Tuesday, August 09, 2005


Recently I went to Wal-Mart. Some of my least-delightful waits have been in the house that Sam Walton built. Perhaps there is a sort of unofficial waiting period required for the purchase of hamburger buns in Las Vegas, I know not. I ended up waiting second in a line while the cashier tried unsuccessfully to enter a gift card into the computer (the key: scan it, don’t drag it through the card machine). The line in the register next to me was short, but I had already piled all my groceries on the counter, so I waited. The cashier had flipped on the “manager assistance requested” light, but apparently this wasn’t a strong enough entreaty, for no management aid was forthcoming. Finally the cashier walked away in search of help. In frustration, I threw my items back into the cart and went over to the other register, only to be told that that register was closed. So I retook my place in line. I would not be putting my items on the counter this time, oh no. Thus I exacted a narrow moral victory out of a broad, demoralizing defeat of the soul.

The long and the short of it was I waited maybe a half hour (in the “20 items or less” lane) and ended up forgetting one of my bags and having to go back for it. All the while I indulged a thoroughly ridiculous sense of righteous outrage by thinking about lodging some sort of complaint, or writing a snarky letter to some newspaper or authority, full of pique and dark pronouncements about the unlikelihood of future patronage at their retail establishment, but I realized, “What should I have expected?” I wasn't there for superior service or a commitment to quality. I was drawn by the siren’s song of buying paper towels $0.06 cheaper than at Albertsons.

And we achieve the parallel realization, without overmuch surprise, that people are willing to sell their souls for six pennies.

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