Kmart is a mausoleum of dead people listlessly wandering the aisles like monochrome zombies in an old horror flick. The cold sterility of each megastore is proof American corporations lack souls, or at the very least, smother all humanity from the shopping experience. The air reeks of plastic, a chemical aroma that stings your nostrils and burns your eyes under the bright halogen lights when you enter, as if a tanker filled with Benzene capsized on the highway.
People shamble, dazed and weary throughout the store: old fat trailer park women wearing too much eyeliner, hollow-eyed housefraus toting noisy children, Mexican women with talon-like fingernails and scruffy men wearing NASCAR caps and jerseys displaying the logos of their favorite NFL teams. They rustle through bins of mass-produced products whose prices are slashed half off; or fondle the clothing on hangars, or flipping through cleaning supplies or ravenously browsing the food aisles for packs of Twinkies or dog food.
Shopping at Kmart used to be a stigma; in school the middle class suburban kids would tease you if you bought your clothes there.
“Nice shirt. Is it a Kmart special?”
But in today’s economy, everyone is a de facto serf, a bottom-rung consumer worshiping at the temple of the big box store for salvation and bargains. Everyone is herded into the all-American flea market for kitty litter, underwear, mouthwash and candy bars.
The checkout is staffed by a plump middle-aged woman with a Midwestern beehive hair-do and horn-rimmed glasses that make her look like a refugee from a 1950s advertisement. She checks my purchase, a bundle of white athletic socks, and asks if I’d like to contribute a dollar to some worthy cause. I decline and she rings me up and bags my socks. The whole experience is very numbing and sterile. She gives me my receipt and tells me to go on a website and rate my shopping experience for a chance to win a $2,000 shopping spree.
Do I really want that? A chance to browse around the necropolis, amid the plastic boxes of DVDs, the cartons of cigarettes, the piles of fluffy towels and racks of kitchen appliances and implements. Would I want to wander the jungle of shirts, pants and outerwear with their low-hanging denim jeans and the hip-hop gangsta styles and an attitude that cocks the shotgun out the aluminum screen door and tells the salesman to get the fuck off my property?
Not everyplace can be Nordstrom’s or Macy’s. Kmart is the only show in town, and in this economy, it’s where everybody who doesn’t want to hoof it to the Hamilton Mall shops.
Before the economic downturn, we wandered like nomads into Bed, Bath & Beyond for a soapdish, or cruised into Best Buy for blank CDs. The anchor stores roamed the earth like mighty dinosaurs in healthier economic times, drawing smaller mom and pop shops to them like moths to a flame and everybody prospered.
Now the dinosaurs lie extinct and empty, vacant storefronts mar the landscape like the bleached bones of a dead horse in the Mojave Desert. The only ones left alive, the mammoth Kmarts, Walmarts and Targets that tower among the desiccated carcasses of failed businesses crippled by the harsh economy.
In a land of the dead, the mausoleum remains.
So we pinch our pennies and a once spoiled nation shops at Kmart, flipping through the National Enquirer and reading about celebrity scandals and gossip and dropping a Chunky bar with our bag of athletic socks and inhaling the plastic, manufactured sterility of America’s greatest shopping experience.
Where once we ate steak dinners, now we all devour McDonald's. The fast food giant's revenues increased as the economy grew more dismal. The middle class is turning into working class and learning to make money go farther by trimming luxuries. A colleague of mine said maybe the economic downturn is a good thing because it forces people to re-evaluate how they spend money. I contemplated this as I stopped at McDonald's following my Kmart shopping spree. As the beefy mediocrity of a Quarter Pounder with cheese slid down my throat leaving an aftertaste of onion and ketchup, I shed a tear at how fortunate I was to be living in such times of greatness, where the temples of finance were watched over so vigilantly and prosperity and progress bathed the country from coast to coast.