Tag Archives: Wal-Mart

Retail Rant #3: Morons and Misconceptions

I’m fascinated with misinformation. Specifically, I’m fascinated with the concept of misinformation spread over large groups of people. I want to know how it is that people start believe that glass is really a slow moving liquid, or how everyone simultaneous decided to adopt the same set of incorrect rules for the game of Monopoly?

But some misconceptions are quite literally the bane of my existence. Wait, maybe not literally. What exactly is a “bane” anyway? Whatever.

I’m talking about misconceptions I run up against every day in my wonderful retail job. They’ve been frustrating more for years and today I’m gonna dump all that frustration out into your eager upturned mouths.

Thus follows, the three worst misconceptions I’ve seen in retail.

1. A Bag Constitutes a Proof of Purchase

Here’s the scenario. A customer comes up to the checkout with a pack of fishing hooks. I ring the customer up, he gives me the money, all seems right with the world. Until I ask this one vital question: “Do you want those in a bag?”

Now before we proceed, let me make one thing perfectly clear. We’re talking about a pack of five fishing hooks.  This is not a bulky item. This is not an expensive item. There is no reason why you should need a bag for this one single tiny item.

But invariably the customer will answer back with this phrase: “Yeah, you better. I don’t want to get caught going out the door.”

I repeat. That. Exact. Phrase.

Here is what I would like to say to everyone who uses that phrase: Are you a moron? Are you insane? ‘Get caught going out the door’? Get caught doing what exactly? Leaving with the item that you paid for? Good God, no, not that! What if your neighbor saw? What if your kids found out? Can you imagine the damage to your good name if someone saw you leaving with YOUR OWN PROPERTY THAT YOU JUST PAID FOR NOT MORE THAN TEN SECONDS AGO!? The HORROR. Put the item in your pocket and walk away. If you get tackled by the people greeter with no legs, all you’ll have to do is disentangle yourself and show him your receipt. He’ll let you leave. Really. It’s that easy.

2. Any Open Box Contains a Defective Item

I tweeted this one a few nights ago, but it bears repeating. A woman came into my story to buy a deep freezer. So I went to the back and got a cart to carry it out on (I could carry it across my shoulders, but I don’t like to show off). When I got back with the cart she was looking at the deep freezers with a concerned expression on her face.

“I think this one has been opened,” she said, pointing to one of them. “It has some tape where someone closed it back up.”

“Well, we can get the other one if you prefer.”

“I think that one has been opened too.”

“Ma’am these are the only two freezers we have in this size. But I’m confident that they haven’t been damaged.”

“Can you open the box and check?”

She wasn’t joking. I checked.

And if frustrated me to no end. Because, come on, we’re talking about a deep freezer. Whether is has been opened before is completely immaterial. You’re going to open it when you get home and somehow, some way that deep freezer will survive the incredible stress of being taken all the way out of the box.

Trust me on this one. I know some deep freezers. They’re tough.

3. The Customer is Always Right

People say this to me on a regular basis and it has to be one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard. The customer is not always right.

When a customer comes up to me and tells me, “I’m looking for a box of frangible ammo. I know you have it, because my cousin came in here and bought some about a week ago,” that customer is wrong. Provably so.

When a customer comes up to me and tells me that President Obama wants to put a four hundred percent sales tax on all ammunition, that customer (and his six hundred friends who came up to me and said the exact same thing, even though the NRA clearly and completely debunked that rumor on their website) is wrong.

And when a customer tells me that Walmart’s competitive ad match policy applies to non-advertised prices on ammunition at other Walmarts, that person’s name is Captain Ron and he should be aware that I will fight him tooth and claw, bone and marrow, soul and spirit, until Doomsday if need be. The management may override my decision a hundred times, but when time number 101 rolls around, know that I will still oppose him even then.

Also, his hair is stupid.

That is all.

For now.

The Anachronism’s Survival Guide

Dear Theoretical Future Grandchildren,

A few weeks ago I wrote you a letter, bemoaning the fact that it was likely you would never set foot in a physical bookstore with physical books. Because from where I’m standing it sure looks like everything’s going electronic.

Back here in the past there’s a bookstore you’ll have never heard of called Border’s that’s just gone belly-up and a lot of people seem to think that this is a sign of things to come for every book store.

But I was thinking about it the other day, and it occurred to me that I might have gotten it wrong. You little dearies from the future might be reading my post to you from the past and thinking, “What a lark! Good old pop pop, and his ‘End of Physical Books’ nonsense.”

So I’m writing this to cover my bases. But also because, I really do see a possible future for physical books, if only some company is bold enough to seize it.

Let me explain by way of a seemingly unrelated tangent: I work for Walmart. I expect they’re still around in the future, but if not, they’re so big now that I’m sure you’ve at least heard of them.

And here’s the thing about Walmart: when they were spreading and growing a lot of people said that they would push a smaller locally owned stores out of existence. After all, none of those stores could compete with the mega low prices that Walmart had to offer. And indeed many local stores did go out of business after Walmart came to town.

But the other day I was standing inside a local hardware store called Hall’s Hardware just down the road from Walmart and they seem to be doing rather well for themselves. And as I looked around me I realized that the future of physical books might look a lot like Hall’s.

This is how Hall’s Hardware succeeds in a town that has not one, but two big box hardware stores.

Finnish civilian gas mask from 1939.

Image via Wikipedia

1. They have stuff you can’t find anywhere else.

This is a store that has gas masks. This is a store that has eighteenth century style manacles. And on top of the weird stuff, they’ve also got hard-to-find hardware items, kitchen utensils, pet supplies…you name it they’ve got it. And every day when customers can’t find something at my store I send them down the road with the phrase, “You know they’ve probably got that at Hall’s.”


2. They understand that shopping with them is about an experience.

This is a store that sells gas masks. Yeah, I know I said that already, but…really. Gas. Masks. How cool is that? They’ve got shelves and shelves full of oddities you never knew you needed until you walked past them. There are lots of times when I’ll go in there just to look. And their people? Don’t get me started on their people. Helpful, knowledgeable, friendly… they know who I am when I walk in the door (though to be fair that’s probably because I’m there ever other day). Just being there is a joy.

So what does all of this have to do with books, my theoretical future grandchildren? Simply this: if physical bookstores are going to survive the digital tidal-wave that’s rushing toward them, they’re going to have to learn these lessons too.

They won’t be able to fight the low prices online so they’re going to have to stock books that you never would have found on your own, books that make you stop and do a double-take. They’re going to have to foster the midlist and leave the bestsellers to the online giants.

And they’re going to have to realize that shopping in a physical bookstore isn’t merely about buying books. It’s about an experience.

Will they do these things? Only you can know, my theoretical future grandchildren. As for myself, I don’t intend to worry about it too much. I’m just going to sit back and enjoy the ride.

With all my love, your theoretical future grandfather,

Albert Berg

P.S. What did I say about calling me pop pop? For serious ya’ll.

The Beach Scene

Today I’m going to tell you the story of a story. I guess the first thing you should probably know is that I’m kind of weird. I have what some people would called “an active imagination” and what other people would call “severe mental problems.”

The other thing you should know is that I work at Wal-Mart. For a long time, Wal-Mart used to sell cheap knock-off paintings for around thirty buck a pop. Most of these paintings were terrible, but other than that they were mostly okay other than that. But there was one that gave me the creeps every time I walked past it. It wormed its way into my soul and sent chill bumps up and down my spine.

The painting looked like this:

No, I’m not kidding. This isn’t the exact painting of course, but it’s close enough to give you an idea of what terrified me. Just two wooden beach chairs sitting on an empty stretch of sand, facing the sunset.

But there was something….wrong with the painting, something in the perspective maybe, or the way the wash of pastels piled up together, or….something.

And since I’m a writer I started to think, “Hey maybe there’s a story in this.”

I got out my notebook and wrote down the words, “The Beach Scene” and a brief thought about a man driven mad by a seemingly innocuous painting.

But the story needed something more, something deeper. It wasn’t good enough that the painting be haunted, I had read too many stories in that vein already. But I thought back to my childhood and a story I had read called “Von Goom’s Gambit” in which a man discovers a series of chess moves that, when observed by his opponents , drives them utterly insane.

And from these humble pieces I crafted a story that I call, “The Beach Scene.” Like the painting that inspired it, the title is hardly evocative of terror, but if you look closer you’ll find that there is something more there, something utterly unnerving. It is a tale of madness and murder that will suck you into itself and change the way you think about insanity.

If that sounds like your cup of tea then I invite your to check it out in the Amazon Kindle store for the piddling price of 99 cents.

And while your there, don’t forget to check out my other short story Derelict, which has just passed four thousand downloads, and is still available for free.

As always, I hope that you will enjoy both of these stories as much as I enjoyed writing them.

The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory

You know that thing people do when they get to the end of the year or they have a big anniversary or something, and they say, “Can you believe it’s been fifty years since we slayed the vacuum cleaner robot monster?”

I hate that.

Because seriously? Yes, I can believe it’s been however many years since whatever important event. I realize that it often seems like less time, but you know what? That’s because your brain is screwed up.

Don’t take offence, mine is screwed up too. It’s our memories really. They trick us. We think of them like snapshots or movies of the past, bits of information retained in our brains for years to come. But thing we fail to realize is this: we don’t remember what we don’t remember.

Those years that seem like they just flew by, that summer that was done before you knew it? Those times didn’t just zoom by like a speeding train. But you think they did. Because bits and pieces fall through the cracks. There are things that happened that you mind decided wasn’t worth saving, entire portions of your life that have simply been erased.

And I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m glad. Because on the whole, my life has been boring. Six years I’ve worked at Walmart. Six years. You know how many details of that banal existence are actually worth storing?

Answer: not very many.

But some things I do remember. I remember the day my wife came to work as a cashier. She wasn’t my wife at the time of course, she was just some cute girl with a nice smile. And I walked up to her and said, “Hi, my name is Al. I work back in the Sporting Goods department.” And then I paid for my drink and went and read a book or something.

And later when she was on her break she came back to Sporting Goods looking for me. She said, “I wasn’t sure if you were telling the truth or if that was just some kind of pickup line.”

And I said, “What the heck kind of pickup line is, ‘I sell guns at Walmart’?”

And then we got married.

And really if you think about it, it’s good that your mind doesn’t keep all the boring stuff. Because what that faulty memory is doing, what it’s really doing is making your life into a story. And sometimes it’s not even a true story.

As a storyteller myself I can respect that. It may seem like a horrible loss to be shed of all those moments of your life, moments you’ll never get to experience again, but in the end it comes down to simple editing. So while I don’t have to remember hours and hours of trivialities, I will always be able to reach back and touch that childhood moment when I had been out playing in the streets of my neighborhood, and the summer sun had finally gone down and the street lights were coming on, and in that moment I felt… unbelievably happy.

Moments like that are worth saving, stories like that are worth telling myself over and over again. So to my brain, I say, “Bravo, brain. Bravo.”

Where Have All the Good (Young) Men Gone?

I don’t know if you’ve heard it yet, but there’s been something of a buzz going around the internet about YA books lately.

(Apparently YA stands for “Young Adult”, and not “Yankee Angler” as I had previously supposed. This might explain why my previous attempts at writing YA literature failed so miserably.)

The buzz started as a low thrumming sound surrounding this article published by the Wall Street Journal which implied that maybe YA books had become too dark over the past few years. The buzz increased to a cacophony when Chuck Wendig released his tiny leather winged minions to roam the Twitterverse with his message of “Hey, adolescence is very likely going to be the darkest time of these kids lives, why shouldn’t their books reflect that?”

For what it’s worth I’m sort of in the middle on this issue. I think that writers should be able to write what they want to write and parents should be able to draw the boundary lines for their children and have the intestinal fortitude to enforce those lines. Stop trying to get the school to do your dirty work for you, parents (a mantra that applies to far more than this.)

But that’s not what I want to talk to you about today. I think in all of this hullabaloo about darkness in YA we’re missing a far more vital problem.

This problem can be summed up in this one picture:

Look at that picture. Look at it long and hard.

This is a picture I took of the book nook at the Wal-Mart where I work. This is the entirety of the YA section. This is the place where Wal-Mart consolidates all of the most popular books in the nation into one tiny little microcosm of the book selling industry.

Notice anything strange?

Not yet?

Keep looking….there! See it?

There’s no books for dudes! Not one!

Now I’m not saying this is Wal-Mart’s fault. They’re just buying the books that are big sellers. But what’s up with this? Why aren’t my slightly younger brethren sinking their teeth into daring accounts of manly exploits in fantastic places with the same ferocity as the females our the species seem to bestow on brooding tales of dark romance with forbidden creatures?

Have all the men migrated to their game consoles to control space marines with their thumbs, leaving behind the kinds of stories with “words” and “pages” to be completely overrun by the fairer sex? I don’t know. And frankly maybe this isn’t a new phenomenon. But it doesn’t seem like so long ago, that Harry Potter (Harry not being short for Harriett in this case) enchanted the world with his wizardly exploits.

I’m not trying to be sexist here, but the inequality of the situation astounds me. Because if guys aren’t reading when they’re young, then what’s the likelihood they’re going to start later?

I don’t have the answers. Maybe you do. Please to leave a comment and enlighten me with your wisdom.

If It Was a Snake…

In what has been described as a bizarre twist of fate, local hospitals have reported hundreds of incidents of snake bite victims in the past twenty-four hours.

“It started just after midnight,” said Dr. Malcolm Howell, the attending physician at Sacred Heart Hospital’s emergency room. “We thought the first couple of bites were just some strange fluke, but by the time morning came we understood that there was something much bigger going on.”

According to Howell as well as other authorities familiar with the cases, all of the incidents occurred  at local retail centers, though the link between these stores and the snakes is as yet unknown.

Deputy Howard Pickett with the Santa Rosa Sheriff’s office said, “We got them coming from Wal-Mart, Target, Dollar General, you name it. There just don’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to it.”

Management at all of the affected stores refused to comment, but one employee who spoke on the condition of anonymity, offered a firsthand account describing the bitings.

“This lady was looking for air conditioner filters. She came up and asked me where they were, and I pointed because they were literally right behind her, you know? And then she laughed and said…well she said ‘If it was a snake-‘ And then she was on the floor screaming and this strange looking silver snake was latched onto her arm.”

According to doctors the description of the snakes has been uniformly similar with most witnesses describing a silvery, almost metallic sheen over the snakes scales. So far experts have had no luck in determining the exact species of snake involved in the bitings.

“It’s as if they vanish into thin air,” Dr. Howell told us. “We don’t know what they are or what anti-venom to use. Luckily the bites don’t seem to be fatal but still…” He paused as one patient screamed in the background.

The earliest victims seem to finally be recovering from their wounds, and the rumor that the snakes have some sort of supernatural origin seems to be taking hold in their minds.

“People have been saying it for years,” said Penelope Angela one of the early victims of the strange snake bites. “They find something they’ve been looking for right under their nose, and they say…you know, they say ‘If it was a snake…’ I know it sounds silly, but now maybe it really is.”

Another story employee also speaking on the condition of anonymity commented on the rumor saying, “People have been saying that same stupid thing to me for years, and each one of them thinks they’re the funniest man alive when they say it. If I had a dime for every one of them I’d be rich. But this is almost as good.”

Doctors dismiss the strange explanation as nothing more than superstition, but they have no immediate explanation to counter it.

“Superstition or not,” Penelope Angela said, “From now on I’m gonna make sure I’m not right on top what I’m looking for before I ask for help. Until you’ve been bitten yourself you don’t know. It’s not worth the risk.”

A Book By Its Cover

A picture being worth a thousand words, I thought I might just post this and be done for today.

A Prairie Home Apocalypse or: What the Dog Saw

It was created by John Hornor Jacobs of atomictomato.com. If any of you are looking for cover work for your selfpub ventures, I cannot recommend John highly enough. He responded to my inquiry quickly and finished the work in an extremely timely manner. Also (and this is the big one for me) his price is accessible for even a lowly Walmart associate like me.

Bottom line, I’m rather pleased with the result.

You can see more of John’s cover work here.

And don’t forget! A Prairie Home Apocalypse or: What the Dog Saw will be going on sale for Kindle (and other eBook device thingies) on Tuesday. Tell your friends. If your friends aren’t interested in reading a book about a dog facing the zombie apocalypse, then club them over the head with a brick and steal their credit cards so you can buy one for them anyway.

Retail Rant #2: Stupid Answers To Stupid Questions

Once upon a time I heard someone say, “There’s no such thing as a stupid question.”

To that person I say, “You have clearly never worked in retail. Because we get them all the time.”

The following list of questions are questions I have had to answer multiple times a day every working day for the past six years.

1. Do you work here?

No. I do not work here. I wear this navy blue shirt and these khaki pants to signify my solidarity with the mantis men of Sigma 7 and their struggle against the oppressive Clown Monster regime.

The name badge with my name on it and the word “Walmart” printed across the top is a fake that I ordered off of eBay. I’ve been walking around this department for eight hours a day five days a week straightening things and putting up freight over the course of the last six years just hoping I could fool someone into thinking I work here. Finally my patience has paid off! Muahahaha!

2. Do you have this item in the back?

Yes, as a matter of fact we do. See, somewhere around the mid-nineties Walmart decided that instead “selling things” and “making a profit” were for chumps and it would be much more interesting to hold items in the back of the store and not sell them to customers. Really we’ve never been out of an item in the history of the store. We just enjoy watching you be frustrated. Because that’s good business.

3. Can you hold this item for me?

Sure! Because the theoretical money you say you will pay me in the future is so much more valuable than the actual money the guy standing right in front of me wants to pay for it. It’s because of economics and stuff.

4. Will this item be going on sale?

Why yes it will. The home office will decide to mark it down by seventeen and a half percent on a week from Thursday. Also the stock market is going to crash again in June, and a guy named Vinny “Champ” Edwards is going to discover the secret to cold fusion and make the world into a wonderful utopia. Unfortunately, you won’t get to see it because you’re going to get hit by a bus two days before your thirty-eighth birthday. Bummer. But at least my psychic prediction will allow you to prepare for it.

5. When do you get trucks in?

On the third day after the blood moon four thousand eighteen wheelers will descend upon the store like a swarm of locusts. We ship in thousands of hobos from all over the country to help unload those trucks and when they are done we quietly slit their throats and feed their blood to the demon-god that lives in the drainage pound out back. We keep our enormous stockpile of merchandise in the back room until the next shipment comes in and then if we’re feeling generous we might let you buy some of it.

Once upon a time someone suggested that we should try a system where two or three trucks come in every night, but that person was fired for being a moron.


[To be clear, I really do believe that there is such a thing as a stupid question. This is my definition: a stupid question is one to which you could have worked out the answer for yourself with a minimal amount observation and reasoning. Some of the preceding are arguably not stupid questions by my definition. But I’m making fun of them anyway. Because I can.]

Bizzaro Book Review: Discount Noir

When I first saw Discount Noir on the digital shelves over at Amazon, I knew I had to buy it. The premise of a book filled with flash fiction about Wal-Mart Megamart seemed too perfect to pass up, especially since I’ve been employed at Wal-Mart for the past six years. What I didn’t anticipate was the difficulty of composing a coherent overview of an anthology collection featuring works from more than forty different authors.

The first problem is the fact that there are so many varieties of style and quality in this book. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that any of the stories were truly bad, but some of them were simply boring. And others seemed fine enough as I was reading them, but quickly slipped out of my mind when I moved to the next story.

Which brings me to the second problem with this anthology: all the stories are flash fiction, specifically works of 800 words or less. Flash fiction is a wonderful fiction form, one that I’ve dabbled in myself from time to time, but putting forty-plus flash fiction stories all in a row like Discount Noir does presents a rather unique problem: because all the stories have a similar length, reading through them one after another starts to feel rhythmic and methodical. It becomes far too easy to move on to the next story without really taking in the full scope of the previous one, which means that even moments of true brilliance are easily lost in the noise.

Finally and possibly most important to me personally is the lack of experience many of the writers seemed to have with Wal-Mart Megamart. One story that really stuck out for me involved a guy trying to hold up the gun counter and getting blown away by the guys who worked there. I happen to work at the gun counter myself, and let me tell you, there are a number of reasons why that scenario could never ever happen. I understand that not everyone writing these stories has my level of personal experience, but I contend that it’s perfectly possible to write a good story without going so far beyond the bounds of your knowledge.

So far I’ve been critical, but the truth is this anthology really isn’t a bad read. As I mentioned before, there weren’t any real stinkers, and I found at least a few stories that moved me in strange and interesting ways.

Probably my favourite story in the anthology, “A Fish Called Lazarus,” makes beautiful metaphorical use of a bird trapped inside the confines of a big store. Another story of note, “Skylar Hobbs and the Rollback Bandit,” is a hilarious mash-up to the tune of Sherlock Holmes meets Wal-Mart. Other memorable stories include “Friday Night with the Tijuana Wolfman”, “What Was Heavy?” and “Black Friday.”

The final verdict? Meh. The collection was enjoyable enough, and from time to time, gems of true brilliance stood out from the pack, but overall I wasn’t thrilled. I didn’t feel like my money was wasted, but I think the sticker price of $4.50 could maybe use a Rollback. If you really like flash fiction this collection is worth a look. Otherwise you might do better to take your business elsewhere. Megamart may not be the store for you.

Radioactive Spaghetti Sauce and Cockroach Flavoured Noodles: The Hidden Perils of Cooking at Home

First off, see that little ‘u’ in the word flavoured? See it? Spell check says it’s not supposed to be there. But I’m keeping it anyway, because that’s how I roll. And just for good measure: harbour, labour, colour etc. Take that standardized spelling.

Okay, on with the show.

You know that moment when you overhear a Tyrannosaurus Rex discussing cooking techniques and you say to yourself, “Hey I could pull that off”? Well that’s how this story started. I was reading the delightful Dinosaur Comics by Ryan North, when I came across this page wherein T. Rex discusses the merits of making spaghetti sauce from scratch. I said to myself, “Aha, you must attempt this ‘spaghetti from scratch’ technique which this intelligent dinosaur has so eloquently espoused.”

That was the beginning of a journey. Specifically, it was the beginning of a journey to Wal-Mart, because I needed to pick up some tomatoes and olive oil. The way was fraught with peril and danger. I was forced to battle my way through driving rain and bitter cold for the better part of fifteen minutes.

I entered that swirling cauldron of humanity, otherwise known as Wal-Mart, and a few minutes later I emerged victorious with my much needed ingredients held high above my head like the spoils of battle. People kept looking at me strangely, but I paid them no mind. I knew what I was about.

I returned home and began the delicate process of dissecting the tomatoes. They were still alive when I cut them into quarters and scraped out their guts with a steak knife; I can still hear their screams.

But those screams were silenced when I put the tomatoes into the blender and turned it up to high. After a moment all that was left was a sickening pulp. I carefully pried off the top of the blender and gazed down upon my creation, but I saw to my astonishment that something had gone terribly awry. The sauce was a bright and glowing orange colour that blinded my eyes and offended my sensibilities.

Still the experiment was too far along to permit such things to stop me. I poured the pulpy orange ooze in a pot and started it simmering on the stove. Meanwhile in another pan I began to cook the meat of the rare and arcane Italian Sausage Dragon. When this had browned to perfection I placed it on the back burner and prepared for the final simple task of cooking the noodles.

Simple. I look back on my naiveté and shudder in horror. The process started well enough. I put the water on to boil and when it began to move itself aright in the pot I poured in the noodles. At first everything seemed normal. I went on checking my orange sauce for consistency and flavour, stirring occasionally. But out of the corner of my eye I kept catching a glimpse of something strange in the pot of noodles. Whenever I turned to look the thing was gone. At first I wrote it off to the fancies of my imagination, but then by chance I happened to be looking directly at the pot of noodles when the thing surfaced.

It was the body of a cockroach. I frantically grabbed for a strainer spoon, nearly knocking over the rest of the utensils of process, and began digging through the noodles trying to haul up that disgusting creature and save my dinner from ruination. Other men would have thrown out such a batch of noodles for the fear of the taint they might bear. There is a word for such men: women.

My wife looked over at my frantic flailing and asked me what was going on. I told her I was simply stirring the pot in a different manner for…better texture. She did not look convinced but she went back to her work without question.

Finally, I managed to scoop the cockroach out. I threw him into the garbage can and said a silent word of eulogy over his tiny body.

By this time the sauce had simmered down to the right texture and the noodles were perfectly done. I took them both to the table, and we began to eat.

The sauce was still coloured toxic orange but the flavour was wonderful. And the noodles tasted hardly at all of cockroach.


Addendum: my wife still doesn’t know about the cockroach. Luckily, she doesn’t read this blog, so I should be safe unless somebody rats me out.