17 March 2008

Racism, Mercenaries, and Walmart

Every time I venture to Walmart around midnight, I am reminded why one should not venture to Walmart around midnight.

First of all, have you ever actually tried to shop at Walmart around midnight. Its next to impossible because the aisles are littered with pallets stacked to the sky with everything under the sun. Its almost impossible to navigate with a cart. Inevitably, when you see an item you actually want to purchase, it is obstructed by one of these pallets. This past weekend, I was lucky enough to be there at a time when they were waxing the floor. To accomplish this they roped off nearly the entire grocery section making it almost inaccessible. Lucky me.

Secondly, this whole idea that they are open 24 hours is a fabrication. At my local Walmart, every register closes down for 15 minutes at 11:45 p.m. While they keep the doors open, and you are free to walk about, you cannot actually purchase anything for those 15 minutes. In reality then, they are open for business for a total of 23 hours and 45 minutes. This is especially inconvenient when you are next in line after waiting 20 minutes, and you have ice cream in your cart. Sure I know, OPEN 24 HOURS rolls off the tongue better, but lets be real.

As an added bonus, during your time waiting, you get to talk to the people in line. Let me just say this upfront. If you ever find yourself waiting in line at Walmart at midnight, DO NOT TALK TO THE OTHER PEOPLE IN LINE, under any circumstances. If someone tries to engage you in conversation, I would suggest you feign deafness, or look at the person and confusedly say “No habla Englais”. Trust me, you will thank me later.

A few months ago, I was in line behind a group and giggly yet annoyingly adorable young ladies. Behind me there was a guy in camouflage pants, combat boots and a ripped up Metallica T-shirt. He looked over at the girls, and looked back at me and said, with all seriousness:

“Drop them in the Jungle and they’d be dead in an hour”

He then went on to regale me with tales of his time as a mercenary in South America, how he ate dirt, and bugs, and nearly lost his arm. As he lifts up his shirt, presumably to show me his scars I looked at him with a confused look and said, “No habla Englais”.

This past weekend, while waiting at the single open checkout during those 15 minutes of closing time I walked into a conversation regarding the state of America. According to a rather tall, and large gentleman with a scruffy beard, who seemed to be talking to no one in particular, America today was worse off then it was in the great depression and that within five years, if things kept up, we would be taken over by Mexico and Canada in what he described as a "classic pincer movement."

“This all started when Roe v. Wade made abortion illegal” he said.

I couldn’t resist. Breaking my own policy of non-participation, I broke in, “Um, actually, Roe v. Wade made abortion LEGAL” I say ever so politely.

“Well not really,” he said, “it lets the states decide, that’s why its legal in NY but illegal in NJ…”

“Umm, I think you might be….” But he had moved on to explain to us why, in Britain, there are so many black people with English accents.

“You see, in the 1600’s…” but before he could continue, one of the women on line (who incidentally, had told me previously that she had just gotten back from a St. Patrick’s day party and was all hopped up about being Irish, so I “had better watch out”) noticed that he had taken the trouble to wrap paper towels around the handle of his cart.

“What are you, some kind of germophobe?” she said confrontationally (she was all hopped up about being Irish).

“No, no” he said “I am not a racist but you see, when I moved up here 20 years ago, none of this was all here, and it was all white. But, in the ’80's they (and I will remind you that this is a direct quote, his words, not mine) “flushed the toilet” in Brooklyn and Queens and the Bronx and all different types of minorities came up north, and now there is so much more diversity, so I decided that, yeah, I had better wrap the handle with paper towels. But I am not a racist."

I try to fathom the logic of this for a moment. Essentially, while claiming not to be a racist, he was saying that because, in his opinion, dirty, disease ridden minority groups were more plentiful then they had been in the past that he now feels the need to protect himself from their germs. Now, it’s been quite awhile since I actually looked up the definition of racism, but this seems to fit the bill. But he wasn’t a racist, he was just sayin’. O-K, perhaps you would prefer being called a bigot? Or just a plain old asshole?

“You see, each culture carries their own diseases. That’s what killed the Indians you know, it was diseases”

“And the Gatling gun” I say dryly.

“That too. Say, I forgot to get some motor oil, where is it?”

I point him towards the back left hand corner of the store. The hopped up Irish lady offers to watch his cart and keep his place in line.

“No thanks” he says, “You never know, I might have a stroke” and walks off with his cart, never to be seen again. Perhaps he really did have a stroke

Next time I decide to go to Walmart at midnight, remind me to stay home.

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