More Than Meets the Eye

A Strong Argument for Internet Shopping

Written by Dan Foster

Movie projects require props, and for the next day's shooting I needed two ski masks. Since it was already after eleven at night, I decided to try Wal-Mart; that fantastic marketplace for all that is wrong with American society.

I found the ski masks fairly quickly. For those curious, they're located at the back end of the men's department. I should say I found a ski mask-only one hung on the gondola (yes, that's what it's called), and it lacked a price tag. I searched a small bin of discount winter clothes and found two more ski masks. Fortunately, one of these small masks had a price tag. Unfortunately, the one with the tag was unraveling. Judging by the size, these last two masks were obviously for children. It'd be tight, but an adult head would fit if enough force was used. I dug through assorted matching hats and mittens for another minute, but found nothing else I could use. Seeing I had no other options but to buy two of these, I took all three masks with me.

I wandered the store for a while, probably appearing suspicious to the security cameras concealed in black domes hanging overhead. I enjoy looking suspicious in department stores. I like to think it gives security something to do. In the Food Department, I bought two boxes of Ritz Bits (cheese and the new S'mores) and a case of Dr. Pepper. There was a sale on cans of Pringles: two cans for a buck-eighty-eight. The two cans were connected by pretty, Pringley plastic wrap, making it easier to carry. I was sold.

In Automotive, I bought a Performance Pedal for my car. I've been wanting to get a replacement pedal for my car for months. I don't know much about engines, so instead of buying stuff to make the car faster, I buy accessories for the interior to make the car more suitable for my long-trip driving needs. I have a leather cover for the steering wheel, a compass on the dashboard, a map light, convenience and trash bags hanging to the backs of the driver and passenger seats, and, to eliminate blind spots, small, curved mirrors attached to each side-view mirror and a Lane-Changer for the rear-view mirror (they help. Really, they do). The Performance Pedal may not actually help, but it looks like it will, and that's what matters. Besides, it was on sale.

Coolest of all, in the Toy department I found fantastic new Transformers. I've loved Transformers since I was a little kid, and these new Transformers look even more intricate than the old ones. I spent over fifteen minutes looking at the packaging of each figure, finally deciding to get two for myself. The nice thing about being an adult is that, if I wanted, I could buy them all at once. But doing that wouldn't be fun. The limits that parents impose on children are what make collecting toys such an enjoyable activity. What's the point of collecting if your entire collection is complete on the first day?

Of all the Transformers available, I chose the characters Side Burn and X-Brawn. Besides the appeal to my collector instincts that there was only one of each left in stock, I thought both the automobile and the robot forms of each one looked cool. Side Burn is a sleek blue sports car, while X-Brawn is an SUV. I'd never seen an SUV Transformer. I thought about getting Galvatron or Megatron, the leaders of the evil Predicons, because they can transform into multiple forms. Megatron has six transformations, while Galvatron has TEN! How cool is that?

But I decided against them. Megatron and Galvatron have many different forms, sure, but they're all weird-looking dragons or similar creatures. I was set on getting two realistic-looking cars. I always thought those Second Generation Transformers weren't as much fun because instead of changing from a robot into a tank or fire engine or even a dinosaur, they changed from robots into bubble ships. Bubble ships aren't fun. It's like that toy in the movie Big that changes from a robot into a building. As Tom Hank's character said, "I don't get it."

I like to ponder things (I'm really not an impulse buyer), so I decided to wander around the store to debate buying these toys (action figures). There's always a risk that someone else will buy what I want while I'm thinking, but risks only makes gains more rewarding. It's sort of like poker, without the huge money loss.

I made my way to the Hardware Department to pick out some new bolts to hold together my car camera mount. I'm very impressed with myself for putting together a rig that'll hold a camera steady on top of my car while going down a road up to forty miles an hour. Professional car camera mounts cost over a thousand dollars. I made mine for twenty bucks in assorted parts from Lowe's hardware store.

Wal-Mart was out of the bolts I needed. They only had flat screws and I HATE using flat screws. I'm not so good at screwing, you see.

I milled about Hardware for a while longer, looking at very big hammers (Impressive!) before remembering I needed deodorant. I walked over to the Health & Beauty Department to check out the sales. I couldn't decide which to go with, so I got both Speed Stick and Gillette. I made sure that they were both Deodorants AND Anti-Perspirants, because if you're going to put the gooey junk under your arms, you should make sure you're covered in both areas.

Because I hadn't planned on buying many items, I didn't bring a cart with me. Being a guy, I couldn't do the smart thing and walk to the front of the store to get a cart. No, I had to stack my merchandise awkwardly in my arms in an attempt to make it easier to carry. On the bottom, because it's the heaviest, I held the case of Dr. Pepper. I stacked the Ritz Bits on the case, giving me three nice boxes all in a column. I added the two wrapped cans of Pringles, onto which I placed the Performance Pedal. The pedal was enclosed in a bubble package, so I put the three ski masks on top of it to act as a cushion for the two deodorant sticks, hoping to prevent them from sliding off.

After walking only a few steps down the isle, the top box of Ritz shifted, sending the deodorant, Pringles, and Performance Pedal crashing to the floor. A store clerk who had been stocking the shelves turned to find the cause of the disturbance. He made no attempt to hide his laughter as the remaining items (except the case of Dr. Pepper, luckily) hit the floor. I waved at the stock guy, smiled, restacked my stuff, and left the Health and Beauty Department.

Having made my selection, I came to the moment of decision: either go check out and leave, or go back for the Transformers. It's always good to weigh the pros and cons of any decision. Cons: I have a lot to do what with work and the movie, and really don't have time for toys. Pros: There's always time for toys.

So I rescued X-Brawn and Side Burn from the toy department. I say rescued because there's a good chance they'd be bought by some bastard toy collector who would have stuck them in a closet for years unopened, hoping they'd one day become that all-important thing: a Collectable; suitable for resale and hopefully profit.

With the toys stacked on top of the ski masks next to the deodorant, I carefully and happily made my way to the check out lanes.

At this time of night (it was now approaching midnight) there weren't that many lanes open. Two are generally sufficient for the needs of the late night shoppers. I guess the bad weather had brought out a few extra shoppers, because each lane was backed up by at least three people. I looked at each line, making a quick estimate of how many items stood between the cashier and me. One lane had three people in line, but each person had a shopping cart filled with merchandise. The other lane had four, but three of those people were only carrying a few items. I chose this lane, but as I walked toward it, a cashier opened another lane. A blond woman with a shopping cart beat me by only a few seconds, so I got in line behind her. In her cart, she had an Open Box Buy printer, a few ink cartridges, and at least five pairs of jeans. She put the clothes and ink cartridges on the conveyor belt, leaving the printer in the cart.

She gave a quick, emotionless glance at me, and turned back to the cashier. Being the judgmental bastard I am, I immediately had a low opinion of her. A polite person, seeing all this crap precariously balanced in my arms, would have made room for my stuff on the conveyor belt and put down the separator bar. This would allow me arrange my items to make them easier for the cashier to scan. The blond woman was much too involved with herself. Fine. I had held my items this long, I could hold them a while longer.

The cashier, a very nice young woman, held the first pair of jeans up to her scanner. She could not find the tag. After a moment's inspection, she saw that it had no tag at all. The woman gave a disgusted sigh, as though it was the cashier's fault there was no tag. The cashier picked up the phone to call the Women's Department.

I was a cashier at that sadly now-departed retail store Venture for many years. Even though registers today are more advanced than the ones I used, and credit card machines have taken the place of those stupid slide machines to imprint cards, some irritations about cashiering have never changed. One such annoyance is the horrible wait for price checks. It works like this: a customer brings up an item without a tag. The cashier calls back to the department. There's usually one person in each department. That one person is using the toilet, or on the phone, or smoking, or hiding in the stockroom because good GOD does this job suck. He hears hear the cashier's page. That means the department guy has to run up to the front of the store, look at the piece of merchandise, go back to the department, find the shelf it was on, look up not only the price but the merchandise number, then call back to the front with the numbers so the cashier can enter them into the cash register.

A note to all you crappy shoppers out there: it does no good to say "On, that was $19.99." The cashier needs the merchandise number. And "It's on sale" is very much a worthless comment. And the cashier really doesn't care.

I guess the blond woman knew how the system worked, because she interrupted the cashier. "I know where it was. I'll go back and get another one." And off she went.

The cashier-being what I considered very efficient-said to me, "I can take you now."

Yes, it's odd language, but everyone knows what it means. Sort of like how when a waiter says, "You all set?" it really means "Are you ready to pay and leave?"

I handed the cashier my Transformers, deodorants, Pringles, Performance Pedal, Ritz Bitz, and Dr. Pepper. She scanned and bagged each item before I could hand her the next one. I'm sure her Productivity Rating was very high.

All that remained in my hands were the three ski masks. As I mentioned earlier, I only needed two, but only one had a tag, and that one was unravelling. I handed the two good ones to the cashier and told her I wanted those, but they were missing tags. I handed her the torn one and said, "But this one has a price tag, so you can scan it." She thanked me for being considerate enough to bring a tag with me, and scanned the tag twice. That being the last item, she gave me the total. I pulled out my credit card and slid it through the reader.

Just then, the blond woman came back with the second pair of jeans. Her formerly blank expression now looked irritated. I got a good look at her this time. She was the very essence of a Wal-Mart Shopper: tired and easily angered. Her blond hair-dirty blond, I could now tell-was greasy. She had attempted to feather it, which gave her the appearance of a biker chick. Adding to that effect, she wore an old leather jacket with tassels hanging off the arms. Her jeans were old and torn. Her face had the lived in look that comes from smoking too many cigarettes and drinking too many free beers, bought for her by dubious men in dark bars.

I've never been a fan of Phrenology-the study of a person's skull to reveal personality traits, but I believe you can tell a lot about a person from the lines on her face. This woman did not have laugh lines. Her lines came from a lifetime of disappointment, frustration, jealousy, envy, and disgust. Men had used her, only slightly more than she used them. She was not pleasant to look at. Had she lived a different life, she could have been quite attractive. As she was, she was not.

She avoided looking at me. She tossed the jeans on the conveyor and said to the cashier in a voice of accusation and annoyance, "Y'know, you could've been ringing this stuff up."

I can't capture in print her voice. The way she said the words. "Y'no. y'coulduv bin ringin' this stuffup" is the closest I can get. She sounded dumb. Not mentally retarded. Just stupid and mean.

The cashier handed me the credit card slip to sign. She turned quickly to the woman and said, "Oh, I'm sorry." No other comments came from either of them. I looked at the cashier and smiled as I signed my name.

I said, "Thank you. Very much," a little louder than usual, to know that she had been appreciated.

I turned to the blond woman, smiled, and nodded. There was nothing I could say. Nothing that would matter. I know I looked at her a moment longer than was comfortable or socially acceptable. Not because her tragic anger was attractive to me, but because I couldn't help but wonder why she was buying a printer.

I took my bags and walked out of the store. I really don't like Wal-Mart. But boy do I like Transformers.

(And for you Collectors out there, when I got home I ripped both Transformers out of the packages and played with them for hours. Great fun. I suggest you try playing with your own toys sometimes.)