The Curse of Systematization

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I decided to drop by Walmart on the way home from the gym and pick up a couple of bags of pine bark mulch; take advantage of the warm weather to do some yard work. Here is what happened.

1. I cruise past Walmart’s outdoor pickup spot where they stack stuff like mulch and fertilizer and grass seed and like that to make sure they had pine bark mulch. Yes!

2. I park the car and walk to the Lawn and Garden entrance. Signs all over the door: “Closed for the Season. Please Use the Indoor Store.”

3. I think for a moment. They have the product; I have money. Can I somehow effect a melding of the two, despite Lawn and Garden being Closed for the Season? I decide to try.

3. I walk allll the way to the next entrance, and allll the way to Customer Service. A tired fat clerk observes me with minimal interest and says, “Hep ya.” I say, “I see that your Lawn and Garden section is closed for the season. I would like to know if it is possible to buy a product from there, or are the Lawn and Garden products also not available?” She ponders this for awhile and says, “EYE dunno,” as though it were the height of unreason to expect her to know such an exotic thing. I look pointedly at the Customer Service sign and say, “Is there some way I can find out?” She heaves a deep despairing sigh and looks to the clerk next to her, who says, “Sure. Just go and get what you want and bring it to one of the registers out here.” I say, but the doors are locked. She says the door leading to Lawn and Garden from inside the store is open. Not wishing to overcomplicate an already fraught mission by pointing out that if the products are available and if the inside door is unlocked, that means the Lawn and Garden Department is in fact *not* Closed for the Season, I say, but what I want is pine bark mulch, and I can’t lift the bags into the cart. She says to go on down there and she’s sure somebody will help me. This doesn’t sound promising.

4. I walk out into the store proper and spy a trio of Walmart employees putting small objects into a big bin. I go over and do the spiel. One of them, thank God, is a manager. She explains that while Lawn and Garden is closed, if I can find an associate who is “register trained”, that person will open the register for me. This doesn’t address getting the pine bark mulch into my cart — never mind the car, at this point, getting the mulch into my car is a goal more distant than Jupiter — but I figure I’ve mined this latest venue all I’m going to.

5. I walk allll the way back to the Lawn and Garden inside door and find an associate who, upon interrogation, confesses she is not register trained, and furthermore, the registers in Lawn and Garden are closed and can’t be opened.

6. I feel my Inner Child preparing to hurl herself to the ground and hold her breath until she turns blue.

7. The associate suggests that I pick out my product and take it — “To the indoor register, I know,” I say, and I explain about the heavy lifting. There is a young male Walmart employee standing by, listening to all this. He volunteers to deliver the pine bark mulch to my car. She says I should go to an inside register without the mulch and have them ring it up and then come back here and Nathan here will have it ready to load into my car. I say, “When I’ve bought pine bark mulch here in the past, the outdoor registers have this price/UPC book with all the hundred different products in it. Do you think all the indoor registers will have this book, since the Lawn and Garden Department is closed?” She says, no, she didn’t think so. “So how do I pay for it?” I ask. My voice is reaching for the upper registers that presage a psychotic fit.

8. Nathan offers to make me up a ticket with his pricing gizmo that I can use to pay for the mulch. He does so, I hike allll the way back to the indoor register and stand in line for ten minutes and hand the ticket to the cashier and say, “Ring this up twice, please.” She says, “You want me to ring this up twice?” I fix her a murderous look and say, “Yes. Twice.” Figuring if I say, No, just twice will be fine, what few brain cells she possesses would fry on the spot and fly out of her ears like bonfire soot.

9. I schlep allll the way back to Lawn and Garden, where Nathan has already loaded the pine bark mulch onto his little cart and is waiting for me to take us all to my car, which I do. Nobody asks me for a receipt. I thank Nathan and try to give him a package of Twinkies I’d snagged at the time of purchase as a gesture of appreciation for his initiative and his muscles, but he says he’s not allowed to accept it. I tell him, “Stick with Walmart, my boy. Someday you’ll own it.”

10. I fall into the driver’s seat and bang my head on the steering wheel and eat a Twinkie.

On one of my treks to and from, I passed a huge display of package of toilet paper — 6 single-ply rolls, 6 double-ply rolls, 9 single-ply rolls, 9 double-ply rolls, 12 single-ply rolls, 12 double-ply rolls. A man is standing in front of it wailing into his cell, “But HUNNEEE, there are so many different KIIINNDS …” I kept walking to spare him the humiliation of a witness to his bursting into tears.

When the Revolution finally happens, when destruction rages across the land, when the American towers of Ilium fall and the cities are engulfed in inferno and millions die and the earth is scorched from sea to sea, left sere and barren for years to come, it won’t be because of any organized rebellion by such as we. It will be because one poor underpaid schmuck, after a lifetime of being conned into working at a job he hates in order to buy stupid shit in giant understaffed and heartless emporia with the few dollars left to him by a far more heartless government, will find himself standing defeated before a double cord of toilet paper and the realization of a life thus wasted after so much promise, so much hope, will hit him like an anvil, and his brain will snap and he will rampage through Lawn and Garden, Pets, Paint and Hardware and end up in Sports where he will pick up a baseball bat and start smashing skulls. A riot will ensue, police will come, sirens will fill the night, Walmart will burn, and it will all cascade into an unstoppable avalanche of unthinking rage over the entire landscape.

All for the want of a lousy roll of toilet paper.

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  1. How to get customer service at the key machine at walmart. 1. Ask for help then be assured that someone “will be right there!.” 2. Wait 5-10 minutes go ask again and be assured that “someone will be right there.” 3. Wait 5 more minutes then break out the big guns and light up a cigarette. 4. Have FIVE “associates” descend on your location telling you “you can’t smoke in here, sir.” 5. Tell them that you can smoke in there and you will continue to do so until you get the service you were promised 20 minutes ago. I also add in “The reason I can smoke in here is I’m six-six and 300+ and I honestly think the lot of you can’t stop me so GO GET THE KEY GUY, NOW!!!” 6. Get the key you desired then go home and find it doesn’t work.

  2. Gail needs some yellow-pine floored, nails in the bin, rural hardware store therapy.

    Clear out the beer cans from the wooden bed of your ’69 Chevy pick-up, put the dog in the front seat, turn on the delco AM radio, open the wing vent and drive up to north county hardware and supply.

    Park anywhere you’d like on the gravel lot….just not too close to the all-terrian forklift or the Farmall’s manure bucket. Leave the key in the dashboard ignition, crack the window a bit for the dog, and bring your empty coffee mug with you.

    Come on in the front door (be sure to close it) or wander over to the loading dock and hop on up near the scales. You’ll smell the coffee along with molasses and laying mash….just look for Bud, Jake, or Roy….there you will find the fresh pot….sugar cubes and half & half nearby.

    Jake has mulch….”how many tons you want”? “Oh…..bagged mulch? Sure, where you parked? “Augie, go load 12 bags in Miss Gail’s truck”.

    You’ve a fresh mug of coffee and while young Augie loads your mulch you wander the aisles between bins of nails, hydraulic fittings, feed scoops, and twisted clevises. You spy a bundle of linen wicks, tied with waxed string and hanging on a brass hook.
    Fetching the wick bundle, you untie the string, take a wick and present it to Jake.

    “How much for the wick, Jake”? “Oh….30 cents…but those don’t fit Dietz railroad lanterns you know” replies Jake.

    You stroll up to the register, Roy is stapling the register tape to Mr. Ewing’s scale receipt, and you have your lamp wick.

    “That’s twelve bags of mulch and this 30 cent wick, Roy”.
    Roy calls over to Jake: “How much them mulch bags, Jake”?

    Now hop back in your truck, let the dog lick the coffee mug, adjust your side mirror with your hand, and toodle on home for an afternoon of gardening.

    Was the mulch more costly at north county hardware?

    Per pound, yes the mulch was more costly than a big box nationwide retailer. But you left the transaction satisfied, unaggrieved, and eager to return to knowledgeable and helpful people.

    When “lowest prices always” is the shoppers’ Summum Bonum….go to walmart.

    When people and product quality matter….take a drive away from the malls and strip centers and look for gravel, manure buckets, and Jake in overalls.

    • Gail I feel your pain more than you know. I’m well versed in the Wally-World system, particularly the store nearby and we know many of the employees. So when I or my better half needs something that’s “out of season” and can’t get is somewhere else, I can usually round it up on my own (a Miata looks a bit odd with 2 cu. ft. of peat moss on the luggage rack). But Thomas Hallett is absolutely right; there is no substitute for the local feed & seed, grain elevator or farm supply.

      Around Virginia you will find Southern States Cooperatives dotting the landscape. Just around Winchester there are coops at Front Royal, Purcellville, Ranson, etc. Check them out at You’ll find many of them to be similar in flavor to what Thomas described above. It also pays to check with your local independent greenhouses and nurseries. Often they buy in bulk and can not only offer decent pricing but really good advice as well. Of course you will be needing that ol’ pick up truck and a coffee mug….

  3. People who bitch about the oppressive intolerability of their retail jobs just kill me. “You have no idea what it’s like to deal with people every day.” Actually yes I do, because I deal with people every day. Who doesn’t, other than hermits? Are there many jobs out there that don’t involve working with other people on some level or another?

    Eric’s experience is so common practically everyone has a similar story. Fact is, if these surly folks who couldn’t find their asses with both hands could find a better job, they would. I worked retail for 4 years. I’ve wiped human feces off of floors and walls. I’ve climbed into industrial trash compactors full of rotting meat and produce to clear jams because none of the others would do it. And I can tell you, on any given day, I much preferred the customers to the idiots who worked in these establishments.

    Rank-and-file retail jobs attract two kinds of people: young people with no work experience who don’t last long as they move on to greener pastures, and the otherwise-unemployable waiting for the minimum wage to raise high enough to push them onto the welfare rolls.

  4. Maybe Wally doesn’t hire better employees because they’re afraid it’ll run off most of their customers who might otherwise be put off by a staff of, say, college graduates who know how to read and are sick of living with their parents and want to earn a living. Honestly, could such a thing be going on there?

  5. Gail,
    I shop Wally’s frequently so I feel your pain. If they fired half the staff I don’t think it’d make any difference to the customer except improve the experience. Just last week I was in the housewares dept. and two workers were complaining loudly about their work load. I know that being expected to actually do something for the wage one receives is a bitter pill to swallow, but I don’t want to hear that crap. Just show me where the turkey basters are, thank you. The other curious thing about wally’s is that most of their departments are actually poorly stocked and lack depth in surprising areas. Wiper blades, yes; motor oil, no. Shampoo, yes; toothpaste, no. It’s a strange business model but it seems to work. A strange world, indeed.

    • The stocking wierdness comes from the individual store managers. I’ve been buying oil and motorcraft filters at Wally’s for years. The auto parts stores are simply rip-offs when it comes to mobil 1.

      Now the people complaining about how walmart treats employees and such. I hear these horrible walmart work stories and think about my union retail experience. Walmart sounds like an improvement. Retail work sucks. It just does. It sucks everywhere. It seems other than at some particular walmart stores (individual store management again) it sucks somewhat less at walmart.

      The reason walmart is hated and other retail outlets (who pay their employees less) aren’t while still being a made-in-china store as much or more than walmart is because they didn’t buy protection from the government and were successful. As they now play ball more and more they are being left alone more and more. Just look at what they are doing in Chicago. Walmart is playing ball with government and suddenly it’s no longer a horrible thing for Walmart to build a store in the ghetto where there are no other stores bigger than ‘convience’ and getting rid of empty buildings or vacant lots in the process. Before walmart played ball they were evil and no good and couldn’t be allowed because they don’t have union employees and they’d drive the overpriced little ma and pas out of business… you know the kind of little stores that charged 2X or more the going price for stuff because of the high crime rate in area. The ones that were most hated and called ‘racist’? Yeah suddenly they were the good guys.

      Politics. All of it.

  6. This is why I don’t shop at Walmart. The prices aren’t that much better than other stores, and the aggravation level is off the chart.

    Your experience reminded me of The scene in Idiocracy when Joe’s trying to explain that water will make crops grow, and everyone just looks at him and says “Water?” (yes) “Like from the toilet?” YES!


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