Twenty-four hour department stores fascinate me. It was around 0220 or 0230, Friday night. Saturday morning, actually. I got bored and didn't feel like pretending to sleep. I was milling around the snack-food aisles, searching for something; searching for nothing. Or something for nothing. Two bratty kids - young boys - come running past me, yelling, one chasing the other with a long, orange-and-yellow pump-action squirt gun. They both bumped me in the leg, one after the other, as they passed by. Neither of the little bastards acknowledged the bump. The kid in front was holding his right arm out as he ran, deliberately knocking onto the floor all things within his reach. The one in back with the gun, falling further behind because he was shorter and decidedly fatter than the other, yelled out as he was rounding the end-cap, "Momma - buy me this thing! Mom! I want this! MOMMA!"
I grabbed a huge drum of variety-flavored popcorn off the end-cap display, mostly because it was on sale for the low-low price of only $3.99. I turned the corner, hugging the tin. The boy's mother was in the next aisle with a full shopping cart: potato chips, a bright red case of generic cherry cola, two boxes of cereal, a small pile of miscellaneous clothing items, a tub of shampoo, a tub of red licorice, a fifty-piece box of frozen fish sticks - shit like that. Right when I passed by her, the woman yelled up into the stale departmental air, "Damn it, boy! You better stop that damn runnin' right now, you heard me? And Junior, you know yo' mama gonna be mad as hell I tell her you been actin' up 'round here wit' me. Best behave, boy. I'll straight up whoop yo' behind too, believe that!" The boys were already three or four rows over, throwing smiley-faced bed pillows - on sale now for only $5.29 - at each other, when the woman was finished scolding them.
I would always tell myself that this time I'm actually going in there to buy something. Maybe the excuse I give myself is that I'm looking for some item in particular, and don't have any other window of opportunity in my hectic schedule, other than the middle hours of the night, to find it. Or sometimes I might even tell myself that since I've got so much time to kill, I'm just gonna buy a whole lot of shit I don't really need and can't really afford. After all, the irrefutable success of capitalism is the wholehearted goal of all devoted patriots, is it not? Yeah right.
But whatever excuse I end up giving myself for allowing myself to go there, I never do; I never buy squat. Zero. All I do is wander. I wander around the immensely expansive labyrinth of crap, its crisscrossing passageways smothered in white light, its vast multitudes of mercantilist offerings that shamelessly and mercilessly pander to the fastidious frivolity of a fucked-up consumer, and trip out on all the bizarre people who shop at these bizarre hours for no apparent reason other than the temporary alleviation of boredom. Just like me.
There's the drunken fat chick getting pissed-off up front because the checkout's taking too long. She's buying five rolls of paper towels, cow-shaped salt and pepper shakers - two-for-one - and a crappy CD. Which of those urgent essentials did she come in for in the first place? And then there's the stoner dude who's pensively checking out the double toaster that's on sale for $9.99 - I saw it too - then debating with himself for about twenty minutes as to whether or not it's a better idea to get the one with four slots for only five dollars more because then he could cook four waffles all at once. Or maybe he should get the one with the two double-wide slots for doing bagels for only three dollars more - it comes in chrome. He's checking out his circus-mirrored reflection up close, making a goofy face at himself, laughing.
But trippiest of all - the thing that really gets me coming back for more - is the sight of the full nuclear families, five or six members deep, wide-awake, walking the aisles together aimlessly at three in the morning like it's the normal thing to do. Mom, Dad, and the kids - and maybe even the old Grandma too - cramming into the car and cruising down to the department store together to do a little family shopping on the graveyard shift. Trying on clothes, playing with toys, grabbing the week's supply of generic cherry cola and frozen deep-fried fish sticks. Like there's nothing abnormal about that at two or three in the a.m.
Around 0315, somewhere in the automotive or sporting goods section, I suddenly remembered the important fact that I only had $2.00 in my wallet plus a dollar in coins. What a fungus-head. I looked down at the item in my hand and admitted to myself that perhaps I really didn't need the variety-tin of flavored popcorn anyway. I put it back on the shelf and went home.
Next time. That's what I tell myself. Next time I'll buy something for sure.
a bit of randomness from the novel "JT" by Terry Rogers
A novel of psychological fiction from the Editor of MCR
Excerpted from the novel "JT" (Menda City Press, 2006)