Thursday, April 26, 2012

The terrible tale of the only place on Earth almost as bad as North Dakota... almost

This is the tale of how Walmart was added to my “seek and destroy” list.

Now before you Southerners get all defensive, I’m not talking about your Walmarts. For the most part, any Walmart south of the Mason Dixon line and east of the Mississippi is bright, open and pretty awesome. I mean, yes, people really do dress like in the “People of Walmart,” but that’s not Walmart’s fault, that’s just Arkansas (the birthplace of Walmart).

Now, the rest of the country is Target territory. This is not to say that we don’t have Walmarts, it just means that for some reason when forced into competition with Target, Walmart suddenly turns into a crazy, mentally challenged  hoarder. The shelves and aisle ways are so over packed that not only are the simplest of things difficult to find, but items constantly spill all over the floor and no one ever picks them up. The pet section is filled with dead fish, there is no rhyme or reason to the layout and it literally smells of failure and sad. I don’t know how to describe it better than that. Go in and take a whiff. You’ll find yourself thinking, “Huh… that does smell like failure and sad.”

The further west you go, the worse they get. Here in L.A., they are downright scary. I know at least a few of you are shaking your head, thinking, “Isn’t everything in L.A. scary?”

No. Feel free to read why my city is awesome here, or just take my word for it. The Targets out here are the same as the Targets in Minnesota (Target’s birthplace) – inviting, happy places that have such a brilliant flow to them I always buy more than I mean to.

Think of Target and Walmart like giant, warring gangs made out of cheap clothes and everything convenient. Here, the Bloods have won.

All that being said and well known by me, why in the world did I go into a Walmart then? Because I lost my mind, clearly.

I was running a few errands yesterday, including a trip to Party City, which is in an area I don’t normally go and happens to be right next door to Walmart. I must have had a mini stroke, because I thought, “nice! I’ll just pop in there and grab the few things I need so I don’t have to drive to Target today. It will save a little time.”

For future reference – all of those thoughts are wrong.

I had five things on my list: dress socks for my husband, shoelaces, an alarm clock, toothpaste and sandwich baggies. Make your bets now as to how long that trip should have taken and how long it did.

The smell and overwhelming din hit me the moment I stepped through the door. I should have turned around right there. I should have realized what I was walking into and run. I’m gonna say mini stroke number two hit because instead I slowed my breathing, gritted my teeth and thought, “It’s just five things. I’ll be in and out. This is still the easiest option. Hey, maybe I’ll grab a bottle of wine while I’m here too. Yes, this will be fine.”

First stop – the men’s department.

This Walmart had two levels and no directory, so I took a quick lap around the first level and then made my way up the escalator to the second floor. I found the men’s socks, not near men’s clothes, as I would have guessed, but in a random aisle behind the shoes. Odd, but whatever, I found them.

“See? Easy,” I said to me. “And look, I’m already in the shoe department, so I can grab the laces.”

Silly brain, how little you know.

Stepping over dozens of strewn-about shoes, boxes and an opened package of socks, I scoured the over-stuffed shoe department. Nothing. Feeling frustrated, but refusing to give in, I spotted two employees idly chatting in the toy section.

“Excuse me,” I called from across the aisle, “Can you help me?”

The women continued talking without looking up.

Perhaps they just didn’t hear me, I thought. So I walked over to their aisle, careful to cover my head as the toy department is notorious for spontaneous avalanches.

“Excuse me,” I said again.

They both stopped and looked at me and then returned to their conversation in a language I didn’t recognize.

“Can you help me?”

The women, clearly wearing Walmart nametags, looked at me again. Then one said something to me in a language I’m pretty sure was made up.
I just stared.

She repeated her gibberish, then turned back to her friend and continued talking as if I was no longer there. I moved in closer.

“I need shoelaces. Can you tell me where to find them?”

The first woman sighed heavily and then pointed across the aisle to the shoe department where I had just come from.

“So, you don’t speak English, but you understood the word ‘shoelaces’?”

An angry stare and then the two women simply walked away.

Mini stroke number three. Instead of leaving, I thought, “Brush it off Em. Brush it off. I’ll come back for the laces. I can go grab the toothpaste. That will be easy.”

So I made my way back down the escalator toward the health and beauty section. If you think of Walmart like a big dirty city, the camping and hunting section would be City Hall, the electronics section would be the soup kitchen, and the pet section would be the ghetto playground. The health and beauty section would be that crack house on the corner that seems to always have a screaming baby and drugged out people shamelessly having sex in the hallway. The windows are shot out, there’s graffiti on the walls, the lights are constantly flickering. That house you are too afraid to even walk past, much less go into. Yeah, the health and beauty section is like that. But worse.

I made my way to the edge of the first aisle and set my basket holding the socks down among the half dozen or so carts and smattering of other baskets. This is customary is most West Coast Walmarts, as the aisles in this section are so crammed together, there isn’t room for anything extra. Women with large purses or an oversized figure must send their children into the mayhem. I shimmied my way to the toothpaste section and began the daunting task of digging through the piles and piles of toothpaste brands that were all mixed together. 700 tubes of toothpaste and no Arm & Hammer? Seriously? 

Dismayed, but stubbornly refusing to give in, I decided to go for the alarm clock. Taking a deep breath to calm my nerves, I grabbed my basket and headed back up the escalator to the electronics section. I call this department the soup kitchen because it is lined with bargain bins filled to the brim offering terrible movies and CDs from the 80’s at super low prices. People crowd around these things and feverishly dig through them, swatting at competitors like a pack of starving wolves getting their first meal.

I skirted past the bins and found the alarm clocks displayed fairly well. I scanned the eight or nine options and decided on a cute blue one that lit up. I searched through the seemingly endless supply of boxes beneath the clocks, the whole time thinking, “Does Walmart just not have a backroom?” After failing to find my selected clock, I searched out an employee.

“Can you help me?” I asked.

A kid who looked all of 17 smiled and cheerily moved toward me, “of course.”

“Ah-ha! Things are looking up!” Just wait, brain, just wait.

“I would like to purchase a clock, but I can’t find the box, do you think you might have one in back?”

“Everything we have is out, but let me help you look.”

We scoured the boxes together and still came up empty. The young man put his hands on his hips and with all sincerity apologized that I couldn’t get my clock.

“Well, can I just buy the display one?”

“No, we can’t sell that one.”

“Why not?”

Here’s a tip to employees at any retail store. If you are asked this question, and your employer is as clueless as Walmart, simply say “it’s store policy” to save yourself the embarrassment and frustration.

“Because then people won’t know we have that clock,” he said.

“But you don’t have that clock,” I said.

“No, not now, but we might get more in.”

“Ok, then at that time, can’t you just pull out another display model?”

“Well, no, because then in the meantime people won’t know we have that clock.”

“But you don’t have that clock.”

“But we probably will someday.”

“So, rather than just sell me this clock now, you want to have this conversation over and over with every customer who sees this display and chooses that clock? You want to tell people that you have a display up for something that is not in stock, but may be…. Someday? What? In the hopes that they will keep checking back with you instead of simply picking one out that is in stock?”

“I like talking to customers.”

I can’t argue with stupid. I thanked the kid and walked away without my clock.

Feeling defeated and tired, I decided to finally cut my losses and grab a much-needed bottle of wine and head home with just the socks. Back down the escalator to the food section. Understanding there is no rhyme or reason to the organization of any section, I began methodically walking up and down each aisle. Nothing.

“Excuse me,” I said, wearily approaching an employee near the food section. “Where is your wine?”

“We don’t sell alcohol here.”

I’m pretty sure I blacked out for a moment as the words sunk in. I think I sputtered some nonsense before dropping my basket with the socks in it and stumbling past the two open registers and out the door. I let out a cry of angst. A cry, by the way, that didn’t seem to concern or surprise anyone within earshot. They’ve witnessed this before. 

It was a beautiful California day, but I’d just come out of a warzone. It was like all the joy in the world had been sucked out and there was only one way to get it back.

I drove to Target.

Dr. Em


  1. Wall Mart (World Mart) has this system on purpose. Some areas of the world have no merchandise on their shelves so the over stuffing, falling on the floor, of endless random items sends them into a frenzy of buying anything. The store might be bombed tomorrow. A person needs to stock up, eighties movies and off brand toothpaste are a blessing. Sandals don't require shoelaces and wine isn't allowed. Don't shop in stores where people don't speak English. Peace and Love

    1. Thanks mom, I'll try to keep that in mind, although finding native English speakers out here is a challenge all it's own.

      Dr. Em

  2. Have you ever played WalMart bingo? It's the only way to make it out of there sane.
    It's an app for your phone. I avoid Walmart at all costs, but if you end up there again, this could be handy.

    Hope you got enough wine to wash the horror out of your memories.

    1. Ok, you just made my day! An app that HELPS me make fun of stupid people!? I'm at a loss for words. Pure brilliance! Of course, I'm far too scarred to venture back into Walmart anytime soon, but I think this game could also work at El Super... especially the "dead body" square. Thanks!!

      Dr. Em

  3. Dr Em did you go to the that creepy Walmart with the chain link fence around an absurdly small parking lot? The one we drove by and couldn't decide if it was open or abandoned? Why, Dr Em? Why? Even in the middle of the day that place scary.

    I now live in the land of Target and I love it but you are right about southern Walmarts. Dallas is a Walmart town and they're quite bright, clean and organized.

    btw...stay away from Sam's Clubs in Target cities too. I had to go to one recently and I'm pretty sure there creatures living between the pallets.

    Princess WeeWee

    1. No! It was in Porter Ranch (think Edina)! I mean, even in Target territory, I didn't think it could be THAT bad. The outside looked big and clean. Such deception Walmart. Such evil deception.

      Dr. Em