Note: I’m a columnist for the Reader Weekly, an alt-weekly newspaper in Duluth, MN. Every Monday I post a new column.
I haven’t set foot inside a Walmart in a decade. I refuse to. I don’t care about low wages, the destruction of small businesses, or the weight and girth of their other customers. I hate the company because I used to work for one of their stores. The last time I saw the inside of one was in 1999, when I ditched out halfway through one of my shifts, never to return again.
I was a college student working a summer job at Sam’s Club, a Walmart-owned warehouse club. It was the worst gig I’ve ever held in my history of employment, and that includes the three months I spent as a telemarketer and the six months I spent as a construction laborer cutting open pipes full of live cockroaches.
The problems started about a month after being hired. I entered the employee break room at lunch to find dozens of tiny comic books covering the tables. They were created by a local church to inspire kids to stay off drugs. Equally bored and intrigued, I read one.
The comic told a heartwarming tale of a teenage boy who, when coerced by friends, tried smoking marijuana. He very quickly became addicted to marijuana, as people are apt to do, and robbed a neighbor’s house at gunpoint to get money for more marijuana, as people are also apt to do. His violent, uncontrollable rage – a common side effect of pot smoking – caused him to murder the homeowner in the process.
Most churches would have ended the lesson here, with their drawing of the bloody corpse and the remorseful boy, but alas, there was more story to tell. The teenage boy was arrested for murder and sentenced to prison, where in one particularly disturbing comic book panel, he was raped by his gigantic black cellmate.
You’d think the drawing of the boy yelling for help as his cellmate climbed into his bed would be the cherry on top of this particular tale’s ice cream sundae, but they added some sprinkles on top. The next panel showed the boy lying dead on a gurney as the prison doctor proclaimed, “He’s died of AIDS from this homosexual experience.” The prison warden replied, “If only he had turned to Jesus instead of drugs.”
I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried. If I were that funny and talented, I’d probably be writing for a much more prestigious publication than this.
It was clear this comic book was not from a normal, nice church, but rather one of those creepy ones whose members you see on the news protesting at gay funerals. So I gathered all the tiny comics and threw them in the garbage.
When I showed up for work the next morning, the comics were back. Someone had taken them out of the garbage. You could still see food stains on some of them. I again tossed them away, this time squirting a healthy dose of ketchup on the pile. A week later, even more comics were spread throughout the break room, along with a note from the store manager warning us not to intrude on the religious freedoms of others.
I contemplated creating my own comic, in which a boy becomes addicted to church and dies after being raped by his pastor, causing the coroner to lament, “If only he had chilled out with a blunt instead.” I compromised by throwing the note and the comics in the garbage again.
A few months later, after two counts of being written up for unnecessary sassiness at the registers, I requested a few nights off for a theater production in which I had the lead. I didn’t get any of them off, despite giving two months notice and posting everything in the “wish book”, a binder of time-off requests that are never fulfilled. You could be burying your mother, and when you complained about not getting the day off, they’d say, “Well, that’s why it’s called a wish book.”
So I called in sick for all seven of my theater performances, causing one of the managers to confront me. I told her the dates had been non-negotiable, and she responded with a story about a fellow employee who had planned a vacation to Disneyland with his wife and kids the previous summer. Four days before his vacation, someone in his department quit, so she had no choice but to reverse his vacation approval.
“He couldn’t find anyone to work for him, so he had to cancel his plane tickets and hotel reservations,” she said. “We’re a business that needs employees here to operate properly, and it’s not right to make the entire store adjust to one person’s schedule. Understand?”
I stared blankly at her, waiting for a punchline to this joke. None came. Her story of ruining an employee’s expensive vacation, costing him thousands of dollars, was being told as if it were reasonable instead of batshit crazy.
Realizing I was surrounded by lobotomy patients, I politely thanked her for the explanation and returned to the break room. I threw my blue smock in the garbage, squirted it with ketchup for good measure, and walked out to my car.
That was the last time I visited any Walmart-owned business. This month marks 10 years of me not giving them my money, and I’ve never been happier. I only wish more people would do the same.