Trendy hipsters are quick to mock the monolithic, transnational Wal-Mart. It’s even easier now that they’ve tried to humanize their image. (It’s a bit like Data trying to be Mr. Rogers) For what it’s worth, I like Wal-Mart. It’s the only place you can get a “The Right to Arm Bears” shirt, a pair of briefs with the Superman logo on the crotch, a bullet blender, a mango and a five dollar copy of Big (which, in my opinion, was the pinnacle of Tom Hanks’s career).
Wal-Mart is unpretentious, unfiltered and unvarnished. I didn’t shave today, but no one cares. I might have forgotten to wear deodorant. A minor problem, but not a significant one. I’m right within my element.
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I have a number of friends who quote song lyrics as their status updates, which means that I can instantly recognize that Dan floats like a cannonball or that Quinn agrees with Thrice’s claim that “we can’t medicate man to perfection again.” I struggle with song lyric updates, because I never know what to write beyond, “dude, I like that song.” However, when it’s an artist that I don’t know, I feel like I’m now outside of a club of music insiders.
So I peruse the television section and turn to the lady next to me, “This MTV is not for free. It’s so PC it’s killing me, so desperately,” but she scurries away. Holy crap! I’ve managed to be the creepiest person in all of Wal-Mart. There’s has to be some kind of a badge for that.
I look to Brenna and start talking the lyrics to an Iron and Wine song. It’s a somber tune about our mortality and the naturalistic resurrection of a fern. Brenna claps her hands and babbles back to me. Fellow consumers offer their disapproval through the distinct body language of tapping toes and shaking heads. I’m struck that out-of-context spoken song lyrics cannot be ignored in a big box store the way they are ignored on Facebook.
Perhaps context matters.
When I speak the lyrics to “Rocket Man,” a fellow shopper speaks the lyrics back to me.
“Sort-of feel like what’s his face, Captain Kirk, when he speaks those songs,” she says. I say nothing, because I’m suddenly consumed by unforeseen shame. It’s an awkward interaction in the paint aisle, but she finishes the lines with, “Yeah, I think it’s going to be a long long time.”
When I arrive to the cash register, the cashier says, “It’s packed here.”
I reach for a contextual tune. “All the lonely people. Where do they all come from?”
“I love that song,” he says.
“I grew up listening to the Beatles on vinyl. I think my dad through them all into a pile for Goodwill. Imagine that.” It’s the rare moment when a comment mimics the type of comment someone would leave on Facebook.
“Wow, that’s a lot of money down the drain.”
“Yeah, imagine that.” Then he speaks out a line from “Imagine.” Something about no possessions. It might be the most anti-Wal-Mart conversation that’s even taken place here.
Bizarre, perhaps, but one of the best parts of this experiment is that I’m seeing the human side of retail jobs. I never realized just how arrogant I’ve gotten in the way I treat “service” people as invisible Untouchables. It’s humbling.