AMERICUS, Georgia — Just in case I show up on one of those “People of Wal-Mart” videos or something, allow me to explain myself. (I’ll be the guy not wearing pajamas, by the way.)
My mom had her heart set on a little electric lawnmower that was available at a place called Wal-Mart. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. Like most folks, I try to avoid that store as much as possible, but this little sucker was clearance-priced at $156. Even for an electric lawnmower that’s just a small step above toys like that kid’s mower that blows bubbles, that was a pretty decent price.
So, I took her to Wal-Mart today and parked right outside the garden center. The gates were open! We walked up, and two ladies were standing there in blue garb. One said, “Hello.”
Well, there’s a positive sign! A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, Wal-Mart used to have these folks called “greeters.” Many people made fun of them, but their job was to, well, greet you. They were nice. Now, Wal-Mart usually has scowlers who glare at you when you walk in and then eyeball you and your receipt as you leave because you look a little shady. (You made a conscious decision to go to Wal-Mart, after all, so you’re clearly a suspicious character.)
I replied, “Hello! Beautiful summer day, ain’t it?!” (Yes, I know it’s spring, but it was 88 degrees. I call it mild hyperbole. Alanis Morrisette would call it “ironic.” Don’t ya think?)
This was going to be a lovely experience. I was going to have to take back every bad thing I ever said about this fine establishment.
And, boom! There it was right inside the doors, right behind a $156 clearance sign. How convenient! And it was right next to the two garden center cash registers. Sweet! The boxes were stacked on a shelf about 9 feet high. All I needed was for a blue-garbed human to help.
“Excuse me,” I asked a blue-garbed lady. “Is there any way I can get someone to get this lawnmower for me?”
She looked at me as if I just told her I needed a sledgehammer to beat a squirrel to death.
“Oh, I’m just vendor. I’m not a Wal-Mart employee.”
Fair enough. I wasn’t really sure what that meant. But she had all the communications equipment one would need to summon someone at the store to come help. She reluctantly agreed. She whispered into her phone. I couldn’t make out exactly what she said, but it was either “Can someone get a box down in the garden center?” or “I can already tell I’m going to need backup with this nutjob.” I’m not good at reading lips.
No one came. I told Mom to stay there while I marched off — way off — to the customer service desk. There was no line, just two ladies standing there. They gave each other the “Oh, great, I bet this idiot wants something” look.
“Could I get someone to help me get a box down in the garden center?”
I could tell from their reaction that (1) no Wal-Mart customer had ever needed a box retrieved from a shelf and (2) they hated to be the first to encounter one. Yet, they got on the store’s public address system and asked for an employee to help a customer in the garden center. At last, progress.
Except no one came. Again. Oh, and did I mention I’m on my lunch break? Now, I’m beginning to get a wee bit grumpy — or as my old newspaper boss Pork Chop used to call me when I was tense, Mr. Grumpy Pants. Then, one of the first two ladies told me that she was getting “a cart guy.’ Either this was a man with wheels for legs or he was bringing a cart.
The fella was about 6-foot-4. He could dang near reach up and grab the box and pull it out. He looked at it, shook his head a couple of times and then kind of stared off into space. I could tell this was his first encounter with a box.
“I’ve only been here two months,” he explained. “I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do.”
“Well, I’ve got an idea. How about you grab the box, pull the box, and you and I will put it on this cash register and I’ll pay for it?”
He looked at me as if I’d lost my mind. What was this?, he must’ve wondered, some kind of store or something?!
Then, I noticed a large ladder in the corner of the garden center.
“Well, I’ll tell you what I’m going to do,” I said. “I’m going to get that ladder and bring it over here.”
The fella looked at me like I’d had just came up with a plan for Mideast peace. This guy is a genius, he thought.
So, I got their ladder and carried it, by myself, to their shelf so we could proceed with the unusual process of buying something. I got the ladder in place. He froze. How does this machine even work?! So, I climbed up their ladder myself and grabbed their box from their shelf.
“You feeling strong?” I asked him from the top of their ladder.
“Well, good, because here it comes.”
I slid the box, and he caught one end while I caught the other while dangling from the ladder like an orangutan. Together, we walked it the 8 whole feet to the cash register that was aglow with green lights, meaning that it was checkout time!
“Oh, you can’t check out here,” one of the standing ladies told me.
“Well, of course not,” I said. “Why would I think that?”
“You’ll have to take it up front.”
This is when the cart guy finally sprung into action!
“I’ll get a cart,” he said.
Ah, well, he is the cart guy, I thought. Makes sense now. This is an activity right in his wheelhouse … so to speak. We put the box on top of the cart. And he said bye. Probably needs a vacation now after two months of work and a box encounter.
I rolled it up front, and, of course, only the self-checkouts were an option. No problem. I’d just scan it and finally be on my way. I scanned it. Nope. Now it wants a “serial number.” There’s about 27 different bar codes on this sucker, and a few of them have numbers. I try this number. I try that number. Nope, it doesn’t like those. I ask for help from the lady who job it is to watch customers check themselves out and occasionally provide a helpful eye roll.
She scans a few things, tries some numbers, and, finally, it registers! It’s time to buy a lawnmower! And … it rings up a couple hundred bucks over the clearance price. I’ve had it. The lady says something about how I can take it back to the garden center and …
“NO! I’M DONE! I HAD TO GET THIS DOWN MYSELF WHILE EVERYONE STOOD AROUND AND WATCHED! MAYBE Y’ALL CAN FIGURE OUT HOW TO PUT IT BACK!”
I stormed out. Well, at least that was over! Right, Mom. Mom? Where’d you go, Mom?
I’m outside the store and see Mom standing there talking to the lady who watched people check out! So, I stormed back in. Few things are worse than having a storm-IN right after a high-quality storm-OUT! But I did.
By this point, some manager or assistant manager type was there to scoop up the remaining oxygen in the store with his mouth agape while other shoppers eagerly awaited what I was going to say next. I could feel them reaching for their cell phones as I began yelling and waving my arms like, well, like one of them “People of Wal-Mart.”
“NO!” I yelled. “WHATEVER THEY WANT ME TO DO NOW … NO! THIS IS ALREADY THE HARDEST DAY OF WORK I’VE EVER HAD AT WAL-MART! I’M DONE! D-U-N, DONE!”
As I told my boss about this incident — something my wife refers to as “dropping my basket” when she does something similar — when I got back to work, this could get us some good attention because I had the foresight to wear a shirt with our logo on it.
“Hey, any publicity is good publicity,” I assured him.
I don’t intend to go back into the Americus Wal-Mart, which, of course, pretty much assures that I’ll have some emergency need soon for some item there. Unfortunately, I suspect I might be banished from Wal-Mart much the way Everett McGill was banished from Woolworth in the movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” after fightin’ with Vernon Waldrup. And my question is pretty much what Delmar asked him later:
“Was it the one branch or all of ‘em?”
So, if you try to do the self-checkout at the Americus Wal-Mart and there’s a shopping cart with a lawnmower in your way, it’s because they’re probably still trying to figure out what to do with it.
And good help — or a “cart guy” — is hard to find when you need it.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m tired. I feel like I’ve been hit by a train. And lots of respectable people have been hit by trains.