Western North Carolina Woman

confessions of a Wal-Mart consumer:
(or, I bought cheap plastic crap ar Wal-Mart)

by gloria good

I decided to buy a baby pool for my dog. This was a strange reversal of economic policy, as I hadn’t even bought a baby pool for my actual baby. (And she was almost nine.)

But Lucy barked at the washing machine the whole time that it was running—the happy bark. She persistently brought home live turtles; dead, dried-up squirrels; and turkey carcasses to gnaw on in front of crying children. She jumped into every full bathtub and shower we took for almost a year. She was a virtual blur of action and excitement. And I really do not function well in an environment of action and excitement.

I considered buying her a flock of sheep, to give her something constructive to do. But money issues whittled down my choices of backyard fun. I had to do something, though—the new, insane dog was taking up my all free time, and the house was a vortex of pure, swirling evil. The only time I had to read was when Lucy was on top of the car, asleep. A baby pool began to seem like a darn fine idea.

I called K-mart, but it was the end of the summer, and they were out of pools. It was imperative, however, to my mental state that I bought a pool THAT VERY DAY. This meant one thing. It meant that I was going to have to break my boycott of Wal-Mart.

I did not feel good about this. Wal-Mart exposure causes me to brood and stew about our obvious eventual extinction. And I did not enjoy the prospect of buying products that were lovingly handcrafted by machines run by juvenile slaves. As a mother, that is very bad karma, and I expected to be roundly punished for it. (Furthermore, certain snippety activists were going to make comments. They know who they are.) But I was desperate for reading time.

I still had enough tattered shreds of integrity to have some minor restrictions: The pool had to be a demonstration model, and drastically reduced in price. And the pool would then have to become a sort of family heirloom, to be handed down for generations. Maybe I could fill it up with dried beans someday (when Lucy was calmer—or better yet, dead) and we could, well, lay in it. It could become the family reading pit. I would have to get a good job, of course, to get a bigger house to accommodate it…maybe I could eventually remarry. But we could deal with that later.

I grimly drove to Wal-Mart, but ended up parking down the road at Office Depot. One of my two bumper stickers could be construed as mildly anti-Wal-Mart, referring to Wal-Mart as “your source for cheap plastic crap.” This was, of course, completely true, in the descriptive sense. But some people may have found the word “crap” to have pejorative connotations. You know, sensitive people. I didn’t want some nice, elderly employee upset by it—maybe Gwendolyn or Ed didn’t know about the children in bondage making sneakers for 24 cents a day.

All right, all right, so I was feeling squeamish about the blatant hypocrisy thing, and I didn’t feel like being called on it! I had to get that pool! Stealth was the ticket. There would be plenty of time for public remorse and atonement later.

Unbelievably, everything went as planned. The only pool available was the battered display model out front. The right people were contacted. A deal was cut. Money was exchanged. I was feeling pretty smooth. I was getting away with it! Now all I had to do was this: run and get the car, pull up front, pop the pool in the back of the car, and scoot on out of there. Pop and scoot! Pop and scoot! Piece of cake.

So I pulled right up to that huge bright-blue piece of plastic crap, and I dragged that thing to the car and—oops, it was a lot heavier than I thought it would be, heh heh, just had to heft that baby up a little and….

Well. That’s funny. I didn’t think of that. I am very good at guessing people’s weight, but I guess I’m not very good at guessing the size of pools. The pool was about five feet wider than the back of my car. That is quite an error in judgment. Five feet—well, I am five foot three. So that’s like an entire one of me. I wondered if it weighed as much as I did. That would be very bad news, indeed, as I don’t have a lot of upper-body strength.

Just as this horrible realization was washing over me—and I was standing there, under the pitiless sun, surrounded by happy families (all with blue plastic bags, strained to possible explosion, full of their very own plastic crap)—just then a kindly, elderly employee came over to help. It turned out that Bob had worked for most of his long, adult life in the field of hauling, and I guess that he could sense that I was at a deficit in this department. He volunteered to get me some twine. He did not seem to notice the impertinent bumper sticker, dissing his employer.

As soon as his back was turned, I got a burst of adrenaline, fueled by horror. I pushed that piece of big, heavy crap up against the side of the car, and then somehow managed to slide it up the side and over onto the top. Ha!

When Bob got back with the twine, I began throwing twine everywhere--hoping to somehow thoughtlessly affix the pool to the car, by dint of manic energy alone. (Plus, if I kept moving, maybe Bob wouldn't notice the bumper sticker on my car--which I now found to be senselessly cruel, as the happy beneficiary of Bob's twine.)

"Slow down, young lady!" Bob said, apparently needing glasses, as I was almost forty. "It's better to go slow and do it right the first time, than to go too fast and have to do it twice."

"I agree!" I said, whipping that twine every which way but loose. "As my daughter and I always say, sometimes the easy way is the hard way!"

My behavior did not seem to assuage his concern. I was rushing around the car like Speedy Gonzales. He watched my performance for a few moments and then tried again.

"I really think it would be a good idea for you to slow down and focus...or you could pay for it later, with a big disaster on the highway."

I was so busy plying my craft that the word "disaster" didn't have the usual morbid and off-putting charge it generally has for me.

"Uh huh!" I beamed at him, as I tied knots in random and counter-intuitive places. "Like the Zen phrase says, 'when we try to go quick, quick, we often end up going slow, slow!'"

I pulled on the twine to check the tension, and the somewhat taut system I had created fell into loose loops. I renewed my work with vigor and a fresh infusion of twine.

"Gotta get going!" I told him. "I have to get my daughter at school in ten minutes!"

"Your daughter is at school, and safe and cared for," Bob said, reasonably. "It won't matter if you're a few minutes late--especially if it averts disaster."

That word again!

"I'm out of gas, too," I told him.

"Oh," said Bob.

The twine now looked like the web of a spider on LSD. I put some finishing, useless touches on it. I was determined to skeedaddle. It was the first day of school and if I was late, India would be anxious. And I'd look like the queen of the loser moms. As usual!

"Good enough!" I said. I slapped my hands together, as if completing some particularly satisfying work. "I'm off!"

I handed Bob the rest of the twine. He looked downright depressed.

"Keep it," he said. "You may need it.... Go slowly," he implored.

"I'll do it!" I said. I gave him an enthusiastic, double-handed thumbs-up. Even when I'm relaxed, I apparently have the appearance of being on amphetamines. Bob did not seem convinced.

I hopped into the car, put on my blinkers, and cruised through the parking lot--very... slowly.... Bob waved at me, wanly.

I could feel the pool budging on the roof of the car already, which did not seem like a good thing. I was only going about a half a mile an hour, on level ground. Just wait until I got on the highway, I thought, and onto all those hills.

But couldn't stand to be in the Wal-Mart parking lot for another second--with that bumper sticker about cheap, plastic crap on my car--and with the biggest, cheapest piece of goddamned, plastic crap imaginable, strapped on top of my car just above it.

I gripped the steering wheel tightly, trying to swallow my panic. So this is it, I thought. This is where I get punished for being weak and breaking my boycott--all for the pathetic gain of personal reading time. This is where I get punished for buying cheap, plastic crap.

I had thought that the punishment would come later.... Much later.

It did not seem fair. I am such a small player in the environmental degradation game. Others, with far more reach than I, operate with seeming impunity: Monsanto markets genetically engineered organisms, which could eventually disrupt global food production, and life as we know it. That’s pretty bad! And what about Union Carbide? Or Exxon? How about Dow—anyone remember a little thing called Agent Orange? Hello?

Surely these crimes warrant a stern rebuke, at the very least. But, no. God, the micromanager, who can’t seem to see the forest for the cut-down trees, slams me over a ten-dollar baby pool….

Maybe it’s because I’m not a corporation. Maybe they really aren’t accountable, after all.

I made it about a half of a mile. I was in the right-hand lane, and all the other cars were staying very far away from me. As I glanced in my rear view window, I saw the car nearest to me moving urgently into the left lane, so I figured that it was probably happening at last.

And, you know, when that pool finally did groan and heave off the roof of my car, it was such a relief. The dread was over. And, might I add, the stupendous piece of crap sailed beautifully. It was a magnificent sight—as if some mythical smiley face had come magically to life and taken flight.

It landed gracefully in the front yard of the Beverly Hills Baptist Church. As I was pulling into the parking lot, I was alerted to another, lesser, groaning and heaving. I was surprised to see an identical bright blue baby pool sail off of my car into the opposite direction. Well, that was strange. I seemed to have accidentally stolen a pool.

I dragged the pools behind a wall, sandwiched them back together, and drove to the gas station. I gassed up. I picked up my daughter at school, and then drove to another neighborhood, to pick up her two friends. I traded my car for their father’s van, and the girls and I went back to the church.

I was then forced to learn that I was still not good at judging the size of pools, despite the day’s valuable lessons. The pools were not going to even remotely fit into the opening of Frank’s van. The girls laughed and laughed at me.

So I dragged the pools back behind the wall. I threw the girls back into the van. I drove the girls to my house, just to be rid of them, and their sardonic taunting. And then I drove back to Frank’s house, traded the van for my car, and drove back to the church.

Once in the parking lot, I was displeased to note that the church preschool was letting out. So I had plenty of inquisitive by-standers to make cheerful commentary.

I was further displeased to note that my other bumper sticker was causing me to be the butt of embarrassing irony once again: it read, “Jesus is coming. Look busy.”

Considering the fact that I was very busy in front of a church, making a damned fool of myself, this could have been construed to be amusing, by evil people.
(However, I was relieved that I had not bought that other bumper sticker—the one about the School of Assassins. If all my bumper stickers were going to figure prominently in one day, I may have at least avoided a confrontation with trained killers.)

A woman with a three-year-old stood nearby for a while, watching my artistry with the twine.

“We got the smaller pool,” she finally told me, “because I couldn’t figure out how to get the bigger pool home.”

“Well,” I said, making my strategic knots, “isn’t that funny! Because when I bought the pool, I didn’t even notice that it was big. Ha!”

I guess that’s the difference between the two of us, I fumed, as the blond Baptist and her staring toddler drove away. Normally, I never would have even bought a piece of plastic crap like this, to begin with, let alone admit to it—and now here I was, being forced to own up to it in front of hundreds of people. I was like the Hester Prynne of the contemporary world.

I somehow managed to keenly assess the situation and be effective. This time the pools were on there tight as a drum. So I drove home, cut the pools loose, and filled them up.

That’s when I found out that one of the pools had a hole in it. So I now have two pools for life—one of them unusable as an actual pool. But I am sure that some creative use will pop into my mind, eventually.

As for the pool-pool, Lucy is not really interested in it. Of course. But India and her friends love it, despite the fact that they are basically way too old and big for it. They inch down that one-foot-long baby slide for hours a day—naked, and spectacularly surrounded by millions of dish soap bubbles. It’s not exactly what I had in mind at all. And with all that soap, I can’t even reuse the water in the garden. It’s a fantasy romp for children, and an environmentalist’s nightmare.

...after a brief nap on top of the car, Lucy watches the girls from afar. She is looking inscrutable, while gnawing on the shell of a live turtle. Then, when everybody feels secure, she dive-bombs into the pool, biting and scratching the naked children. Everybody ends up screaming and crying, including me. I’m sure the neighbors love us. I should be hearing about my nomination for Asheville Mother of the Year any day now.

Gloria Good lives in Asheville NC.

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