I’m a sarcastic prick. I know this and accept it. There’s a part of my brain that’s always on, always observing, always judging, always curious. These thoughts and observations mainly occupy unimportant space in my brain, entertaining me during times of boredom and especially during those all too often occasions where you just don’t want to be somewhere and need an escape. Yes, sometimes I verbalize these little tidbits for other’s amusement, but I have to be careful. People probably think I say too much as it is. Why do I say all of this then? Because I need to get an experience off my chest.
Recently, my wife and I had an unusually early Saturday morning where we started our day at 3:30 AM. Not by choice, mind you, we had volunteered to help clean up the post-prom party at our daughter’s high school. Instead of high school kids going to someone’s house or a lakefront cabin to get wasted all night, our local high school sponsors a post-prom party where they set up a bunch of cool shit for the kids to do in the high school from midnight to 5 AM. Not a bad deal and at least you know where your kid is for the night. My wife and I grabbed a quick cup of coffee and headed over to the high school around 4 as they started wrapping up the festivities. For the most part, the kids were still chipper and screwing around, but you could tell adults and kids alike were ready for this night to be over. We strolled around, picked up trash, stacked chairs and tables, etc. Around 4:30, they started giving away prizes, ultimately leading the giveaway of a 2003 Saturn Ion. Not bad for some kid just going to the prom. We stayed until 5:30 and then headed home.
After you have 4-5 hours of sleep, wake up early, and are then done with what you needed to wake up early for, the natural inclination is to go back to bed. No kids were home, we had nothing else going on until 5 that night, but, of course, we decided to run some errands instead of going back to bed. My wife had helped build props for the prom that were still at the hotel ballroom. She thought that, while we had the chance, we should go down and pick up the props early. Fair enough, so we headed down to the hotel. We got there at 6, but the manager said the props were in the sales office which opened at 7 AM. So, now we had an hour to kill. My wife, bless her heart, is never one to waste time, so she came up with the brilliant idea of going down the road to WalMart to do some quick food shopping…and this is where our story takes off.
WalMart, on normal days, is always a bizarre and frightening experience. I understand their place in our society and why so many people spend an inordinant amount of time and money there. It has something for most everybody. Yet, there is a noticeable difference between the WalMart crowd and, say, the Target crowd, not only in the selection and quality of goods available, but in the clientele. We can get into a whole sociological study on Target people vs. WalMart people, but I think you know exactly what I’m saying without me having to say it. OK, fine, there are some fucking freaks of nature that shop at WalMart that you just don’t see at Target. There, I said it. When the crowds are large at WalMart, which is about 18 hours a day, the place is a mass of humanity that pierces your eardrums with incessant white noise from families that are unfamiliar with birth control, volume control, cooth, manners, and fiscal responsibility. When you can decipher the white noise, the conversation usually sounds something like this, “Honey, go get the DVD of The Grudge 2 and, on your way back, pick up a 3-liter bottle of grape soda, a pair of “Git-R-Done” boxers, and formula for the baby. We’ll put it on the credit card.”
Still, this is not why I’ve felt the need to write this missive. Going to WalMart at 6 in the morning is an out-of-this-world experience, not because of the fellow shoppers, but because of the graveyard shift. Few times in my life have I been bombarded with so much mental stimulus as I was on our early dawn visit to the Supercenter. WalMart, between the hours of midnight and 6 AM is Disneyland for the freakish, queer, and comical. It is a John Waters movie come to life. Did you ever see footage of Andy Warhol’s Factory days in NYC in the 60’s when the Velvet Underground was the house band? That was/is the WalMart graveyard shift. Never have I seen so much androgyny, bizarre cases of male-pattern baldness, god-awful wigs, tribal tattoos, bad teeth, meth heads, and still-drunk employees as we did that Saturday morning.
The crew was finishing their shift by stocking the shelves throughout the store. We walked in and headed over to the personal care/pharmacy section first. I did notice that people were stocking shelves, but the sheer severity of the occasion didn’t hit me until we went down the aisle to get some deodorant. There was 3 guys in our aisle, although I didn’t know one was a guy until he(?) opened his mouth to ask if we needed help finding anything. This was Julia Sweeney as Pat from Saturday Night Live. This guy had a very feminine face, long hair, glasses, and a body that reminded me of the Toad from Wind in the Willows. It seemed like his legs went all the way up to his neck. There was a small chest section that acted as a tiny barrier between his legs and his neck/head area. I politely said I was “good”. The other two guys, skinny and dressed in black t-shirts and black Levis, looked like they spent every moment outside of work in front of a computer monitor playing Halo 3. Their skin was so white, it was opaque. One of the guys had on a pair of shiny red and yellow Nike hightops so bright that I seriously doubt even a 15-year old Japanese kid from Tokyo would wear. And those fuckers wear all sorts of crazy shit, believe you me.
We finished in that aisle and headed over to the food, but not before avoiding the Mohawked, multiple pierced, 5″4″, 235 lb. white guy buffing the floor with a huge pair of military boots and Mark David Chapman glasses. I instantly pictured him at home researching various ways to decapitate cats while masturbating to online pictures of roadkill. I looked for a copy of Catcher in the Rye in his back pocket, didn’t see it, and moved along. We made our way through the food aisles, quickly picked our goods while doing our best to avoid the banter and stock items that the graveyard shift personnel were throwing over the shelves at one another.
I guess if you work the graveyard shift, you need to find some humor in your work. Evidently, one of the humorous asides is to bean an unsuspecting fellow employee in the noggin with a can of string beans or a bag of rice. I also didn’t catch every conversation, but I did pick up on some snippets. Mainly sexual innuendos and a lot of talk about their desire to start drinking. Immediately. I clearly remember one guy, mid-to-late 40’s, greying, say that he was still drunk from the night before and needed a vodka tonic in the worst way. All this while properly and carefully lining up the lunch packs of Bumble Bee tuna and crackers. You know, the ones that come with a little package of mayonnaise and relish. Every aisle was a new experience, every one totally unique from the aisle before. It was nothing short of fascinating. Truth be told, there were some freakish looking people shopping at that hour too. Hell, there was a guy in a zippered sweat suit, white sneakers, a ball cap, and white sunglasses from the set of Miami Vice circa 1985. He had on a wig that may have been the worst one I’ve ever seen. It made Bret Michaels from Poison look completely natural. This thing was long, stringy, and jet black. It was obsidian it was so black. It looked like a witch’s wig for a Halloween costume. There is no fucking way that this guy put this piece on his head, covered it with a ballcap and thought, “Hey, not bad. I don’t think anyone will notice.”
We finally finished getting what we needed and checked out. It was about 7 AM by the time we walked across the parking lot to our car. The graveyard shift was just getting off and were congregating outside. Some walked to the bus stop, others lounged around cars like many of us do at our jobs. But something told me that they don’t go home and do the same things that you and I do when we get home. These are people we just don’t see a lot of. Maybe that’s the way they want it, and maybe that’s why WalMart hires them to work the 3rd shift. Do you want them as the face of the company when the store is packed? Doubt it, but I was fascinated nonetheless. As we packed up and headed out, I took one final glance as they stood around a bit longer before they went to wherever they were going. Although, I looked forward to eventually getting back home, I’ll admit, part of me was curious as to what the graveyard shift was going to do next. I wanted to go too.