Working on my next novel in addition to writing for other sites, I had to stop writing my daily poems for NaPoWriMo. Perhaps next year. For now, I will add occassional pieces that I am working on, which will include periodic poems, but not on a daily basis. The piece that follows is one I wrote for Storychip.com which is part of the World History Project. I’ve written several items for that site, so you might enjoy checking them out and perhaps adding some of your own to the site. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this reflection on a reality of our present age, the big-box-membership-store.
The store we buy our eggs from is just over a mile from our house. We could easily take a leisurely walk there if we wanted, but we never have and I’m certain we never will.
When I was growing up in Brooklyn in the 1950s, I walked to the A&P several times a week and occasionally carried bags for other customers on my way home. Today, we parked our car as close to the store as possible and grabbed a shopping cart on the way in. Two carts made for an A&P could easily fit inside one of ours. In fact, the store itself could easily hold several A&Ps within its space.
Large automatic-glass-doors slide open as we approach. In the outer lobby sits this month’s featured vehicle. Today, it’s a motorcycle; a couple months ago, it was a car. Next to it, a large sign lists today’s gas price.
To the right of the main entrance, a large bulletin board lists a dozen or more featured sale items: from electronics and furniture, to tools and tires. Just inside the entrance, a store employee smiles and greets us. We’ve been here before, so we show our Costco membership card before she asks. Like its siblings, BJs and Sam’s Club, Costco is one of the big-box membership club stores.
In front of us, rows of giant-screen televisions flash brightly colored cartoons. Beyond the TVs are isles containing other electronics like stereos, computers, printers, and home surveillance systems.
It will be a long walk to the eggs; the coolers are at the far corner of the store. We don’t mind the walk since we have other items to shop for and enjoy checking out the new sale items stacked along the long, wide isles. On this day, new stock includes brightly printed cards for discount movie tickets, spa-finders and forever stamps. The cards have no value and are exchanged for the associated items at the checkouts.
Continuing down the isle, we pass long rows to our left and right. To the left are the center-rows of the store. For the most part, the stock in these rows is stacked head high and includes items such as snack foods, cameras, jewelry, clothing, books, and furniture. The last few of the center isles include seasonal items. This being spring, they include kayaks, storage sheds, oversized planters, giant bar-b-q grills, gazebos, and a fully assembled 10′ wide by 20′ long by 12′ high canvas storage garage. The base of the garage straddles several isles and is well above our heads.
The isles to our right are about twenty feet high. The bottom several shelves contain stock such as cookware, home and business furnishings, light bulbs and lighting fixtures, tools, tires, and car batteries, washers and dryers, mattresses, garage doors, and a fully assembled outdoor play gym. Upper shelves contain duplicate stock items.
Exiting the isles, we reach the back of the store, which contains an in-store bakery and butcher shop, and coolers that hold meats, cheeses, fish, and fresh fruits. As we make our way to the left along the back of the store, several vendors are giving away samples of today’s featured food items. Free samples in this area include hot stuffed breads, sushi, and hummus. We decide to buy a container of the hummus. Like the shopping carts and the store itself, the hummus container is giant-sized. In fact, virtually everything in the store is oversized. You can’t buy a can of soup. You buy your soup by the case. If you buy a single jar of pickles, the jar is half-a-gallon instead of a pint. What Costco provides in item size, it takes back in variety. An A&P might carry dozens of different kinds of soup. Costco might have six.
In the back of the store, we put toilet paper and paper towels into our cart. It’s a good thing the cart is so large. The toilet paper package contains 36 rolls and the paper towel package contains sixteen. Finally, we come to the coolers in the rear corner of the store. They contain, among other items, our eggs. Before we get the eggs, however, we sample some more free food. These include prepared salmon and burritos. The salmon is delicious and we purchase several boxes. Then we go for the eggs. Like the salmon, the eggs come in boxes instead of shells. That’s because to limit our intake of cholesterol, we switched to egg substitutes years ago. I’m relieved to find that this time the box is written in English. The last time I purchased eggs, the only boxes available were in Spanish. I don’t read or speak Spanish and had to scrutinize the package carefully to be certain it was the same as what I had purchased previously. This time, I had no such problem. The eggs are Costco’s store brand, Kirkland, and come in a case of eight individual boxes. Each little yellow box contains the equivalent of eight eggs, so I toss my 64 eggs into the cart without worrying about cracking a single shell.
Making our way to the front of the store again, we fill our giant cart with bananas, macaroni, cereals, condiments, soda, fruit drinks, olives, laundry detergent, deodorant, and those six varieties of soups I mentioned. Along the way we sample more free food including salsa on crackers and a vegetable slushy made by a fellow selling Vegamatics for only $450 each. Near the front of the store, we pick up a bag of fruit and nut mix and we’re done. At the register, we hand the cashier our Costco card. You can’t buy if you don’t join. While my wife checks out, I hunt for empty boxes in the huge bins to the side of the registers. Unlike the A&P, in the no frills world of Costco, bags are not provided.
On our way to the exit, we pass the in-store fast-food outlet. In addition to pizza, pretzels and other items, you can buy a gigantic hot dog and an equally huge soda for $1.50 or go all out for an overstuffed sausage and pepper grinder and soda for $2.25. As I look at the people standing in the food line, it’s apparent that many of us are oversized too. In our country of larger-than-life stores, obesity is a national epidemic. We bypass the concession and are greeted by another Costco employee at the exit. She takes our resister receipt and scrutinizes it carefully while scanning the contents of the cart. This process is common to all of the big-box membership stores. It all looks very official but to my knowledge, no one has every figured out exactly what the ritual is meant to accomplish.
We pack out items into the trunk and back seat of the car; having made certain the trunk was empty before coming to the store, and head for home. In the next plaza, there is a Subway shop where you can get the special 6″ sandwich for $3.00. Being hungry, I stop to purchase one. As the only staff member present is making my sandwich, I ask if he owns the store. He says no and then goes on to tell me that after 29 years, he was laid-off from the A&P when the store closed last year.
April 11, 2013