Christmastime in the Emerald City

{June 11, 2007}   My Smoked Salmon Flavoured Problem With Costco

My first panic attack – before I knew what a panic attack was – involved Costco. For those of you not employed in an elite enough position to be granted a membership (nevermind the annual fee), a Costco is as follows:

– A giant, undecorated warehouse. You may buy things from skids.

– A mass of gluttony, hence buying things not just from skids, but in skids. As in “I’ll have a skid of mayo, please.” Sounds like a vague sexual euphemism. Also, those who afford their patronage to a Costco are unlikely to have manners of this high regard. It is far more likely to hear ‘Gimme that skidda mayo.’

– An opiate for the masses; a nightmare for the rest of us.

 Yes, it was during those glorious, cultureless years I spent in the suburbs that I was first dragged kicking and screaming to this madhouse of cheap fabric. In a minivan, no less, with which I have a completely different set of problems – the first and foremost being my certainty that I spew less pollution from my ass. The building loomed over the parking lot, and while my memory may not be completely correct, I do believe it squatted next to a Wal-Mart, with whom I have a set of problems worthy of it’s own blog.

I think caged, fluorescent lights should be anyone’s first warning sign. The second – concrete  floors with stripped, uneven patches – should be a red flag on par with Dr. Atkin’s dying weight. I’m sure he shopped at Costco, and he was buried in a piano box. LOOK AT THE RED FLAGS!!!!!!!!!

But in we went, hustling all together, all five of us in our quaintly dysfunctional cul-de-sac clan. My family. Nobody has any real problems on this chilly afternoon. We all just quietly, murderously hate at least one other member of this party. But we’re mildly poor, you see, so instead of admiting it, we are going to shop at Costco. That way, we’ll look elite to our neighbours, who don’t work for the government, or as a teacher, or whatever the hell else you have to be, and so have no glimmer of the sordid, grinding mess that greets patrons upon their entry through the sliding cattle gates.

 In later years, I would ponder the mentality of whatever architect vomited up this mess of an echoing cave. It seemed certain that he had, over cheap alcohol, contrived to build an amphitheatre designed solely for carrying sound, with none of this couture attempt at scenery. (To his disdain, I am sure, one had already been perched somewhere near the lake, it’s affiliation with alcohol emblazoned on its white-washed sides.) Pure function, he must have thought. For carry sound it did; and hideous it unapologetically was, and very likely remains.

The first sounds, invariably, were those of ugly, chocolate spattered children whose arms were then being wrenched and pushed by the awful, polyester clad monsters that were their mothers, barreling their way through the rest of the proles. The sound of a bothersome, rude, arrogant tot shrieking through a mouthful of needless sugar is enough to make even the kindest of persons reach out and shake the nearest child like a British nanny. Stop it! Stop it, I say!

But I was fine. I was fine, I could handle it. I could even handle the incessant drone of the cash register beeps over all the other noise. All that noise. Look, my mom said, they have muffins. I like muffins, the crumbly apple ones. Maybe I’ll be okay. A quick shove deterred her from holding up a pair of five dollar jeans (procurred, yes, from a skid) to my waist; it was possible to defend oneself, yes. I was fine.

And then I saw it. From beyond the blue-jeaned Jordache-esque skid, I saw. That maddening inescapable pattern, unfolding before my apathetic eyes, which had glazed in an effort of self-soothing. Like John Nash, it became so obvious, so completely neon obvious that it nearly broke my brain trying to understand how nobody else could see.

We were new here, you see, my family and I. It was a novelty, these five dollar jeans, this cave of cheap madness. We had not yet succumbed to the Costco way. But there were others, yes, many others who had already made Costco their deity. With only a glance at the eyes, one could tell. Us newbies gazed around; my family with wonder, myself with fear. Those who were familiar with these concrete floors and caged lights moved more deftly between the skids and towering steel shelves. The experts would disappear behind a shelf and return, arms loaded, within a second. They moved through the entire warehouse without ever retracing their steps. They were magic. They were fat.

Yes, it made sense. The longer one shopped here, the fatter one became. Not ‘I work 9-5 and have kids and no time to exercise’ fat. Obese ‘I don’t care what anyone thinks of me, because Costco loves me’ fat. And the hair. It became dirtier, pulled back in a rubber band. The clothing leaned more towards the flannel or polyester, floral patterns abounded! It was a cult! An inward-sucking, life-destroying cult! We had to get out!

It was the chip dip. The epitome of it all was the barrel of chip dip I vaguely recall trying to point at with a weak, dissociated limb. The concept of Costco is that we save pennies by buying in bulk. But nobody needs a barrel of chip dip. It expires, you see, and so we eat more of it, eating in fear of that looming date when the effort we’ve made to save will be for nought. And it’s okay, because we save money. Our mindless minds continue on in this buy more, eat more, save more pattern until we become a Dr. Phil sideshow. The reason it’s more expensive to buy chip dip in little, convenient tubs is to spare ourselves the embarassment of having a barrel of chip dip! Nobody, upon discovering a barrel of chip dip stored in someones garage, would think ‘this person is fiscally responsible.’ No, they would think that person has a problem. A smoked salmon flavoured problem.

But nobody could see this! I began gasping for air, like a deer in the headlights, trying to grab my mothers arm and pull her away from a skid of ketchup. But like with so many panic attacks, it was all on the inside. Apparently I was just standing still, another bleak teen resorting to passive-aggression in whatever lame situation her family had put her in. I was trying to save them! But nobody could see it…no, nobody could see. I don’t know if I fainted, or screamed, or simply turned inwards until it was over, but somehow, I got out. I got out and never went back.

Years later, I live downtown, on my own. I’m surrounded by yoga, and vegetarians, and theatre schools and thai restaurants. Posters that invite one to a documentary on this issue or that; the pharmaceutical lies and the God problem. I have a corner store nearby, where I pay a little bit more to buy things in small, convenient sizes. And I only buy what I need. It costs a bit more; not much, but more. But I’m free. Free of that enslaving suburban monster, that consuming, squatting block of noise. I don’t have to pass it on my way to anywhere. Free.

As for my mother, I still visit her in the suburbs. I think she may be free as well; she divorced my awful stepdad, moved into a cute townhouse, and is dating a nice boy only a few years older than me. And I hope it all works out, I really do. Because I still, once in a while, go through her cupboards in search of oversized foodstuffs. Large containers in her garage, if unlabelled, are opened in hopes of varnish and paint, but in fear of mayonnaise and other condiments. It’s a small habit that keeps the panic away.

Also, I can never, ever, be anywhere near anything that smells like smoked salmon.


[…]      discount store: Me, five minutes to Honest Ed’s. You, twenty minutes in your tacky fucking gas-guzzling SUV to buy your skid of mayo. […]

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