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So It Goes

Bulk-Shopping Madness
by Jason Love


April 08, 2005

I'm not big on corporate superstores. They're as good for mankind as Olean was for our intestines. And they turn open fields into parking lots, which never seem to grow back into fields again. Worst of all, they're sucking the provincial charm out of America. No matter where you turn these days, it's the same thing: Wal Mart, Toys R Us, Big Five, Wells Fargo.

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So I was somewhere this side of jubilant when they built a bulk discount store near my home. I waged a private boycott against the store until last week, when I was given a membership by a friend. Yes, darling, this store is for members only. My friend said that I could save big bucks on my coffee addiction, so I went.

I flashed my card to the gatekeeper and entered this tremendously, impossibly gargantuan arsenal of a store. It was the mother of all superstores, the apple in the eye of Corporate America.

Gazing at the surplus of surplus, I reached for a megabox to keep from reeling. There were computers and clothes and food and furniture and drugs and meat and office supplies -- all in bundles of 50. Should war break out, one could live here for years without having to smell the smoke. Stacked to the ceiling was everything I could ever need as a yuppie.

Sure, it sounds like Fantasy Island, but there's a catch: people.

I hesitate to call them people because something inhuman happens when shoppers pass the gatekeeper at a superstore. Their eyes glaze over and they enter a bulk-buying frenzy. Their arms raise involuntarily as they march toward the merchandise: Consume... Consume...

As I made my way to the coffee, people passed me by like they were shopping on stolen time. I occupied three square feet of space and managed to get in everybody's way. A little old lady bumped me with her shopping cart and gave me the finger when I said excuse me. Little kids were being dragged by their hair through the aisles, pointing at the items they wanted. So it goes.

There was an angry buzz in the air that you couldn't detect until you were outside again. There was so much stuff that people fell into delirium, a bulk-shopping madness. When customers got too close to each other, they grew agitated and eyed each other's merchandise to make sure they hadn't missed anything. What if they reached at the same time for the last widget? And it was on sale! And the world ran out of that item like during the Tickle Me Elmo Fiasco of '99...

People kept piling stuff into their baskets, into their lives, on top of their other stuff. It was an all-you-can-buy free-for-all to meet unfulfilled needs, real and imaginary. See that case of Snickers over there... it's HUGE! We could live like kings on that kind of chocolate. And did you see that deal on the crate of suppositories...

It was all I could do grab my coffee and get the hell out.

At the checkout stands, the madness came full circle. All the discomfited shoppers had to stand right there beside each other, guarding their stuff. People were still breathing heavy and wearing the cockeyed expression of those who had just finished looting and only needed to pay for it.

I stepped up behind a woman who looked as if she had already eaten her lifetime's supply of Snickers. She gave me a look to say that she was in front and would take her sweet time checking out. Others regarded me with my lonely bag of coffee as if to ask, "Is that the best you could do, worm?" I flipped through a TV Guide until I realized that they only sold 5-year subscriptions.

After buying my coffee, I moved to the next line -- the one to get out of the store. I moooooved over, and man, it was like trying to cross the border in Tijuana on a Sunday morning. Children kept coming up and trying to sell me bulk Chiclets.

When I reached the sunlight, I turned around for one last glimpse into our new megastore. People continued to shop competitively, stuffing bargains into their carts to fill a void they didn't recognize. Perhaps we're aroused by an underlying fear of future deprivation, an impulse to get it all in before we exhaust our resources or produce so many children that its starving room only.

A breeze wafted up from the neighboring lot, a cemetery that has been here longer than most of us. It was a subtle reminder that the only stuff we get to keep are a few bouquets and everything money can't buy.

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Copyright 2005 Jason Love
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