People of Wal-Mart

I found myself in the Returns Line at Wal-Mart yesterday after work. I vaguely recalled that they don’t sticker your item at the door when you walk in anymore, so I walked cautiously over to the service desk. Cautiously, because I didn’t have a receipt so how did anyone know I walked in with the item if they didn’t give me a sticker?

As I approached, I saw a problem. There appeared to be two lines. The left line had a woman with a cart and four children piled in and around it. The right had two people, one behind the other. There was a sizable gap between the two lines and neither looked more likely to be “the” line than the other. There were two employees behind two registers so maybe there was a separate line for each?

I kind of hovered halfway between the two, trying to decide what to do. The woman with all the kids in Line Left was talking to the second woman in Line Right so I couldn’t really ask which person was in line without interrupting. So I hovered uncertainly.

About then, one of the kids in the cart in Line Left asked the woman in Line Right if she could go to the bathroom by herself. The woman in Line Right said, “No. Not without a grown-up.” The child slunk back into the cart and looked dejected. Then a boy ran away from the cart and the woman in Line Right sternly told him to get back in the cart. He did.

I got in line behind the no-nonsense lady in Line Right, who was obviously the mother of all the kids hanging out with the woman in Line Left, which was apparently not a line at all but simply a holding cell for Line Right Lady’s brood. The woman in Line Left offered to take the little girl to the bathroom.

As the pair headed off, the first lady in line proceeded to the counter and No-Nonsense Lady and I inched forward. Then a rather large man rode up on one of those Wal-Mart motorized scooters. He was bee-lining straight for the counter in front of us. I tensed up. Is he trying to cut in line? What’s he trying to do?

As if reading my mind, he looked up at No-Nonsense Lady and me and said, “I’m not trying to cut. I’m just trying to…” He trailed off as the woman at the counter turned around and they both exploded into laughter.

“You ain’t gonna sneak up on me!” she shrieked as No-Nonsense Lady joked that she would have taken him down if he had been trying to cut. He grumbled about Shrieking Woman recognizing his voice. I commented that he probably should have just let us think he was being a line-cutting jerk if he had hoped to sneak up on her. Everyone laughed and settled into a mildly uncomfortable waiting game.

About then, a semi-panicked wail of sorts sounded from the area of the bathroom. Babysitter Lady came running back with the little girl. She gasped, “Oh my! I just took her into the men’s room! I took her into the men’s room! I was like, ‘When did they start putting urinals in the bathroom?!’ I can’t believe I did that! I’m so sorry!” And with that, she was off with the little girl again.

Scooter Man, still sitting even with the front of the line, which had now grown to hold a half dozen people, turned to a space roughly behind me and said, “Hey. How you doin’?”

No one responded.

“I said… how you doin’?”

No response. At this, I turned to see a woman leaning against the wall behind me, paying no attention to Scooter Man. He tried again.

CHERYL! Whatchoo doin’ ignorin’ me?”

“You talkin’ to me?” she asked.

“Yes! How you doin’?”

“I’m fine,” she said, sounding impatient with the man.

I looked at the two people at the registers and wondered what they were up to that was taking so long. The pressure of all the people behind me was starting to stress me out. Then Scooter Man decided he needed something at the counter so he scooted forward. Cheryl told him he better not be trying to cut in line, as she inched up beside me in a way that felt like her trying to cut in front of me.

Then she muttered half to herself, “I don’t even know that crazy man.”

“You don’t know him?” I asked.

“No! I don’t know him!”

“Well, he apparently knows you.”

“No he doesn’t. My name ain’t even Cheryl.”

“It’s not?” I asked, not bothering to hide my confusion.

“No. But if someone wants to call me Cheryl, that’s fine. Whatever. I’ve been called worse.” She inched forward a little bit more.

She was disrupting the linear nature of the line. My skin was starting to crawl. No-Nonsense Lady finally made it to the counter. I moved more decisively to the front. Several people, some employees, some not, went past me to get stuff – money orders? money wire forms? I don’t know. Scooter Man was in the way of an employee so he began to back up. Cheryl was standing behind him.

“You wanna get sued, man?” she asked as his back wheels rolled toward her foot, which she made no effort to move. “Just run over me and see what happens,” she continued. I think she was joking. Maybe. Cheryl was a little hard to read.

Scooter Man turned around and gruffly, but in a jovial way – if that’s possible, told her to move her foot. She did. Just a little bit. The crowd around No-Nonsense Lady’s cart had grown. There were six kids now – I don’t know where the older two came from. And the baby was balling her eyes out. Scooter Man had started talking to her and she had apparently had enough of this strange stranger. I looked desperately at the long-term resident at the first register. Surely she should be done soon?

No, but one of those employees approaching the counter earlier had decided to come in and help out. She motioned me to the counter. I’m surprised I didn’t trip on my rush to her. I quickly pulled out the 6-pack of socks that I wanted to exchange without a receipt. I explained why.

“You see,” I said, showing her one of the socks. “This package of socks I bought only has one polka-dotted sock. I checked the others on the shelf and they all have two polka-dotted socks so I want to exchange these.”

I had actually contemplated just buying a second set if they were all this way. It would have been worth the $8 to avoid the Returns line and I would have had my polka-dotted pair that way. I had left my socks in the car and entered Wal-Mart to check first. No, my package was unique. All the others were properly matched: two white, two gray, two black, two striped, two white with a stripe, and two polka-dotted. I had purchased them specifically for the cool polka-dotted pair. Only mine hadn’t been a pair.

Yes, I had just waited in the Wal-Mart Return line, my least favorite activity, and watched the crazy circus of people and stressed about possible line cutters because the package of socks I had previously purchased had one mismatched set. Me, the woman whose husband deliberately mismatches his socks. Every day. The irony was not lost on me.

As if reading my mind (they all seemed to have that uncanny ability – were my emotions that clear?), the employee told me to just go get another pair and, “don’t wait in line. Just show ’em to me.” On my way back with my properly matched set, I saw that the number of people around the Return Desk had grown exponentially. I’d have to actually push past people – people who would no doubt think I was line cutting – to get close enough to get the woman’s attention. My neurotic energy must have been radiating from me because the woman looked up at just that moment. When we made eye contact, I waved the socks at her. She nodded. I dropped the socks in my bag and hurried out. Those dang polka-dotted socks better be worth it.


All is right in the world now that the white to polka-dotted sock ration is 2 to 2 instead of 3 to 1.



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