Civilization Disappoints, Again
As if aware of the three twenties boogieing in my right front pocket, two glass doors split in the middle, a sure gesture of welcome to me and certainly my cash. I stroll in and stop. Aisles and aisles and aisles of civilization sprawl out before me. From just inside the entrance, Walmart looks a bit like a mouse maze, except the treat is not just at the end. It can be found wherever one is willing to look. Between the aisles of piled-up stuff, civilized folks of all sizes and colors appear and disappear and reappear. The squeaks and hums of prize-carrying shopping carts sing alongside the upbeat music falling from the ceiling. Surely, my money can buy some happiness here.
Now I’ve lied to myself about why I’ve come. I’ve convinced myself I need new jeans. Or some chocolate. Or maybe a new movie to watch. If not those, then something. After all, the feel of cash in my pocket is rare, and I learned from my mother well.
But if I were to reach deeper into the pouch of honesty, the closer truth is I’m here because I’m feeling a bit lonely and a lot blue. Not about anything in particular. It’s just a feeling that shows up every so often. Kind of like allergies or a cold. And when it does, sometimes I combat it by entering one of capitalism’s grand churches in another attempt to buy my way out of said funk. After all, aren’t I worth it? Why else would doors open like magic before me?
With joy stocked along the aisles and waiting to be savored, I begin in sections I doubt will crave my spending need. I stroll past aisles packed with pills, rows of shelves bulging with colorful deodorants, sleek razors, fragrant soaps, and salon-style shampoos. I consider them briefly for they do have practical value and maybe I could use a fresh scent, but my hands reach for none of them, are left empty to hold my melancholy mood intact.
Avoiding eye contact with other shoppers, I skip the make-up and turn left into a row of princesses and ponies and pink, pink, pink. Then I slide along the aisles of puzzles, matchbox cars, and assorted action figures. I stop in front of the Legos. These building blocks were a passion of mine as a youngster and both of my sons have loved them just as much. Plastic bins of all colors and sizes and full of Legos fill our storage room. There are more in our crawlspace. I pick up a new Star Wars set that includes the latest version of Luke Skywalker, his plastic mold of hair more shaggy-looking than before. I shake the box. Like a bag of potato chips, its mostly air. I think my son would enjoy building it, but he hasn’t asked for Legos for years now. I would enjoy building it. But then what? Then it’d just be added to our already lewd collection. More stuff to deal with later. So I sigh and set the box back on the shelf. It rocks forward and falls at my feet. I want to leave it there, to turn my back and walk away, but there is someone else in the aisle. So I lean over. Pick it up. Put it back.
I move on to the rows of bikes. With the crooning falsetto of Adam Levine raining from above and not helping matters, I take note of a black bike with cool blue letters. Its oversized tires sprout little rubber thorns. I caress the seat as I think about how I’ve wanted a new bike for years. I briefly consider, not the cash in my pocket, but the credit card in my wallet. But no, my mood isn’t that dark. At least not today.
I continue by avoiding the automotive section. Not a car guy. I may want to spend away my sadness, but wipers, blue fluids, and pine-scented air fresheners have never been the answer. I mush my way across one of the store’s major thoroughfares, between shoppers and their full carts, and into the disarrayed world of plastic storage bins. I spend a few minutes there inspecting the latest and greatest in stowable fashion. Such an array of shapes, sizes, colors, compositions, such a crossroads of art and function. Maybe I should’ve been a bin engineer. Instinct provokes me to pick up a shoe-box sized plastic bin. It is a transparent blue and perfectly oily clean. Too bad it won’t stay that way. It’ll get scratched and scuffed and will never again look as pretty as it does now. Still, I rummage my mind for possessions that would fit, any reason to put it in my cart. Legos come to mind. I sigh again. Put it back.
Then I meander my way through the back, right corner, the home improvement section of the store, through hammers and screwdrivers, wrenches and drills—tools I already own. I pick up a shiny pair of pliers. Nice, I think at first. I have pliers, but they’re not shiny anymore and one of the grips keeps sliding off. Not a problem; just a nuisance. But they still work, I admit as I clang the pair back into their bin. I’m a frustrated mechanic, unable to fix what needs fixing. My enthusiasm is waning.
I trudge on and follow the flow of aisles until I arrive in the section civilization promises won’t let me down: the technology sector. Surely happiness can be found amongst this score of electronic miracles. Why else would it be in the back of the store, furthest from the welcoming doors? In front of me stands multiple aisles of affordable and not-so-affordable gizmos and gadgets. I browse the video games, but pass on them quickly as I recall the hours of my youth willingly given and naively sacrificed in the quest to clear boards, pass levels, win artificial trophies, and save a boxy-looking village from a pitiful dragon in a room built of bricks.
I slink past the laptops and the phones and the iPads—way too expensive for just the blues. I move into the mounds of movies. This is it. Surely I can find some piece of cinematic brilliance to lift me from my funk. I pick up a copy of the Star Wars prequels on Blu ray. On the cover is a light-saber wielding Yoda, the wisest of all Jedi. I examine his furrowed brow and intense glare. My excitement wilts into sadness as I look at this green CGI abstraction. I miss the puppet version, the one that had depth even on a two-dimensional screen. I try to get past that thought by imagining just how nice this set of movies will look on the dusty shelf between the Lord of the Rings trilogy and Iron Man. The answer is much the same as the VHS set looked years ago and almost exactly the same as the DVD set looks now. I give in and return it. But the plastic-wrapped Blu ray refuses to go back neatly as all the copies behind it have filed forward, closer to my face. I toss the movies on top in protest. I sense my pre-buyer’s remorse growing stronger. I’m running out of time.
Despite being let down by Star Wars of all things, I remain in the movie section. I talk myself in and out of at least a dozen other possibilities. I carry a copy of old Scooby-doo episodes for a minute and even flirt with a new release of a movie that I had yet to see and now don’t even recall. Ultimately, I resign myself to the fact that no matter what movie I purchase, I’ll just fall asleep to The Office. Again. Maybe Parks and Rec.
With my options ticking away, I venture into clothing. Been needing some new socks, but which? I examine the possibilities. Short ones below the shoe? Above the ankle? Long ones for boot wearing? White? Black? Gray? Striped? Variety pack? Too many options, too many decisions. Overwhelmed, I settle for nothing. Then I reenact the same conversation in front of the underwear. Then the T-shirts. Once finished, I’m too exasperated to notice the stacks and racks of jeans.
I move into my last hope, my last refuge for purchasing happiness: the food section. Now, this has to be it. Having been through the blues before, I have strategically saved this section for last. Nothing says immediate and temporary gratification like fatty food and sugar-laced sweets. I move briskly now as I inventory all the delicious possibilities: chocolate donuts, mint chocolate chip ice cream, barbecue kettle chips, frozen pizza. I see beef jerky and combos and crackers with as much salt as the sea. I pick up an $8 disc of smoked gouda and imagine the drool-worthy possibilities. I survey bags of brackish pretzels, boxes of sugary cereal. Then, just as I’m about to make my selections—whether consciously or unconsciously I’m not sure—I sabotage myself. I read labels. I examine the excessive calories, consider the artery-blocking fats, interpret the stupefying sodium and clogging cholesterol. I gag at ingredients I can’t even pronounce. I drop a bag of chocolate-covered-cherries next to a row of berry Cap’N Crunch, a white flag to my unshakable dark cloud.
I abandon my cart in the middle of an aisle. I head for the exit. Sorry Walmart. No cheese for you today. The blue-vested stranger by the door offers a minimum wage smile. I ignore it but am forced to stop mid-stride. I am required to wait one more sure-you-don’t-want-anything? second before the glass doors release me. Then, with empty hands stuffed in useless pockets, I vanish anonymously under the blue sky of our world.
Clint Martin lives in Lexington, Kentucky, with his wife, two sons, and their yellow dog Waggie. When not writing, Clint enjoys meditating and identifying the birds visiting the backyard.