I REMEMBER, being in a Wal-Mart once as a young man. I was browsing the juice and supplement section, and thinking on the merits of apple juice juxtaposed against those of grapefruit. Grapefruit juice, I reasoned, would have more juice naturally, being as the grapefruit itself is a more liquid filled fruit. Apples would need to be waterlogged and smashed in order to bring out any juice like qualities of the naturally arid orb. Perhaps in regions other than Oregon, (my home at the time), the apple would be a more wholesome and watery thing, but as I’ve said, I was in an Oregon Wal-Mart and there was little hope for such a thing.
Turning from the steel shelves stacked with plastic bottles, I raised my eyes from the caloric and nutritional chart to the sound of a humming engine, wheels, rubber, squeaking on a linoleum floor. Expecting to see one of those uniquely sluggish Wal-Martian carts, I was surprised to see the floor empty but for a few slim and conscientious young men and women. “Europeans,” I hazarded a guess, and fell back into my reading.
Alas, the groaning whine continued, and I began to speculate. “Some pallet jack steering man?” No, it could not be. “A carnival manager carting a wild animal across the floor in search of some specialty item?” But no, these guessings amounted to nought. My imagination continued to reel and it was only when I finally decided to abandon my chosen bottle of Minute Maid that my curiosity was whetted.
I walked onto the main floor and gazed towards the back. A mountain, a mountain I say, of Slimfast. Fifteen cases or more, and that is to say seventy-four boxes in the least of weight loss supplement, stacked into the basket of a motorized cart. This cart, so overburdened, concealed its pilot, and, not wanting to be the kind of nose who would walk brazenly up to some likely self conscious patron, I waited for the thing to pass.
Eventually, time snatching precious moments of my youth away, the cart came to my side, and I caught a glimpse of the driver. I would describe him thusly, and expect the reader to understand that my descriptions have been wrought out of neither malice nor spite, but in search of accuracy, plain speech is frankly inadequate.
Fold upon fold down a nonexistent chin, cascading down onto a padded chest. I deduced at the time that this large mountain of a man frequented Wal-Mart regularly, as his shirt could be seen in the clothing section not a yard away from the juice section. Teeth rounded and nearly useless, why I do not know. Eyes lost in deep thought and contemplation – or I would think so, for they were obviously not engrossed in the task at hand, but rather dull and bored, as those of a toddler unsatisfied.
As the cart passed, I began in a steady pace to catch up with the man and his trundling cart. As I gained on him, my hand outstretched made contact with an eminently warm and boneless stretch of his shoulder and seemingly made no impact upon his burdened nervous system. Not content to merely attempt speaking to him, I turned my back to the way ahead, and began walking backwards at a fervent pace.
“Sir! Sir!” I spoke in a fever pitch of expectation. I neither knew nor cared how he would see past the pile of slim fast before him, and actually assumed that he navigated through the superstore by a feat of familiarity alone.
He looked as if he had awoke from some long slumber, and regarded me with those dull and distant eyes. “Yes, yes…”
“Are you trying to lose weight?”
His brow furrowed. “No, why would you think that?“
“Well,” I said, the picture of a curious youth, “you seem to be poised to purchase no small quantity of a weight loss supplement, and -” I regarded him up and down, carelessly – “You are driving a cart that is, from the purpose intended, for overweight or crippled persons.”
At this point there was a marked and deliberate change in his expression. His face twisted into what seemed a vortex of membranous mass, and I, being somewhat studied in biology at the time, likened it to an octopus extending its beak towards some fish or crab on the seafloor. I felt a twinge of empathy that in no way impeded my curious task.
He spoke again, “I drive this cart because I like it, not because I am crippled; and, alas, I dine on slim fast purely for pleasure.”
This surprised me somewhat, and I said in confrontation “but these carts are meant for the crippled and unable; do you not understand the impediment your enjoyment might force on a thusly crippled person?” He then said something that haunts me to this day, He said,
Before my eyes could narrow in confusion, before I could contemplate the immediate prophecy uttered, I tripped and fell over a shelf of skin care products – my spine cracking on the hard floor and my legs spasming harshly as some passerby looked on.
What followed was an unrivaled tale of sorrow and hopelessness. Chiropractors, Ph.D. wielding white coats, doctors of the highest caliber, CAT scans, psychics and philosophers, I tried everything, even the most vain attempts at spiritual enlightenment and mind over matter quackery failed to return my legs to their prior condition. Days passed along in a mauve colored daydream of McDonald’s and pity, and even when, in some cruel twist of fate my legs returned to use, my spirit remained crippled.
I began roaming and roving through Wal-Mart, wondering at how it all went wrong. The juice bottles and their contents no longer remained as a question of value or nutrition, but instead persisted as a reminder of that moment when I lost all – my pedalism, my self respect – and at times I wished I had simply bought a bottle of apple juice, leaving then with a lesser juice and my dignity intact.
I found comfort in the gentle humour of the Wal-Mart brand t-shirts categorized neatly on the shelves, jokes emblazoned with smiling yellow faces and comic book heroes. I fancied myself as someone who might have been a Wolverine, a Spider Man, and thought myself a divine and original prankster by wearing a shirt that said “why are you reading my shirt” in extremely small and tedious print.
In Slimfast I found a creamy beveridge capable of enlivening me with dreams of civilization. I fantasized of rejoining the ranks of intellectuals and young narcissists, a slim debutante capable of witticisms such as “Eldridge, my dear” or, “charming way to say.” I began to up my consumption, however, one bottle at a time. One turned into two, two turned to four, four turned into a case, and at last I found that I was buying too many to carry in a standard Wal-Mart cart.
My musculature system, weakened in all but the least executive of functions, was unable to handle those burdens of the upper body so necessary to standing up. I sought a way to facilitate my habit in a quick and efficient manner.
I wore a hat at first, pulling it down over my eyes and balding pate in order to conceal my shame. I had begun to drive a motorized cart, losing all moral compass and caring not what cripple may be barred from his shopping ease. I found the cart more than efficient at transporting my slimming drought from the shelf and to the counter. My friend – the manager – would load them into my van.
Lost, I began to travel the Wal-Mart like a bat – able to see without vision, the development of my habit spurring the development of a sense that I can only refer to as third sight. I could see by the sounds echoed from the shelves, emitted from the wheels of my motorized cart. One day, whilst in the midst of thought and navigation, a young man began to walk by my chariot with all the brightness of youth that I had once coveted. He spoke with the galoss of an ambitious collegiate –
I was woken from my slumber with a recognition of the respect I had once deserved, and regarded him with my most fanciful of thoughtless expressions. I spoke as I would imagine an aloof professor might, and said –
“Are you trying to lose weight?”
Not quite aware of the deceit in his tone, I probed as to his question, tried to discern the intent from those cruel words. I asked, “No, why would you think that?”
“Well,” He said, falling back on his analytical young mind, “you seem to be poised to purchase no small quantity of a weight loss supplement, and, you are driving a cart intended for crippled or overweight persons.”
My anger ceased to be controlled, my guise of complacency regarding my own helpless situation became apparent, I am sure, to this arrogant young mind. I sought to show him my former glory through the expression of my face; and by his own expression, one of fear and cowardice, I am sure he understood.
I proceeded to give him a good what for, told him exactly why I drove my chosen cart and explained to him that my taste for slim fast went beyond any mere fantasy of thinness. I lost my shame and in that moment, and realized a courage in myself previously forgotten and extinguished.
He then attempted to deride me for my pleasures, not understanding them as the luxuries afforded to me by the Wal-Mart organization for my steady and illustrious patronage. He said, “But these carts are meant for the crippled and unable; do you not understand the impediment your enjoyment might force on a thusly crippled person?”
With my third vision so acutely trained, I knew what his silly eyes could not see; an island of skin care products directly behind him and his cocky legs. An inward smile blossomed that I have doubtlessly realized he was unable to understand – one of the many advantages of being a Darwinian man in the forest of Wal-Mart.
Being in the know as to his fate, I laughingly said, “Like you?”
His spine undoubtedly cracked that day, for I saw the store brightly through the sounds of shattering bone. I continue now to live as I am, though I have migrated to a Wal-Mart so vast as to be incomparable to any other – where the apples and grapefruit alike are dry, but the Slimfast runs smooth and sweet.
Rosco Blaine wrote this story in a truck stop, and lives for the thrill of forgetfulness.