“Shoplifting @ WalMart” (a short story)

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All of a sudden I just started dropping random merchandise in my briefcase in the new Wal-Mart. Random meaningless shit. Don’t know why; I just did. Some packs of Oreo cookies. A pack of Hanes Boxer shorts with Michael Jordan on the front smiling like he hit the lottery like seven times. Cheap no name brand hand lotion I knew I would never use. Olive oil in the bottle you can put on your hair. Just a few things. I had driven uptown to see my old neighborhood again, and saw the Wal-Mart that everyone had been telling me about and I decided to go in and just take a look. I don’t shop at Wal-Mart. The place is insulting. Low wages. Cheap products mostly made in Asia by workers making crumbs. And workers in the store had no morale. They barely speak to the customers. If they do it sound like another language. A mumble. A grunt.

Once, I was away on the road in Louisiana and I had to shop in a Wal-Mart and it felt like I had let the devil fondle me as I walked in the store. I do not even recall what I had to have but the experience made me feel like I was drowning in vat of horseradish. Wal-Mart? It looked sickening in the place. All vestiges of human relationships depleted and devoured by the pursuit of cash.

So here I was, coming from court, dressed in my best court suit, and I was jacking shit out the store. Hell Yes. I felt no fear either, no guilt, not a shred of my bones bothered me at all as I began to drop the items into my briefcase with my court papers. Imagine, if I got caught; the police officers arresting me would see client files of people who had committed crimes and I was their lawyer. And here I was committing a crime, and now, as they read me my fucking Miranda warnings, I would need a lawyer.

But Wal-Mart, I said to myself, as I dropped each item into my briefcase, did not belong in my old neighborhood even if it was the “old” neighborhood and I no longer lived there. Wal- Mart belonged somewhere else. There had never been any Wal-Marts in my city growing up and it should have stayed that way.

In my day, the same parking lot where the store now stood, and where I now walked around the store stealing shit, there was everything that Wal-Mart now had in the store. That is what bothered me most of all. There was a hardware store owned by Jack Hamilton, a Korean War veteran who came home, worked hard, and bought himself his own storefront right in the neighborhood. He made it work well too and everyone, I mean everyone went to Hamilton’s Hardware. My parents, my neighbors, everyone shopped at Jack’s Hardware. It was a religion.

Mr. Hamilton made sure he employed folks from the neighborhood over the years and he had his own credit system like the old days. No, I don’t mean a credit card where he charged you interest and sucked your blood to try to get rich like Wal-Mart. If you didn’t have it for a few days, he said, go ahead, get it to me later. Folk appreciated Hamilton’s sense of community. The store thrived for years and years until he got older and developers set their sites on his store and all the other stores.

The lot where the Wal-Mart also had a big grocery store where everyone shopped, a small pharmacy, a Five and Dime candy shop where I bought all of my cheap candy, and of course, there was a barber shop and unisex. I mean, you don’t have a neighborhood if you ain’t got a barbershop and a unisex. That is like the community center of any neighborhood. Just as important as the churches.

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Got my hair cut by the McPhill Brothers for years on the lot. I didn’t always go there but as I got older I came to respect them and what they had built just like Mr. Hamilton. Shop was open five days a week for years. They had been there forever and it wasn’t like when they sold their shop they wanted to sell it. At least that’s what I heard as the chatter about the Wal-Mart coming to the neighborhood started.

McPhill Brothers shared space with Miss Diane’s Unisex. Never went up in that beauty parlor because I never had a reason to go in the place. But it was there just like everything else on that little strip mall and everyone who was anyone in the neighborhood sat under Miss Diane’s hair dryers. Folks got their heads ready for church in these spots. Looked their very best on the most important of days.

But all of it, was now all covered now by the massive Wal-Mart building. It was like Wal-Mart was one big ass vacuum cleaner. Sucking up everything like the community was a crumbs on the carpet. You would think you would go into the store now and Mr. Hamilton would be a manager but when I got to the section dealing with tools, there was no one over there. Custom service? That was a theory.

As I strolled the store dropping various items in my briefcase, I saw the rest of the old shopping lot. Bathroom accessories, industrial cleaning products that Mr. Hamilton once sold, steaks and fruit the grocery store once had lining its freezer section and Wal-Mart even had a pharmacy where everyone around here now bought their medicine.

There was some ‘rinky dink’ barber shop upstairs. The joint was so small it reminded me of a janitor’s closet to store buckets and mops. There were two young black guys in there trimming a few heads but just like the Wal-Mart employees I saw walking around the store, they looked sad. Like they didn’t want to do this. Like they had been drafted to fight for the army and when they realized what they were doing they knew the cause was no damned good. On top of that it wasn’t like they were not making a shitload of money. They could be making more money doing less work. Or, maybe they wouldn’t even make more money but at least they would be doing work that didn’t call them a piece of shit. And there was no barber shop chatter because the shop was a closet. No one sitting around arguing about sports or politics like at a real barber shop. Or some old cat selling stolen items like deodorant, socks or sweat suits out the trunk of his Eldorado, like at a real barber shop.

There was a unisex upstairs too but that only had one older woman in there doing hair and then there was everything else. Food. Clothes. Funny looking shoes. Fucked up looking hats that looked like they belonged to a Halloween costume. Boxer shorts (yea, I already had my pack in my bag). Smart phones. Smart phone chargers. Stereos. And then, whiskey, wine, and beer. That most of all made me laugh though I wasn’t going to try to shoplift no liquor from this dump. It also brought back memories of the old neighborhood.

There once was a liquor store just across the street from the Wal-Mart that was run by a family from the Middle East. Most people said they were from Iran but they never said as much. Back in the days of my misguided youth, I would go into that liquor store and buy chips, sodas, slim jims but on occasion, when they were slipping, I would steal bottles of cheap wine or half pints of rum or vodka. It was pretty easy and after awhile, I got cocky and tried to steal a half gallon of cheap wine once. Drunk fools from around the neighborhood bet that no one could steal one so I tried. Little did I know that the owners had installed cameras in the store and had security in the back in the freezer and I got spotted. I took off running out the door, half gallon in hand.

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“Catch me if you can,” I remember yelling before I shifted gears and disappeared into the night. It was funny but damn was I stupid. I never went back in that store again but months later, they sold the store to the Jewish family anyway who owned a few other liquor stores around town. They were gone and they never got their half gallon of cheap wine back.

On my way out the store, my briefcase felt snug, but just to make it easier, I decided to buy something. The store was mostly empty of people. I didn’t know if had been made by store security but for some reason I didn’t care. I felt so angry looking at this abomination of a store in my old neighborhood taking up a whole city block that my small theft was a form of protest. It was all I could muster but it was something. How could they reduce people’s lives to this level of drudgery and insult with this behemoth of a shopping experience? The store was as big as a concert arena but there was nothing beautiful going on in here. No music or community. Nothing artistic or humane. Nothing.

With those thoughts now consuming me, I decided to buy a few things I always would consider ridiculous. Items to buy just for the fuck of it. That way, I would just throw them out when I got home or even before I got home. The stuff in my bag was border line pathetic as well but the items I decided to purchase were a joke.

A box of Captain Crunch.

A box of mini moon pies.

Some DVDs.

Worthless shit. I surely didn’t eat garbage like Captain Crunch anymore, which was cereal passed off as candy. I also hated moon pies and especially mini moon pies. I had one years ago and I couldn’t even gag it down it was so disgusting.

As for the DVDs, I didn’t even look at the movies I had put in my cart but it didn’t matter, I didn’t even own a DVD player. Who owned a DVD player now anyway? The DVD was in the same category as an 8-Track.

When I got to the counter to buy my worthless items and to hurry out of this place, the checker was a familiar face. Valerie Hill. Wow. Talk about a time warp. I still recognized her and she recognized me immediately as soon as I walked up. She was dressed neatly like everyone else with her navy blue Wal-Mart polo shirt and her tan khaki slacks. We didn’t know each other that well or anything but she had grown up around here like me. It shouldn’t have been a surprise either. Why wouldn’t a few locals get jobs here at Wal-Mart once the store took over the neighborhood’s commerce basically.

“Val Hill, right?”

I dropped my stuff slowly on her conveyor belt

“Is that you, Funk Frazier? Funk Frazier, the lawyer?”

“It is? What’s up?”

“You see. Wal-Mart. Got to pay the rent.” She chuckled.

Val looked good as I stared into her eyes. I never had gotten to know her or anything but it looked as if the ebb and flow of life had been good to her even though she was now working in Wal-Mart. I probably hadn’t seen her in a decade and all of the neighborhood stores were still there where the Wal-Mart was now.

“I guess so. You like it?”

“Come on. It’s Wal-Mart. Don’t tell my manager, now. You not a secret shopper are you? You know people walking around shopping, trying to catch people stealing or catch employees loafing?”

I laughed. Secret shopper. Shit, secret shopper might be about to jam my ass when I walked out the door with all of this cheap ass Wal-Mart crap. But I was walking out with their shit in my bag. Fuck Wal-Mart. I knew the system anyway which was why I was sure they didn’t have no idea I was ripping them off. I was a lawyer and I had defended shoplifters and gotten many off. Most of them stole shit that set the sensors off. I had stuff no one gave a damn about.

“I ain’t no secret shopper, Val. Just shopping. Wanted to see the place once at least. Everyone been calling me. You seen the new Wal-Mart, they say? Everything gone, they said, and Wal-Mart replaced it all. I had to see it once.”

“I hear you. I was working across town at another Wal-Mart. I figured if I am going to take money from them, why can’t I just walk to work. It is not that bad but it is still Wal-Mart.” We both laughed.

Val finished packing my bag. I chuckled again looking at the crap I was just doing to toss as soon as I got away from the store.

“What’s funny?”

“Nothing. You wanna a moon pie?”

We laughed again. Val didn’t answer. No one ate moon pies.

“It was good to see you, Val. You take care of yourself.”

“You as well, and you come back and see us again now.”

We both burst out laughing one more time knowing that it was probably a line the company told the employees to say to everyone. ‘You come back and see us now,’ sort of like, “did you find everything you were looking for?” If they ever said that to me in here I knew what my response would be. Yea, nothing.

When I got outside and got to my car I didn’t even bother to look at the merchandise I had walked out with. Meaningless, worthless cheap shit. I didn’t toss the stuff I actually purchased either. The Captain Crunch. Moon Pies. And the DVDs. If I were 5 years old I would be in heaven but I wasn’t and this was Wal-Mart. In my old neighborhood. Where I had once been five and things had been great without Wal-Mart.

I just drove down the road away from the Wal-Mart. I couldn’t believe I had actually stolen from a Wal-Mart. It had probably been about 25 years since I had shoplifted. Back then, I didn’t know why I was stealing. It was more like a dare. See if you could get away with it. This time, I just did it out of hatred.

I opened the box of Captain Crunch and grabbed a handful of it out and began to eat it. Tasted just like it tasted when I was 8 years old. Like candy. I tossed the rest of the handful out the window. I closed the box and threw it in the backseat.

I finally pulled one of the DVDs out of the bag. I hadn’t even looked at what I had purchased. “E.T.: The Extra Terresterial.” Movie about a being from outer space who landed and created all sorts of chaos trying to get back to his/her planet.

I laughed as I drove away from the store. Years ago, I had rented “E.T.” from a video store and tried to watch it. It never clicked for me. I didn’t get it. Fell asleep. I was pretty sure I wouldn’t watch it this time either. I didn’t have a DVD player anyway. I just tossed it into the backseat along with the rest of the stuff I had purchased. Then I pulled out the pack of Hanes boxer shorts. Michael Jordan smiling. All I could do was laugh as I drove out the old neighborhood. Loud, sad laughter that didn’t make me feel better, at all.

Numbers runner. Cigar smoker.

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