The Walmart Syndrome and kitchen anthropology ~

Today I went to Bed Bath & Beyond to buy an apple corer. I left with seventy-two dollars’ worth of stuff. After doing a double-take at the checkout counter, I finally accepted something I knew all along was true: Part 2 of The Walmart Syndrome applies to more than just Walmart.

The Walmart Syndrome comprises (1) enervation and (2) mission creep. Enervation, in my case, is a simple equation. Upon walking through the doors of a Walmart, I feel a slight malaise take hold. By minute 10, my feet hurt. By minute 20, my legs hurt. By minute 30, if not before, profound fatigue sets in, as well as an encroaching feeling of hopelessness at the state of humanity. And at minute 45 (god forbid, but Walmart trips can last this long if you must venture into the women’s clothing section), my blood sugar plummets. If screaming children are involved at any point in this journey, add a headache caused by my neuronal pathways twisting into aberrant shapes.

I expect enervation, but mission creep is more pernicious because I persist in believing I can avoid it, at least this one time. This belief flies in the face of all evidence. Last week, for instance, I discovered that I simply could not avoid a Walmart trip for four items not available at my local Walgreens. When I checked out, I couldn’t use the 20-item express lane because my cart was too full. (This is embarrassing to admit, but when I began this blog my life became an open book.)

For many people (and believe me, I’ve asked), mission creep appears to be inevitable. I’m sure Walmart counts on this. As I wrestle my cart through the too-narrow aisles, I can’t help but notice things that I need to stock up on but failed to put on my list. So mission creep has some value, because it helps reduce the frequency of Walmart trips and thus adds a token amount to what little peace and harmony remains in the world. I rejoice that I can usually get by with one Walmart trip a month. Still, the sheer scale of mission creep always shocks me. In that connection, I’ve learned to accept certain purchasing oddities. For example, I always think I’m almost out of business-size envelopes, so now I have three boxes in my desk; and I can’t explain why I have several bottles of Motrin. Well, maybe I can: Reaching for painkillers may simply be a natural reaction to being inside a Walmart.

Other aspects of mission creep distress me more; somehow I just end up with stuff, no matter how much I try to guard against it. In my case a lot of this stuff gets returned. There’s a rationale for all of it (new pillows for my new couch, although I wasn’t sure they’d be quite right, and they weren’t; leggings for physical therapy that I knew perfectly well would not fit, but I had to try). The next day, back went the pillows and the leggings.

Today, in Bed Bath & Beyond (aka B3), I was happy to finally find a comfortable reacher (I’ve been looking for one for months). I also recently discovered that I have a distressingly pressing need for some kind of vacuum attachment to clean out my dryer duct, which is lined with an entrenched, thickly matted layer of dog hair and lint. I found such an attachment at B3, and I figure that purchase was justifiable since it may keep my house from burning down. A little black wedge halfway between the texture of sponge and pumice promised to pick up dog hair, so I gambled on that, a foolish mistake since it will probably be uncleanable.

Finally, I bought a small vegetable chopper. Despite the condition of my wrists, which are permanently weakened from years of tendinitis, I can’t justify this at all. I mean, you first have to cut the vegetables in chunks to put them in the chopper for finer cutting, and then afterward you have to clean the chopper, a device with (presumably) sharp blades. Why not just do all the cutting with a knife and throw away the chopper? This purchase will probably be returned along with the apple corer, which I have no actual expectation of working.

As I was perusing B3’s kitchen section, I became aware of a whole utensil world most of which was heretofore unknown to me. Exploring the racks made me feel like an anthropologist parsing a tribe to which I did not belong. If a person bought all of these specialized utensils, it would take longer to find the one you wanted than to simply hack away randomly with a dull knife at your fruits, vegetables, cheeses, etc., which is the way I deal with most non-boxed-food for my own personal consumption.

After noticing the abundance of these utensils, I got out my iPhone and made a voice memo so I’d remember all of them for this post. Then I decided: Instead of transcribing the memo, which would lose something thereby, I’d just post it here. I thought this would be easy. This assumption goes under the burgeoning category “I Never Learn.” I apologize for this sound clip being three minutes long, but I haven’t yet figured out how to edit voice memos. In the past hour, however, I have learned how to get a voice memo onto my computer, convert it into an mp3 file, and open a SoundCloud account to post the damn thing, which requires a URL in WordPress. That was more than enough agony for one night, so if you listen to the end I’ll be your friend forever, like it or not.

This is the first time my voice has made an appearance (yes, a deliberately inappropriate word choice! revel in it!) on the Internet. Send me enough money and I promise it’ll be the last time.

On spirit animals ~

A few weeks ago I watched an Internet video of a sloth crossing a road with agonizing, preternatural slowness, and it suddenly hit me: The sloth is my spirit animal.

I conceived of it as a Steven-Wright–type joke:
“I found out that the sloth is my spirit animal, but I’ve been kinda slow telling people.”

This seemed hilarious to me, although only a couple of people on my Facebook page seemed to appreciate it. But the incident got me to thinking about the whole issue of spirit animals, which certainly seems to fall into the category of cultural appropriation by Caucasian New Agers of a Native American concept. But that’s a matter for anthropologists or activists.

What interests me is that only certain animals seem to be candidates for spirit animals. You never hear anyone claim the echidna as her spirit animal, for example. I can imagine the reaction these would get in a standup comedy routine:

“My spirit animal is a naked mole rat.”

“A platypus.”

“A turkey vulture.”

“A grub.”

No, it’s always a beautiful or strong or otherwise majestic mammal or bird. Eagles. Horses. Bears. Lions. Perhaps some inventive person somewhere has tabbed the Luna moth or the chameleon, but if so, I haven’t heard about it.

And after all, what would be wrong with an amphibian or reptile, an insect or crustacean? They have admirable qualities. Couldn’t your spirit animal be a jellyfish or a brittle sea star? How about a sea cucumber? The octopus is an extremely intelligent creature for an invertebrate; I’d be honored to have an octopus as my spirit animal.

It just isn’t done.

It subsequently occurred to me that, in my case at least, one spirit animal is not enough to cover the territory. I can’t deny that I have sloth-like tendencies. But on other occasions my spirit animal seems to be the little larva inside a Mexican jumping bean that makes the jumping bean jump (a purposeful thing: it’s trying to move the bean to a cooler place; but it looks erratic). Other times, my spirit animal seems to be a termite colony. I figure it can’t be a termite, singular, because a single termite can’t really do squat; the colony acts like one huge Borg-like organism. So when I’m working hard and my brain is brimming with activity, my spirit animal is the termite colony. I seldom have days any more when I feel pretty, but if I did, on that day my spirit animal would be a leafy sea dragon.

When you think about it, all sorts of possibilities seem plausible. This could be a new party game: What spirit animal fits a given celebrity? Donald Trump’s spirit animal is the crocodile, I think, and Mike Huckabee’s appears to be some type of pit viper. The Kardashians (and I still don’t really understand who they are, nor do I wish to) collectively seem to be a horde of mosquitoes, constantly whining away on the media.

So much potential unexplored! The concept of a spirit animal, I think, has a lot of life left in it.

God in the checkout lane ~

In case anyone’s interested in making a pilgrimage, God is currently working as a checker at Schnucks grocery store in Carbondale.

I don’t know his full schedule, but he definitely works Tuesday afternoons. He is older, tall, and African-American, which is germane because he has a rich baritone (or bass?) voice with a timbre I’ve only heard in black men’s voices.

This man sounds more like God than Morgan Freeman does. The first time I met him I didn’t realize he was God. I asked him if he was a singer. Naturally, he is.

Yesterday I met him again. As I was taking my receipt he said, “Now don’t mess up that hair.” I thought he was being sarcastic. My hair was dirty. I was tired and sweating. Even my hair was sweating. “It’s already messed up,” I said. “Naw, it looks good,” he said. “Now don’t mess it up, hear.”

If I could have leaned across the checkout counter I might have kissed him. People simply don’t say this kind of thing to me. Ever. It made my day. Absurdly, I heard myself say, “I’ll try not to.”

If only he’d given me my marching orders when my hair was clean, I could have tried to comply. Really, I could have.  But…I had to wash my hair eventually. Right? So I did. Now it resembles one of the Monkees’ hairstyles, only not cute. Kind of smooth and spherical.

The next time I go to Schnuck’s I’m going to have to avoid God’s checkout lane. I can’t bear to hear a reprimand in a voice more authoritative than Morgan Freeman’s.

What is all this stuff? ~

In giving my nightstand and bathroom cabinets a thorough clean-out tonight, I’ve made some interesting discoveries. For example, I’m relieved to know that I need not fear death by a thousand cuts—at least not if I’m at home—because I own more boxes of Band-Aids than a small hospital, or even a pre-school. I have them in all sizes and shapes, too. Why I own so many Band-Aids is a mystery. I just now opened one whose wrapper was so old it was virtually transparent, and guess what? The adhesive still works.

My Band-Aids will outlive me. What a legacy.

Upon reading the fine print on a never-used bottle of lemon eucalyptus mosquito repellent, I discovered that this benign-sounding concoction is only slightly less alarming than nuclear waste. Warnings abound. Do not so much as wave the box containing the bottle of repellent anywhere in the vicinity of a small child. (I’m paraphrasing.) Wash your hands before, during, and after use; wipe all of the repellent off your arms and legs after you come inside; dispose of any unused repellent at a hazardous waste collection site. (The same place I’ll have to ditch the mercury thermometer I was unaware I still owned.) Could the warnings on a can of Deep-Woods Off be any more dire? Lemon eucalyptus sounds so harmless, but can you say “volatile organic compounds”? No, plants are not always our friends. They gave us aspirin, but they also gave us hemlock. Remember that.

I’ve been picking at this Band-Aid for the last several minutes while I’ve been typing and the damn thing won’t come off. Ouch. There. Do some adhesives actually get stronger with age?

(Regarding mercury thermometers: Really, you don’t want to mess with these. When I was in college, I broke one while trying to shake it down. Hundreds of tiny mercury globules buried themselves amongst my blankets and rolled across the floor. I was aghast. After much labor I corralled them all in a dustpan or something and then disposed of them. But how? I DON’T REMEMBER. There were no hazardous waste collection days back then. Heaven help me, I may have committed water pollution by mercury. Surpassing my astonishment that so many droplets could come out of one thermometer was my fear that I’d die within the week from mercury poisoning. I was an accomplished hypochondriac in those days.)

Beyond the usual collection of expired stuff, I’ve found other oddities. There is, for example, a single condom, which seems to reflect a lack of ambition on my part. It looks lonely; perhaps it’s longing for its natural habitat, a teenage boy’s ratty wallet. It’s hard to tell how old this condom might be, since its packet bears no expiration date. It certainly is nowhere near its prime, but then neither am I. Both of us have outlived our original raisons d’être, I suspect.

I did find an expiration date on my bottle of Chigger-Rid, but I’m not falling for it. Chigger-Rid can’t possibly lose its potency. I mean, it’s basically nail polish sans the truly toxic ingredients, like toluene. No way am I getting rid of Chigger-Rid. It’s worth its weight in gold, and you can’t count on finding it in stock when you’re itching so badly you’d knock over a child on crutches to procure a bottle. You’ve got to have this stuff ready to go as soon as the misery of a chigger bite begins to dig its way into your consciousness. If you wait, you’re courting insanity. (For more on chiggers, see Calvin Trillin’s many anti-chigger screeds, but also this article with a superb double lead I wish I’d written.)

In going through my travel bag I rediscovered a little plastic digital travel clock/alarm that I’ve owned for at least 30 years and that I used on many, many vacations. The display is still working, and working accurately. Yet I know for a fact that I’ve never replaced the battery, which is a Sharp. From what I can tell online, Sharp doesn’t make AAA batteries any more, but if I ever see any, I’m stocking up. (Although my diligent little alarm will never be famous, it puts me in mind of the famous Livermore Light Bulb, the world’s longest-lasting, which has been burning for 113 years and has its own guestbook, website, and webcam.)

Speaking of light bulbs, I found in my nightstand drawer something that I cannot fathom. It’s a cardboard rectangle with a little blister pack containing two tiny things. Each of the tiny things resembles four minuscule beads stacked atop a metal prong. Apparently they’re the world’s tiniest light bulbs, for the cardboard says “2 Bonus Lamps.” It seems quite confident about this. The packaging, which bears only the logo of the American Red Cross, assures me “Belt Holster Included” and “Emergency Preparedness Checklist Enclosed.” Naturally, I found neither a belt holster, nor an emergency preparedness checklist, nor anything into which one would conceivably insert such tiny bulbs (including a belt; indeed, the promise of a belt holster would seem to presume the existence of a belt, but for what?). If anyone can shed some light—a very, very small bit of light will do—on what these bulbs might be for, please let me know. They’re haunting me, and I feel terribly unprepared.