to make ends meet. She did not have the small evil piggy eyes of the Demon sales associate or the despair of the permanent resident. I decided based on this, and the newness of her blue vest that she was probably just a purgatorial temp worker.
My shopping list was rather eclectic. I required three items for different purposes. The odd mix of things at Walmart is its sole virtue. Finding odd items though can be difficult, unless you pick a good sales associate to ask. As stated, the demons will make you feel like an idiot and abuse you as they direct you (and you still won’t find it,) but the incompetents will lead you on a wild goose chase. Therefore I needed somebody like Claire who seemed competent enough to know where things were, but also nice enough to actually show me.
“Can I help you?” she asked as I idled up to her, giving her my best “I’m a confused shopper that needs help,” impression.
“Yes, thank you. I need eyebolts and…”
“Eyeballs?” she replied.
“No. I’m sorry. Eyebolts. They are like screws that you can hang things from the ceiling with.” She was looking as if she vaguely comprehended the concept, so I kept going. “I also need razor blades and hamsters,” I added.
She looked puzzled. Still contemplating the concept of hanging things from the ceiling. A moment later, her eyes suddenly went wide as she added in the razor blades and hamsters and made a terrible (and false) connection.
She took a step back and I could see it on her face. We have all seen those movies where the nice, softspoken, perfectly normal looking guy in the suit turns out to be the totally evil, sick, and perverted killer. She has just concluded that’s me.
I feel the need to tell her that she is mistaken in the assumption she has made. I do not wish to hang hamsters from the ceiling and cut them up with razor blades as part of some unspeakable ritualistic act or sexual perversion, but I realize that I really can’t say that to her.
If I say “I want eyebolts to hang things from the ceiling, and I also need hamsters and razor blades, but not because I want to hang the hamsters from the ceiling and cut them up with the razor blades, ha ha.” for some reason the opposite of the desired effect. This is one of those things where denial works against you.
I decide that I will need to be precise and careful in my explanation. I go for the Jedi mind trick:
“The purchases are disparate and unconnected,” I say, as I pass my hand between us in a subdued calming gesture (“these are not the droids you are looking for.”) I recently purchased some gym rings for which I need eyebolts in order to hang them from the ceiling. The razor blades are for my safety razor. They work better than the Fusions and Mach IIIs."
She nods, believing me. Than notices that we are, quite coincidently, about 3 feet from the pet aisle.
“The hamsters…” she mouths almost inaudibly.
“I’m sorry. I don’t want real hamsters. I need zhu zhu hamsters. They’re toys.”
I almost had her. Apparently “toy” can mean two things. By itself, a “zhu zhu hamster” could be a toy for your daughter. But, if you are also buying razor blades and eyebolts and trying to converse somebody you’re not a pervert than the context of “zhu zhu hamster” could be that of a giant motorized dildo used in lieu (or perhaps in combination with) a small innocent rodent that you would stuff into your nether regions. She has chosen the latter context.
“They are for my daughter,” I add.
She stares at me, not believing.
Have you ever tried to not look like a psycho? Have you ever tried to not look like somebody who wants to hang hamsters from the ceiling with eyebolts, slice them open with razor blades, and smear their blood over you while pleasuring yourself to their death throes?
It is surprisingly difficult. Apparently, the real bondage fetishist hamster slaying masturbators must spend all of their time denying it, which is what marks them as BFHSMs.
I want to tell Claire that she is mistaken, that I am not a BFHSM, but I sense this would be a mistake.
“Hardware is that way,” she says after an eternity.
I find the eyebolts and then look in the toy section, but they are all out of the Zhu Zhu hamsters, which seem to be quite the hot toy. Damn.
Shampoos and such are right by the pets where’d I met Claire. I’m walking up and down aisles looking for the razor blades when I encounter her again. She seems to be studiously ignoring me. Again, I feel filled with the need to explain myself and set her mind at ease from her suspicions. “I found the eyebolts,” I say. “Thanks.” These will be great to hang my gym rings from."
While the literal truth, this sounds like total bullshit to me as I say it. “You’re all out of Zhu Zhu Hamsters, but I’m sure the razor blades are just around the corner.” I try to smile friendly and innocent, but from the look on her face I’m Hannibal Lecter.
I give up and walk away. I feel her eyes on my back and feel compelled to turn around again. As I do, with the fake “I’m totally innocent of perverted hamster killing intentions” smile plastered on my face, I see her suddenly change. Claire goes over the edge. She is not a college kid temping for extra money. She is trapped in the hell of Walmart forever.
Her epiphany sparks one in me. I am not just visiting. I am in Walmart hell forever too. Every tormenter is also the tormented.
Welcome to the holiday shopping season.
P.S. I am not a bondage fetishist hamster slaying masturbator. I really do have gym rings to hang, and I really do like safety razors over disposables and…
stop looking at me like that.