by Adam Engel
April 18, 2003
I’m all man and only man. I work and weep at Wal-Mart. Our new “town hall.” What was that poem from high school? “In Xanadu did Kublai Khan yadda yadda yadda pleasure dome decree…” Well I’d bet my bottom dollar that under that pleasure dome was a clean, well-lighted Wal-Mart. We have no clue as to why our boys are overseas again, but the President says they must be to defend our freedoms. Smash those WMD's. Liberate the downtrodden people starved half to death by Saddam’s sanctions.
“It is springtime, and so all the Wal-Marts around the country have plastic flowers in the crafts aisle and chocolate eggs in the candy section. But it is also wartime, and at Wal-Mart, which sometimes functions in its vastness as a kind of substitute town square, the impact of the war in Iraq is on display around the clock. For Wal-Mart, the country's biggest company and employer of more people than any entity except the government, only something like a war could force the kinds of changes it has made since the fighting began. Computers normally used for gift registry now send e-mail greetings to the military. On the internal Wal-Mart television network, the usual loop of giddy promotions for Mary Kate and Ashley apparel, garden tools and DVD's is interrupted twice a day for live briefings from the White House and the Pentagon.” – New York Times, “Wartime Grief at Wal-Mart,” April 4, 2003
We congregate on breaks to hear the latest. About our boys, our fiancés, our brothers. Over there, over there. We tie yellow ribbons to our flags. Management gives us time to grieve when the television spits grief upon our muddled heads. We can’t put two and two together. But we can work the register, it’s computerized and self-correcting, in case we mess up, or let greed get the best of us.
“In the beginning, someone at Wal-Mart headquarters decided that it would be a good idea to broadcast war coverage, via CNN, into its stores around the clock. The monitors, which exist mainly to advertise Wal-Mart wares, are everywhere, from the front of the stores to the infant, sporting goods, electronics and grocery sections…The round-the-clock coverage was not well received at stores where the American forces represented real people, not just images on a screen. Under Wal-Mart policy, stores are not allowed to turn the monitors off, and because it is a closed system, they cannot change the channel to something else. Before long, Ms. Stallings was on the phone to Wal-Mart headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., asking the Wal-Mart brass to do something about the broadcasts. By March 22, the format was scaled back nationwide to include only the two daily briefings.” (New York Times, “Wartime Grief at Wal-Mart, “ April 4, 2003)
Wal-Mart is good to us. We are allowed to read emails during breaks, and when the television always on delivered too much worry, Management agreed to keep it tuned to CNN only some of the time, not all of the time, so as not to upset us, but at the same time show the customers, or “guests” as we refer to them, that Wal-Mart is as patriotic as the next super store.
“At the store in Jacksonville, N.C., near Camp Lejeune, practically all the employees and customers are related to someone in the Marines. Ms. Stallings spends her days and nights on an emotional shore patrol, up and down the aisles of her store, a 200,000-square-foot ‘supercenter’ that sells everything from baby clothes to Bloody Mary mix. She and her co-manager, Terry Branton, seek out the unusually quiet, the drawn-looking and the people who are openly in tears - mostly their employees, sometimes their customers, too. They console them as best they can.” (New York Times, “Wartime Grief at Wal-Mart, “ April 4, 2003)
Some of us have read radical nonsense about the Walton family that owns Wal-Mart and their being one of the wealthiest families on the planet the top one tenth of one percent of the population that owns 80 percent of everything. But they give us work. Honest days work for an honest days pay. Put food on our tables. Discounts on Wal-Mart items with company scrip— I mean, dollars, strong U.S. currency.
And if one of our boys makes the Ultimate Sacrifice, why, we all pitch in, like one big family, we meet and grieve together, in shifts, in the employee lounge, but only for as much time as is necessary, we have guests to wait on, we can’t smoke cigarettes in there but we break out a box of nicotine gum, courtesy the Pharmacy, this being war time, and we console each other and the bereaved, and promise to be there for each other always, we are family.
Yeah I once had my own business, a little discount store the family owned since grandpa came to America, a “general store” really, nothing much, it’s better this way. Wal-Mart has so much of everything to offer it’s guests, while we had so little and didn’t even have the sense to call em “guests” we called ‘em “customers,” what hicks we were. But when Wal-Mart came in and the family business tanked the Company was kind enough to give me a uniform and, taking my years into consideration, make me a “greeter” which is an easy gig, and I’m part of the Wal-Mart family here in this shopper’s paradise where the guests have everything available for their purchasing needs.
“The stores' break rooms have become repositories for sorrow, the places where Wal-Mart workers go to cope privately. None of the store managers interviewed said they had brought in extra grief counselors or other specialists. ‘Fortunately, the military has very good counseling services,’ Mr.. Branton said. Although full-time employees can call a counseling line for help as part of their benefits, others tend to rely on their friends at work.” (New York Times, “Wartime Grief at Wal-Mart, “ April 4, 2003)
Really they’ve been good to us. And were else can we go to support each other, the town going the way of my old discount shop, and the boys off to war again?
We need Wal-Mart just like we need each other, come business or pleasure, cause there’s no place else to go. And we have everything we need including Mexican, Chinese, Pizza, Hamburgers and soda, and a pharmacy (sometimes the folks with loved ones over THERE go in for sedatives: valium, Xanax and whatnot. I see nothing wrong with that in stressful times like this so long as it doesn’t become a habit or anything illegal.
“Many of the employees, whom Wal-Mart prefers to call associates, are wearing yellow ribbons to work.” (New York Times, “Wartime Grief at Wal-Mart, “ April 4, 2003)
That girl, what’s her name, Stella, for instance, lost her husband the first week.
If anyone needed medicating … though you’re not supposed to drink on that stuff but oh, hell …sometimes anything to kill the pain. Chewed that nicotine gum 24/7, smoked like a chimney too out in the parking lot.
Only 20 years old. Her husband 21, now, for the ages. She had some problems not two months ago, miscarriage. I suppose no kid left behind without a dad and for her a haunting loving spitting image face. Maybe better this way, financially. And she’s still so very young, in a few years maybe someone else. Start life new. She already used up her and personal days for her pregnancy problems, but Management understands, what with the stress of him being sent off maybe that’s what caused the abor—the miscarriage. Point I’m trying to make is when she got the news from that nice Army chaplain she had no personal days left. But as I said we’re family, we pitched in, everyone a few hours here and there. And Blanche, an older gal needed the money, took extra shifts in Stella’s place while she settled into the, her new situation.
“There are two stages of major upset: first, when e-mail messages and phone calls are cut off because a military unit is heading into combat, and again when reports of casualties come in and mention a military unit stationed nearby. But people inside the Wal-Marts seem to share more general fears, as well: about their children, and about the future.” (New York Times, “Wartime Grief at Wal-Mart, “ April 4, 2003)
One day Stella went in to talk to Management, then hugged and kissed us all good-bye, said, “Nothing left for me here, nothing.” But she’ll be taken care of. She did good work here. I’m sure Management has only fine things to say, and her being a war widow and all she’ll find a position in any town. Wal-Mart’s a big chain all over the country nothing bigger. And again she’s a gold star widow. The higher ups in the Central Office, wherever that is, will take that into account. No problem anywhere she goes. A hard-working pretty girl; she’s young.
“Many workers also have pictures of their husbands or wives stationed in the gulf pinned to their smocks alongside the name tags adorned with smiley faces, a Wal-Mart staple…. Some stores have organized collections of food, toiletries, clothing and other items for the troops and their families left back home. In Atlanta, contributions gathered with the help of a radio appeal filled four 18-wheel tractor-trailers, and included bottles of Listerine and boxes of Girl Scout cookies, on which donors scribbled messages like ‘Thanks for keeping us free.’” (New York Times, “Wartime Grief at Wal-Mart,” April 4, 2003)
This war will be over soon and most of our boys will come home safe and sound. I’ve been in the Army myself and I know they take care of their own. And we didn’t have smart bombs and computer cruise missiles to protect us, only napalm. And now I hear they have a MOAB bomb to put Saddam in his place once and for all. Goddam Saddam and all his crew, when will they leave us alone? Why must we Americans be the only people of conscience to take out these dictators and put this crazy world in order?
All they know is force, the only language they know. When I saw those towers in NYC, though I’ve never been to that particular city myself, when I saw them fall like mounds of gray snow, I wept, oh yes, I wept and all I wanted was revenge. All I wanted was to kill Saddam with my bare hands for doing that – wait, it wasn’t Saddam, it was that other guy – but hell I wanted to kill ‘em all for bringing their evil to this clean country, our beautiful, free land.
“Back at the stores, the talk of war continues, and employees get through their shifts hoping for the best. Mr.. Branton, 36, said he had some experience with his employees' feelings: his father spent 25 years in the military, including lengthy tours in Vietnam. “So I was a little boy on the front steps waiting for Daddy to come home a couple of times,'' he said. His store is decorated for Easter, he added, and planning to conduct business as usual. ‘We have to carry on,’ he said. ‘That's important for our whole nation. That's one of the things that makes America America.’” (New York Times, “Wartime Grief at Wal-Mart,” April 4, 2003)
Those tall tales about how all our boys are gonna die of depleted uranium and whatnot: pure propaganda put out by the anti-war crowd and the trouble-makers. I remember those parasites well. In my day they were communists and hippie drug peaceniks not terrorists. What, I ask you, WHAT is their problem? What do they want from us hard-working, life-loving Americans who only want to do what’s right; who only want to feed our families; who only want our children to make grandchildren; who only want to live in peace?
Adam Engel would rather scrape the blood, shit, vomit, teeth, hair and other human matter from the torture chambers of Camp X-Ray with a tooth brush than work for either Wal- Mart or The New York Times. Flags, yellow ribbons and conjectures as to what excuse Bush Inc. will use to bomb Syria can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org