I'm not big on corporate superstores. They're as good for mankind as Olean
was for our intestines. And they turn open fields into parking lots, which
never seem to grow back into fields again. Worst of all, they're sucking
the provincial charm out of America. No matter where you turn these days,
it's the same damn thing: Wal Mart, Toys R Us, Big Five, Wells Fargo.
So I was somewhere this side of jubilant when they built a bulk discount
store near my home. I waged a private boycott against the store until
last week, when I was given a membership by a friend. Yes, darling,
this store is for members only. My friend said that I could save big
bucks on my coffee addiction, so I went.
I flashed my card to the gatekeeper and entered this tremendously,
impossibly gargantuan arsenal of a store. It was the mother of all
superstores, the apple in the eye of Corporate America.
Gazing at the surplus of surplus, I reached for a megabox to keep
from reeling. There were computers and clothes and food and furniture
and drugs and meat and office supplies -- all in bundles of 50. Should
war break out, one could live here for years without having to smell
the smoke. Stacked to the ceiling was everything I could ever need
as a yuppie.
Sure, it sounds like Fantasy Island, but there's a catch: people.
I hesitate to call them people because something inhuman happens when
shoppers pass the gatekeeper at a superstore. Their eyes glaze over
and they enter a bulk-buying frenzy. Their arms raise involuntarily
as they march toward the merchandise: Consume... Consume...
As I made my way to the coffee, people passed me by like they were
shopping on stolen time. I occupied three square feet of space and
managed to get in everybody's way. A little old lady bumped me with
her shopping cart and gave me the finger when I said excuse me. Little
kids were being dragged by their hair through the aisles, pointing
at the items they wanted. So it goes.
There was an angry buzz in the air that you couldn't detect until
you were outside again. There was so much stuff that people fell into
delirium, a bulk-shopping madness. When customers got too close to
each other, they grew agitated and eyed each other's merchandise to
make sure they hadn't missed anything. What if they reached at the
same time for the last widget? And it was on sale! And the world ran
out of that item like during the Tickle Me Elmo Fiasco of '99...
People kept piling stuff into their baskets, into their lives, on
top of their other stuff. It was an all-you-can-buy free-for-all to
meet unfulfilled needs, real and imaginary. See that case of Snickers
over there... it's HUGE! We could live like kings on that kind of chocolate.
And did you see that deal on the crate of suppositories...
It was all I could do grab my coffee and get the hell out. I followed
the scent of java, and would you look at that -- I did save $2 over
the normal price.
At the checkout stands, the madness came full circle. All the discomfited
shoppers had to stand right there beside each other, guarding their
stuff. People were still breathing heavy and wearing the cockeyed expression
of those who had just finished looting and only needed to pay for it.
I stepped up behind a woman who looked as if she had already eaten
her lifetime's supply of Snickers. She gave me a look to say that she
was in front and would take her sweet time checking out. Others regarded
me with my lonely bag of coffee as if to ask, "Is that the best
you could do, worm?" I flipped through a TV Guide until I realized
that they only sold 5-year subscriptions.
After buying my coffee, I moved to the next line -- the one to get
out of the store. I moooooved over, and man, it was like trying to
cross the border in Tijuana on a Sunday morning. Children kept coming
up and trying to sell me bulk Chiclets.
When I reached the sunlight, I turned around for one last glimpse
into our new megastore. People continued to shop competitively, stuffing
bargains into their carts to fill a void they didn't recognize. Perhaps
we're aroused by an underlying fear of future deprivation, an impulse
to get it all in before we exhaust our resources or produce so many
children that its starving room only.
A breeze wafted up from the neighboring lot, a cemetery that has been
here longer than most of us. It was a subtle reminder that the only
stuff we get to keep are a few bouquets and everything money can't