Posted by: dougery | October 13, 2010


There is a portion of Don DeLillo’s 1985 novel White Noise where the protagonist details his experience at a supermarket which for me pretty much makes the book. I remember a few other sections of the story but to me the grocery inventory where the, and I’m sorry if I’m paraphrasing inaccurately, color of the produce has been amplified and supersaturated is the story’s essence. It stuns me that he wrote this more than 25 years ago but it might as well be a description of a contemporary Wal-Mart. The colors found within a big box store are just astonishingly bright and unnatural, the Mountain Dew of retail. Which brings us to today’s adventure in unemployment.

Going to Target is an anthropological goldmine. You can learn so much about “modern / postmodern / posthuman /whatever” American culture I’m not sure why Universities don’t send their undergrad classes in with notebooks and pens and laptops a’blazing. To arrive at an ‘off’ time, like say 10:30am on a Wednesday morning, is doubly rewarding. The last time Lara and I went it was a Saturday afternoon and we needed the Basics of Human Existence, paper towels, soap, cereal, soft drinks, that sort of thing. The place was mobbed. It felt like everyone in the Berkshires had picked that day to go to the mall (the mall in this case consisting of Target, Best Buy, Sears, Macys (!?) Bennigans (!!?) and all your assorted chains that only appear in malls, usually temporally restricted to the late 80s and early 90s, your Spencer’s Gifts, your Hot Topic and Pac Sun, your Claire’s Boutique where every girl aged 24-38 got their ears pierced for the first time.

But Wednesday was different. Underpopulated and hyper-staffed. There were 4 employees for every customer, many of them standing in bunches telling anecdotes and tales of weekend bravado “And I tell this chick, Baby…” “Don’t let anyone fool you, I’m a bad man, that’s right.” Whether or not the gentleman restocking the chewing gum and mints was in fact a bad man remains to be determined but he certainly wanted his coworker to think so. Male employees outnumbered the women 2 to 1, and the average age was close to 30 with the younger, female employees seemingly ghettoized to the registers. Most of the men were organizing shelves that already looked painfully orthogonal to begin with.

Perhaps it is because the ceilings are 60 feet high and the aisles need to be six lanes wides to accommodate the gigantic red carts spread out within the store but one never gets a real sense of place at Target. It sounds impossible, for there to be thousands of objects, perhaps hundreds of thousands of things to buy occupying  no space, but there it is. The goods are the store, the fact that there is a roof, some walls and a floor is all happenstance. Semi-tractor trailers could do wheelies about the interior of a Target if it was gutted because it wouldn’t be a building at all but an indoor parking lot. The distance between things is very calculated, just far enough to make you lurch from product to product. Exiting an aisle can be traumatic, all of the colors are gone, any closeness you might have had is violently disrupted and I for one swiftly duck back into another row, safely hemmed in by $10 lamps and 64-roll packs of toilet paper.

Sound operates funny inside. There is music playing, as in all department stores, but where it comes from is anyone’s guess. It fades in and out, is that Beyoncé? U2? Hard to tell. The music is a kind of ambient backdrop to the stuff on sale which only needs an upset child to do it’s sales pitch for them. “APPLE APPLE APPLE APPLE APPLE APPLE!,” a 4 year-old shrieked while we passed in the juice aisle. The mother handed her a small bottle of grape juice and the kid was confusingly contented. Various display areas for new electronics bleet Wii games and tv shows, at this time of day mostly consisting of the Price is Right and Sportscenter. By far the most disturbing juxtaposition was found in the music section where CDs specifically designed to be background noise, babbling brooks, rain, birds chirping, smooth jazz, elevator r&b was barely audible over the store’s actual music, which was also background music.

Time has an odd way of not passing, too. I entered the store and left it 20 minutes later, even though I was sure I’d been there for at least the afternoon. Nothing inside ages, whether this be the food, the clothing, or the stationary (still proudly mocking Dubya like it was 2005). When I came across the section devoted to sale items close to their expiration I was a bit taken aback. What thoughtless employee had left the doors open and let the real world inside to do this?

I left the with Destiny’s Child in my head and a spring in my step. Out in the parking lot the sun was shining but there was a chill in the air. I had my beanie on like a modern day Zac Efron and maneuvered my cart like a battle tank, wishing I had a red shell to fire at other shoppers. It is the closest thing I’ve ever had to go-karting, and laden with purchases I had quite a bit of ballast for the tight turns. Our Jeep accepted my offering easy enough, though I doubt we have the closet space back home for 18 rolls of paper towels and 40 pounds of cat litter. Adventure!



  1. there are so many things i love about this.

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