In honor of Black Friday, here are my observations on the big box stores:
TARGET – Shockingly good. Extremely decent imitations of higher-end stuff, including lamps, furniture and containers, which can be used to hold smaller containers. The very young staff is helplessly helpful, and all of the recently hired guys have those scraggly, hopeful, almost-beards. The girls are of course, far better informed, but everyone is nice. The lighting and layout are welcoming, and the stores are spotless.
WALMART – Wondrous and sad. Harsh lighting and a floor plan which recalls a vast Soviet prison; Walmart is a retail gulag. The clothing is both neon-bright and grim; everything is stiff and flimsy enough to seem like paper doll clothes for plus-size adults. The staff is older, sometimes eccentric, and pretty great – Walmart hires retired and handicapped people as greeters, and they’re cheerful and distinctive. If you’ve ever visited the irresistibly terrifying website called People of Walmart, you’ll understand the overall vibe, which combines affordable stuff, lots of choices, and a Star Wars intergalactic hangout ambience. Diane Arbus would’ve lived at Walmart.
MARSHALL’S HOMEGOODS – Tchotchke paradise. There is absolutely nothing at Marshalls which anyone needs, and I wanted it all. Endless variations of things like holders for boxes of Kleenex, toothbrush caddies, and is-it-a-vase-or-is-it-a-wastepaper-baskets. Ground zero for seasonal decor: well before Thanksgiving, the place brimmed with both traditional angels and reindeer, and those strange, nonsectarian, modernist versions, for an Atheist Glitter feeling. Following an intervention, a shopaholic should be led through Marshalls and not allowed to touch or buy anything, even if their soul is crying out for that wicker napkin holder with the lucite handle.
PETSMART- This is why they hate us, and why they’re right. American pets have far more wardrobe options than the entire populations of most Third World countries. You can get hot pink princess leotards with tulle tutus and embroidered golden tiara emblems, for your cocker spaniel or salamander. My favorite item: the Thundershirt, which is designed to alleviate all of your dog’s anxiety issues, including, according to the packaging, thunder, social interactions, riding in cars and abandonment. This shirt is basically a puppy straitjacket, which can be tightened because, as the label explains, research has proven that animals respond well to compression, including “cattle when they’re being vaccinated” – no mention is made of cattle when they’re being slaughtered. The label even mentions autistic children – does Temple Grandin wear a Thundershirt? Because PetSmart allows owners to bring their animals, the place smells just the way you think it might smell.
COSTCO – The mothership. Everything is bigger at Costco: the savings, the Big Bucket of Brownie Bites, the pillow-sized sacks of potato chips, and the mammoth shopping carts, which I’ve seen holding up to four children. You need to establish boundaries at Costco – I will not allow myself anywhere near the canisters of cashews and chocolate-covered almonds, or the jumbo bags of Costco crack, which is trail mix. You’re rarely allowed to purchase a single item at Costco, where the jugs of detergent are only sold in pairs, yoked together. Last week, I saw huge cartons jammed with threateningly life-sized stuffed versions of Hello Kitty and Minnie Mouse, turned on their stomachs, with their polka dot skirts revealing their frilly white panties. Costco is America at its best: a great idea taken way too far.