By Royce J.
I showed up early to Walmart on a Monday. Nothing starts the week like mass consumerism. I picked up two tubs of air-dry clay at $9.44 a piece. The lady at the register was cheerfully wiping down her conveyer belt, displaying the start-of-shift shine that inevitably wears away like an ice rink carved up by dull, rented skate blades. It was good to see that she still had a working zamboni. We traded stories about the joy of a shift before the individually wrapped masses collectively wash through the front doors and down the aisles, flooding the store with activity. Then I left.
As it turned out, one tub of air-dry clay was enough to satisfy my crafting needs, and so it was I found myself in line at the customer service desk, wedged between one very large TV that someone didn’t want, and another even larger one that they did.
An elderly lady, whose return-journey had reached its destination minutes before mine did, was involved in a rather spirited verbal sparring session with the young female clerk behind the counter. The words spilled forth from the clerk’s mouth in-between violent repetitions of teeth on chewing gum.
Now, in my experience, most gum chewers opt for a more clandestine method– short mechanical bursts of shrouded chewing. This woman was from the other camp: those intent on exhibiting the gum tumbling through their gaping jaws, the customer forced to watch it like a wad of wet clothing falling over itself behind the dryer window at the local laundromat.
The clerk twirled her thick, bleached braids while she chewed and spoke, clearly displaying the multi-tasking skills that elevated her above the register workers to the customer-service counter. I couldn’t help think that this is what Medusa would have looked like if she’d been able to get a hold of some hydrogen peroxide for those snakes.
The back and forth between the old lady and Medusa centered around an unopened air mattress. Medusa had one pitch which she kept confidently throwing over the plate—you’re outside of the 15 day return policy for air mattresses. The woman fouled that same pitch off again and again with a steady stream of plausible ignorance to the rule. I’d never even heard of a 15 day air mattress return policy, but Medusa spoke like this was knowledge as common as smoking causing cancer. Wonder if the old lady had been informed of this at the point of purchase.
Between the two of them talking, they easily could’ve fully inflated that mattress for me to sleep on while waiting. The line’s beginning to grow.
And so it was that shift-supervisor Brenda was called into action—and yes, called in the traditional sense of yelling someone’s name out and beckoning them forth. The wait for Brenda induced a frantic search by Medusa, coupled with a radio inquiry as to the whereabouts of the lemon Lysol disinfectant spray.
Brenda arrived resplendent with matching maroon turtleneck and headband. Wrapped in a crisp yellow vest and radiating authority, she clutched a tightly monitored break schedule and listened patiently as the situation was explained. The stand-off was quickly de-escalated by Brenda’s solution of transferring the money onto a gift card, to be used at any time between now and the day that Walmart ceases to exist. Brenda knows that should a customer stick around long enough in dispute, they will trigger the unwritten gift-card clause in any exchange policy.
There goes the old lady.
Stepping up to the counter, I was beginning to see an end to my Walmart experience, but the exciting return of my $9.44 was superseded by the unexpected arrival of the lemon Lysol disinfectant spray.
“I can’t work with all these germs. This’ll just take a minute.”
Three other people in the line now. We all let out a collective groan.
This set into motion a carefully rehearsed procedure of spraying everything within a 4-foot radius that either was or wasn’t bolted down: the counter, the computer, the monitor, the credit card machine, a few ballpoint pens, the returned air mattress.
“There we go, now isn’t that better sir?”
“Yes,” I replied. “Thank you for keeping us all safe.”
And that’s how I walked out with $9.44 back on my card, and a new knowledge of how quickly to return a surplus air-mattress in the event that I happen never to open it. Thank you Walmart.