Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The United States Of Wal-Mart

I don't pay a lot of attention to business news. It bores me. But I keep hearing about something called Black Friday. Over 30 years ago Steely Dan had a song called "Black Friday," which was about a really bad day. The new meaning for Black Friday is that it is the day after Thanksgiving, when retailers hope to have a strong day of sales leading into the Christmas season.

I usually try to avoid stores right after Thanksgiving because of all of the wild-eyed, desperate-looking people rushing around for bargains. I also don't understand why people camp out overnight to hit the big sales at Wal-Mart or similar stores, just so they can trample each other getting in at 5:00 in the morning. It's cold around here that time of year! Sleeping outside just so you can buy a TV set for a few bucks off regular price isn't worth sleeping on the cold asphalt of a store parking lot.

I get the sense from newspapers and television, who keep repeating this stuff about Black Friday, that it's some sort of unofficial holiday. For some reason the media is keeping track of the retail losses and gains. They are really making ordinary Americans feel like they are somehow responsible for whether Sears, J. C. Penney , Wal-Mart, Kmart, Smart-Mart, Fart-Mart or Mart-Mart are making a profit. When did we become the people who are made to feel guilty if the fatcat stockholders of these big retail outlets aren't happy with their Christmas bonuses?

What did these guys ever do for me except try to sell me useless stuff I don't need and won't use, just so they could live in luxury while I live in poverty, surrounded by the junk I bought from their stores?

In my neighborhood a big Wal-Mart superstore is going up. It should be ready by February. Already nearby businesses are giving up, moving out. It isn't enough that Wal-Mart should come to town and put all of the little guys out of business, now it's putting them out of business before they even open their store.

The reason it's not ready by Christmas is that we fought building the store, and they couldn't start building until after our special election (we lost) in June. Folks around here fought against the Wal-Marting of our town, but there it is, sitting like a giant toad in the middle of our little pond. The lure of tax revenue is too great for cities. I'm sure our mayor and city councilmen walked around with erections for weeks once they knew Wal-Mart had bought into our suburban town. Did it matter to them that nearby stores have vacated their buildings, leaving whole sections of town with nothing but empty, blighted looking stores? Do they care? Probably not. Maybe they'll just bulldoze those stores and put in condos, with more consumers to fill the ever hungrier mouth of Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart has done some public relations work by selling generic prescription drugs for $4.00. I may need some of those drugs someday. But it may also ruin my local pharmacy, where I've bought my Rx's since the 1980s. That would really be a shame, because the people who own it and work in it have become more than pharmacists, but friends. They all work like I do to support their families. Ah, but Wal-Mart really doesn't care about that, do they?

Someday when Wal-Mart has put all of the local pharmacists, grocers, hardware stores in the whole country out of business, then we'll change the name of our nation to the United States of Wal-Mart. Black Friday will become more than just a day after Thanksgiving, it will become a national holiday where all Americans will be forced to shop, so that the obese giants of commerce can make sure we pay their prices for their products. Where will the $4.00 prescriptions be then? Well, they won't need to charge only $4.00 anymore when there is no competition, will they?


Stuff takes over your life. Sally and I spent a few hours on Sunday cleaning out my computer room. I admit, most of the junk we put in boxes and donated to a local thrift store was mine. We've lived in our house just a few months shy of 32 years and things accumulate. We have a room in the basement that is so full of things that we're afraid to open the door. If we need to put anything in there we open the door real fast and toss it in, then slam the door shut again.

There's really no reason for me to have all of this, but we have a culture that teaches us it's good to buy things, lots of things, and it only makes sense that many of them stick to us for years after their usefulness has gone. That's called The Economy. Keep people working by buying things you don't want, don't need.

But, ah…when you do need something… Ever had this happen to you? You are looking for a little box of 3/8" flathead screws. You know you have the box. You bought one a couple of years ago, used a couple of the screws and you just know you put the box in this drawer here. You look where you keep your screws. You can't find them so you figure your memory has tricked you. You look where you keep your tools. Finally, out of frustration you go to the store and buy another box of screws. Months later you're looking in a box under your workbench and you find the original screws. As a matter of fact, you have three or four boxes of screws in there with price stickers on them from stores you know have been closed for over 20 years. You get that old familiar, "So that's where those screws were!" remembering yourself tearing the house apart looking for them. That's when you've got too much stuff.

Ciao for now, El Postino

No comments: