I was working at a large discount store known for it’s low prices, low wages and low tolerance for union organizing. I was newly separated and needed a part-time job to help with the bills and child support. A job that I could work nights and weekends for the extra cash. Alright, fine, it was Walmart. I don’t tell too many people I worked at a Walmart, but there you go. This was in Syracuse in the early 90’s. I applied to a bunch of places and ended up at Walmart after somehow passing the drug test which is a whole other story.
I started right before the Christmas season and was put to work assembling the Christmas section of the store, and then working that section through the holiday. If you know anything about me you realize how absurd that is. I basically stocked the shelves with all of the Chinese-made cheap inventory, and then throughout my shift picked it up off the floor where Walmart shoppers, aka Walmartians, threw it. They literally just walk through the store throwing items onto the floor. And I would pick it all back up and put it all back on the shelves. Red and green, red and geren. Silver and gold, silver and gold. And the incessant songs. I needed the job, but the whole thing made me nuts, the pointlessness of it, and sheer numbers of people who were there every day, the Walmartians, attacking the store like ants on a candy bar left on the sidewalk in the sun.
When the holiday mercifully ended I was moved into the sporting goods section where one of the things I was responsible for was stocking guns and bullets. If you know anything about me you realize how absurd this is. Camouflage and blaze orange, camouflage and blaze orange. Questions about fishing tackle and weight benches and bullets and all manner of things I know nothing about nor care to. Overhead a man’s voice with a severe speech impediment announced Ladies Night at the Walmart Tire and Lube Express. His L’s came out like W’s. His S’s came out like TH’s. His R’s…well you get it.
I got to know some of my coworkers. One gal I worked with was a kindred spirit. We both viewed our time there as a sociological experiment. That’s how we convinced ourselves to bear it; that we were learning something that someday would be beneficial to us. We would both now be accused, and rightly so, of being part of the liberal elite. I don’t know what became of her, I think she went to massage school or maybe became a reiki practitioner. Another lady I got to know there was the undercover security person. None of us were supposed to realize she was an investigator, employed to keep an eye out for shoplifters. She was there to watch us as much as the Walmartians. We were all suspect. But she was a nice lady who spent her time pretending to shop all day, throwing things on the floor a bit here and there. She did it, I saw her.
They thankfully moved me out of the sporting goods section and into the gardening section as the spring weather approached. This meant I was mostly outside in the cage where plants and lawn mowers and shovels and rakes were kept. This was more to my speed. Now, I really hated this job, don’t get me wrong, but I needed it and I was way too lazy to find another one, so I continued to show up. But I was a judgemental indignant jack-off in general, and especially so at Walmart. I had really begun to loathe myself for working there. My attitude at best was slightly warmer than hostile.
This one beautiful sunny spring day I was out in the cage helping some Walmartian decide which lawn mower to buy. The merchandise was stacked in large boxes near the entry to the store. From where I stood I could see into the store and out into the parking lot through the gate in the cage. I was pulling this large box from the top of the stack when I see a man running full speed toward me. He looked kind of like the store manager. Behind him was the undercover security lady, chasing him at full speed. The man had a duffel bag over his shoulder. As he came into the cage and was about to make the turn to head toward the parking lot It hit me that he was a shoplifter. I pulled that big boxed up lawn mower off its stack and dumped it right in front of him. He jumped over it, awkwardly, and I lunged for him, grabbing his foot and pulling his sneaker off. He stumbled a bit and continued and I had a flash of inspiration that I should tackle him. All at once all the feelings I had for this place, the shitty job, the Walmartians, the self-loathing, the recent separation, all these feelings I had in me found a voice and they screamed at me to tackle this guy and vent it all at him. I could probably get in a few swings while I had him down, maybe twist his arm up behind his back and break it. It would feel so good.
He had a bit of a lead on me, but he was also missing a sneaker. I chased him. We left the cage with me right on his heels. I hadn’t run like this in a few years, back in high school I snapped my ACL, and didn’t have it reconstructed because the small town dipshit doctor who advised and treated me at the time said it wasn’t possible. So for years after, I just didn’t run or do anything remotely more athletic than kick a hacky sack. But I ran after this one-shoed shoplifter with everything I had, and I was gaining on him as we got into the parking lot.
Suddenly a mid-seventies era Dodge Charger screamed toward us. It was blue. It came from my left and was bearing right down on us, like me and the shoplifter and the Charger were all going to run into each other. I reached out for the shoplifter just as he dove into the open passenger window of the car which never stopped moving. I managed to get his other sneaker, as I fell to the ground, barely managing to not get run over by the rear tire of the Charger as it sped off with the target of all my rage. I did however feel a horrible pain in my left knee, the knee with the missing ACL. I lay there on the blacktop holding this one shoe, looking up at the blue sky, listening to the roar of that big Mopar V8 as it sped away. Some other Walmart employees came and stood over me. A couple of them tried helping me up but I was in too much pain to stand. Someone wondered aloud whether police could use the two sneakers to ID the shoplifter.
The store manager came out and ordered everyone back to work. Including me. I told him I couldn’t work, that I couldn’t stand. He said they could give me a stool. I said I’d be leaving. He said I still had a shift to cover, I handed him my nametag. I managed to drive my stick-shift Mazda 323 home even though I couldn’t move my left leg without screaming.
I ended up getting my ACL reconstructed by a wonderful surgeon who was amazed I’d gone 8 or 9 years without one, and it was paid for by Walmart. So I am glad I took that job when I look back on it.