Sunday, October 24, 2010

Not on the List

My name is Susan and I am a recovering snob. I’ll share.

My organization hosts, coordinates, promotes, sponsors and facilitates professional development events and meetings for educators. Because we’re a small, no-frills, not-for-profit outfit, this requires me to get off my high horse and be event-Cinderella – serve a few lunches, and do a few dishes from time to time. I don’t mind this role because I’m so grateful to have found this workplace, it feels good to feel sorry for myself now and then.

It’s easy to carry out this task effortlessly because our little office pantry is always stocked with boxes-grande of everything I need to get the job done. These boxes-grande come from Sam’s Club – the jumbo warehouse store that sells everything in quantities of five thousand and looks on the inside like they never quite finished the building. A Sam’s Club membership is required to shop there, and only two of our staff have one. For several months, this has allowed me to offer to go “if only I could.”

I don’t like most stores to begin with but I really don’t like warehouse stores that feel like airport hangars, have bad lighting and are high and wide enough to have indoor birds. If I have to be in a store, I want it to look nice, smell nice, sound nice, and preferably sell shoes somewhere on the floor.

I’d rather go to Saks than Macy’s
I’d rather go to Macy's than JC Penny
I’d rather go to JC Penny than WalMart
I’d rather go to Walmart than Toys R Us
I’d rather go to Toys R Us than the dentist
That's not true. I’d rather go to the dentist.
I'd rather go to Toys R Us than to the emergency room with a head wound
But I’d almost rather go to the emergency room with a head wound than Sam’s Club.

I never wanted a Sam’s Club membership or one of those Sam’s Club IDs that make everyone look like they’ve been apprehended for a serious crime. It was my plan to continue leaving for the rest room when the subject of “getting Susan a Sam’s Club membership” was raised by staff/members.

A few weeks ago, my co-worker Bernice (who understands me almost like my mother does and likes me anyway) handed me a form and said something like, “You’ve been offering to go to Sam’s, so I got you a form for membership.” She sipped her coffee and said, “You should probably make a list.” Then she turned around and laughed up her sleeve.

My first shop was yesterday and my first stop was at the membership desk where my photo was taken while I was looking at someone walking by. Then, I went looking for paper plates and found the ones I needed in a sealed crate several hundred feet above my head. I moved on to bottled water and encountered the same situation. I couldn’t find the Granola bars at all, and the freezer bags came in crates of six units each. When I looked for someone in a smock who might help, I found nobody.

I went back to membership services and leaned on the counter. A worker came over and looked at me without saying anything.
“I need some help,” I explained, “I need dinner size plates that are too high for me to reach.”
“What kind of plates are they?” asked the worker.
“Dinner size, 10-and-something inches,” I said.
“But what make?”
“I don’t know, they’re blue around the edges.”
“You’re calling them dinner plates? Where did you find dinner plates?”
“No, dinner plate size,” I said. I motioned toward the left half of the store, “Over in that section.”
“What aisle?”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know the type of plate or the aisle they’re in?” He spoke into his collar microphone, “John, got a woman who needs dinner plates and she doesn’t know what kind.” To me he said, “Glass or ceramic?”
“You shoulda said paper. See, that's the difference. Paper plates, John,” he said to his collar. To me he said, “He’s on his way, let’s meet him halfway.”
We walked, and I asked the worker where the water and granola bars were. The worker said to me, “Not sure, but wait until you meet John. John knows everything about this store. Been here forever. Like the whole time the store’s been open. No question you ask he can’t answer. You’ll see. You want to know where something is? He’ll tell you. Like the granola bars. Just ask him.”
“Maybe he can just stay with me while I shop,” I said.
John met us halfway and the worker said, “Here’s the woman.”
John and I said hello.
“And she wants you to stay with her while she shops.”
John looked at me and quickly, I told him I was kidding. He led me to my plates, pointed out the other things, and I was on my way.

At the granola bars, I turned around and the other worker was standing there cradling two cases of water. He laid them in my cart. “So what else do you need?”
“Oh, you don’t have to do anything else,” I told him.
“But I thought you needed someone to stay with you,” he said.

Back in my car, I paused for a moment. I looked at the bumper sticker on a pick-up truck up in back of me which said “Pro-life Dad” and I watched a teenager enter the store, wheeling a huge cart. I saw two men talking who looked like they might be neighbors, and a scary looking guy with a zillion tattoos and an indoor pallor walk past them. I sat there for a while.

You can’t be a writer without getting in the business of life. You can’t be a writer and only venture into the kind of places that turn the price tags from view. You can’t be a writer and not look for the chance to be Everywhere.

Real life isn’t for snobs. But real life is for writers.

I forgot the Diet Coke. I’ll have to go back. But I know who to look for.


  1. I laughed out loud multiple times at this one--especially on the store list part since I'm working on a JCPenney campaign right now to improve its image..well done :)

  2. Reading your blog while drinking my coffee is my favorite way to spend practice breaks.

    And I too laughed out loud at your "would you rather" list. Toys R Us is at the bottom of my list as well for places I want to spend my time.

  3. Thank you for the comments. It was a trip worth documenting. The funniest part was the elder-John's face when he thought I expected him to accompany me through the store.

  4. I happen to love Sam's club, although I only recently became a member. My friend and I went in and then went our separate ways. It didn't occur to me that I wouldn't have the first clue about where to find her, finally called her cell! From inside the store!I think I met John.

  5. Good start. Next, we'll have you go to Market Basket to pick up some of the more exotic groceries. And no it won't be the one at Fort Eddy. It will be the truly gritty one behind Main Street. There you will find material galore! Bring your Purell.