Sunday, September 11, 2011

Batman, Pink Underwear, and The End of Everything.

I like to think most Walmart stories have a happy ending.

On the way to work this morning I found myself behind a Ford 150 truck that had "Vote NoBama" and "Choose Rick Scott" stickers. As I'm following behind him, he runs through a puddle, heedlessly splashing a fourth grade girl who was walking to school. At first I thought, "You asshole."  But then I paused to reflect, and further thought, "Well, at least you're demonstrating the strength of your convictions."

I hear snippets from the teachers.  A student stuck a crayon in their ear and proceeded to color their inner ear blue.  In another class that was previously a sauna, they came to fix the system and it’s now growing progressively colder.  Students peek out from turtle shells of shirts, heads and arms withdrawn.  As apparently it can’t immediately be fixed, and will only grow colder, the teacher sent home notes asking for sweaters, jackets, parkas, and possible snow shoes.  Also in this class, twenty-four students engage in elated farting parties, or while in line, hold hands and jump up and down in down in gleeful circles.  No one’s really sure yet what school is about, other than breaking wind, experiencing frost-bite, and that when the maestro speaks strange words in English and gestures, she must be signaling a fiesta.  She signals a lot of fiestas.

After work I spoke with a friend who I haven’t heard from in a while.  During this conversation the visuals in my head were going off like fireworks after closing time at Disney.  I’m not even sure what to start with.  She’s a guidance counselor at an elementary school, and this one conversation encapsulated Walmart scooter fights between elderly, heavy-set married couples, the future of American society, and an inadvertent hot-pink undergarment flashing.  All in all it was a pretty image-filled conversation.  In said order:

She recently moved near a Walmart, and finds herself frequenting the place much more often than she should like, and not half as long as she should desire to like.  Thanks to, many are familiar with the joys of Walmart people-watching.  Really, anyone who has ever set foot in this magical realm has formed a special place in their heart for its traditional charm and pull. You can’t but seem to want to go local once you enter its sacred halls.  Shun those shoes, roll those cigarette cases in yon sleeves, wear those leotards and moo-moos, it’s Walmart!  Everything’s magical at Walmart.  Are you drunk, high, currently ODing, or running from the law?  Walmart!  Do you suffer chronic itch, a sense of fashion not legal in the eighties, or have no sense of actual body weight?  Walmart!  Do you live in a trailer, possess sixteen children, and your wife can beat you at horseshoes and arm-wrestling?  Walmart!  It’s the magical place to be! 

In an attempt to go native, I have no less than three times dressed in costume to better study these indigenous shoppers.  Once I arrived decked in full eighties gear – chains, tight black ladies’ jeans, cut-off jean jacket, studded red fingerless gloves, cow-bell earring.  On this particular occasion I was teaching high school, and saw a student with her parents enter.  I hastily spun my back around, but was informed by my companions as the parents did a double-take, stared at my visage, and walked backwards into the door.  Sorry, parents.  Another time I walked in with midriff Eyore shirt, blue-flamed board shorts, pink headband over a white man’s fro, and a superman cape.  I was just trying to be unremarkable.
I need a quarter!  You! Random Homeless man! Spare some change?
And last I entered in a red jumpsuit complete with American jacket, sunglasses, and bike helmet.  My favorite bit from this, besides posing for dare-devil pictures on a tricycle, was driving back with two friends, the driver in a Batman suit, and being pulled over.

Batman, who nailed the outfit so completely a kid had previously asked for his autograph, sat calmly in his regalia, facing forward, until the cop approached.  When the cop stepped up to the window, he lowered the window with a touch, turned abruptly, and asked in a darkly husky voice, “What seems to be the problem, officer?”
I come in Fun Size!

So much for my history with Walmart.  Now on to the conversation.  My friend has noted that she cannot seem to step foot inside without witnessing a fight amongst couples.  But her last trip took the cake, ate it, and then still tried to return it for store credit.  Walmart accepted.  There was a couple, both equally elderly, equally overweight, and equally struggling for supremacy on their shopping scooters.  My friend’s not certain as to what caused the altercation.  She only stood witness to its result.  Perhaps there was some couponed item left behind.  Or mayhap the old man had made a snide comment on aisle eight.  Or he had turned a deaf ear to her wishes for a nice chicken pot-pie dinner for once.

Whatever the cause, the old man in his scooter was waiting in line, when his wife came scooter charging towards him, yelling her pain, and crashing her scooter into his own, forcing him away from the line.  There was much shouting, and a slight scooter war unfolded.  In my mind it involved long, slow charges incorporating cue sticks as lances.  The wife won, to no one’s surprise, but the thought of a scooter war between elderly, overweight, locals immediately brought me back to college, where we once decided it most prudent to have a bike jousting in our overly-long hallway.  Though the pool sticks that were used in this endeavor were most probably not in our wisest of choices, the inference and background knowledge it lent to this story is most appreciated.  And to these wizened warriors I advise them, even if you are wearing two thick sweaters, your ribs will still hurt in the morning. 
This is my roommate Mark from college. He's wiry but fierce.

My counselor friend then uttered the prophetic warning that America will end in Walmart.  There is a multitude of ways to look at this, and I invite you to find your own.  I fear the truth of it.  More, I fear Walmart.  There was a night, in particular, that I condescended to frequent this store though I had no local attire.  It was midnight.  This particular store, though I didn’t know it at the time, was under  reconstruction.  More than half of it was emptied and blocked off with wooden blockades, while the entirety of the store was constrained to its central.

Walking around a Walmart at midnight, which was completely emptied at its edges, gave one a complete, utter, and terrifying sense of pure entropy.  This is what the end of America will look like.  An empty Walmart at midnight. 

And as to education?  Well, my friend, step right up, and watch Walmart slash those demands!  Two years ago I experienced a concerned parent telling me at the beginning of the year that she had heard that it didn’t really matter how her child did in Kindergarten, that he would be passed on regardless.  Guess what?  She’s right!  We’re slashing expectations!  We have a new progress report online to experiment with this year.  There are absolutely zero comments that we can type in which would indicate to a parent that their child needs to work on a subject or behavior.  We’re slashing expectations!  The amount of work for the teacher is on the rise, and they’re being judged, but every student gets a happy face!  We might be tripling expectations upon the profession of teaching, and channeling pay based on student test results, but guess what!  We’re slashing teacher’s pay and slashing student expectations!  Everyone passes, and everyone’s doing just fine!  This is more elementary based at the moment, but it’s starting to entrench into middle, high, and college.  We’re putting out a baseline and expecting everyone to fall in suit, and if they don’t make it, why, send them on, anyway!  What’s that, you say?  Johnny’s hitting Sue and Brenda’s sniffing glue?  Steve has bitten Mike and Matthew didn’t learn to write?  Send them on, anyway!  We’ll expect the best from teachers, and pay them next to nil, make them teach sixteen hours a day, but if a student doesn’t make the cut, send them on, anyway!
But perhaps this is too harsh, to cold and drab a picture of our future.  Perhaps we need some brightness in our lives.  Some neon pink glow on a rainy day to give us heart.  Perhaps even a bright pink with “H-O-T-T” written across it.  And that’s where a guidance counselor comes in.  She’s there to provide whatever support and encouragement we need.  Even if it means an inadvertent hot-pink flashing of her underwear for everyone in the parking lot to see.

My friend was making a phone call to the school board when she realized she had a meeting downtown in thirty minutes that she had forgotten about.  She immediately grabs her stacks of files and rushes to the car.  It was storming heavily along the way.  To the point that the rain was actually coming in sideways.  But then, just as she parks, the clouds give way to the sun.  It’s a good sign.  God must be looking out for the rushed and the weather beaten.  Filled with renewed faith and hope and goodwill, my friend gathers her substantial stack of papers and her Starbucks coffee, and proceeded to hurry through the parking lot.

Let me pause, as she did, and point out that she was wearing a wrap-around dress.  A dress, for the less-informed, that is essentially made up of two parts.  I believe they wrap around.  So as she’s hurrying across the wet pavement, hands full, she makes it to the breezeway just as a gale force wind rushes in, snags part of her dress, and spins it up and over to land affectionately on her shoulder.  Exposing, to the parking lot, her bright pink undies.  And, with a hot cup of coffee, a multitude of papers, and a wet ground, she has no recourse but to keep walking, as her dress magically stays atop her shoulder, defying natural gravity and physics.

After at least a full minute she’s able to rectify the situation, but in the meantime she noticed at least four other people in the school board parking lot.  Fully clothed again, she attempted to ascertain whether anyone bore witness to her cheery good-morning.  Attempting to make eye-contact with one individual and ask them an off-topic question, the person refused eye-contact and blushed.  That would be an affirmative.  Her ‘Good morning!” was heard clear across the parking lot.  Announced all the louder for the “H-O-T-T” in typeface across the back of her knickers.  It may have only been one “T”.  I always feel there’s an acronym out there that I’m not cool enough to know about.  Anyway, here’s to cheerful, hot-pink “Good mornings!”  We salute you.
This is Sue. Sue was very helpful. Thanks, Sue!

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