Dear Mrs. Vera,
Can you please tell me the difference between Costco and Wal*Mart? I can never decide where to shop.
Walton Brotman Anaheim,
Dear Warner Brothers,
First of all, I love your cartoons from sixty years ago! It’s an honor to help you out in understanding the often tricky etiquette of Dollar Politics facing modern consumers. I hope you’ll forgive me changing the spelling of your name a bit, for every time I said “Walton, Brotman, Anaheim, AZUZA!!!” 3 times I got an explosive, awfully smoky, brimstoney telemarketer of some kind right in the middle of my house, uninvited, though he hissed otherwise. But I feel it is acceptable to be very firm regarding these kind of intrusions, especially right at dinner time. “Make an appointment” is, after all, a completely professional — if terse — sentence.
Thanks to your obscure and esoteric inquiry into the vast, uncharted unknown, I’ve been led down a most surprising path this week, in the spirit of helping you decide how best to spend your shopping dollars, having little more to go on than the odd, blurry photos you sent in of two apparently unrelated but nevertheless spooky, so-called Area Aisle 13s, both mysteriously filled with disturbing, globby, ectoplasmic and on-set diabetic shoppers haunting the unpleasantly lit locale. Detailed forensic testing of the photos revealed tantalizing glimpses of what appear to be, among many other things, gallon-sized jars of stuffed olives in one image, while the other revealed massive amounts of discs of music of the kind that appeal to people who buy their music while grocery shopping, and many, many forms of ammunition. I knew a field trip was in order to assess the possible threat to our nation these warehouses of doom may pose!
Well, people have been telling me for quite some time now that I’ve been living under a very stylish rock for years, which is a lovely thing to say and quite true since that capstone from TutenWhatchama CallHer’s pyramid landed on me, um, a while ago, so I’m happy to report getting out from under it and visiting both places in person. Evidently, every town has one of these “Wal*Marts”, sort of like they all have a city dump or a city jail, and it’s just a cost to society that must be born equally among the impoverished who work there and their owners. Now I only visited the one Wal*Mart since my contact lenses froze off after a very brief period of visitation. My initial impression, and the one I left with, was that of an impractically over-ordered swirling gyre of trash floating in a boxy pacific ocean being utilized like some kind of ’70′s-style singles bar for the massive, wheelchair-bound Wal*Rus set with their swinging, on-the-go, lethargic and cheap, jumbo-sized lifestyle. But the music playing there cracked my hearing-aid batteries before I could fit a gun or a 25 lb. value-pack of strawberry double-stuff’d Oreos into my cart let alone find out where they kept the desperately helpful staff from Oompa-Loompa Island at night.
My sojourn into The Caverns of Costco was both less harshly lit and much more in-bulkier. If I were a dead Pharoah, I’d snap one of those up in a second and paint a triangle on the roof and seal the family in. Honestly, how much key lime pie does one society need? The much-less-terrified staff was able to answer many of my questions as they are paid a living wage for full-time labor and receive health care, allowing them to educate their descendants and not be a burden to either shareholders or the welfare system, which I consider to be a pretty reasonable approach for any society that has abolished slavery. And all the while they provide goods and services in ridonkulous quantities at very competitive values, as long as you have purchased one of their special plastic wafers for admission. My main complaint? Being forced to store items purchased for this life in quantities that more than cover the next one. Have they seen my apartment?
A curious side note: In Costco’s aisle 7, you can purchase a 12-pack of complete Wal*Mart stores, and Wal*Mart has a Manager’s Special on Family Value Costcos, but when you get them home the little Costcos and Wal*Marts inside the box stores are pixelated Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s outlets, respectively, with an occasional Woolworths — go figure. And if you keep opening the stores-inside-stores, you eventually end up with ghostly crying third-world children. I’ve spent nicer afternoons than the one I made that discovery on, let me tell you.
I hope this advice has helped all my readers to better incorporate a sense of the massive scales (like from a Dragon’s tail big) at work to capture their ever-diminishing resources, much as my reporting on the subject has diminished my own ability to see, hear and be dumb in the process of covering it. I leave you all with a final piece of knowledge that you may find helpful when struggling to distinguish between Costco and Wal*Mart, and it is simply this: Wal*Mart is the one with the sphincter in the center of its name.
Mrs. Vera Newman is a San Francisco absurdist character, humorist, artist, writer, community organizer, clothes horse and co-founder, with Mister Tina, of The Verasphere. She has been answering the unasked questions she receives from the lonely, empty rooms of America’s heart-shaped circulatory pump room ever since it began beating. Nestled in the politically bent bowels of the Nation since she was a young girl babysitting the very same newborn Nation, her ability to self-reflect about anyone else’s embarrassing shortcomings, inept fumblings or lousy recipes has enabled her invisible rise as a modern-day Cassandra, whatever that means. Feel free to dispose of all your worries by leaving them on her doorstep!
Editor’s Note: The official name of the megastore was rebranded to “Walmart” on June 30, 2008 when the hyphen was removed from its logo and the star was replaced with a symbol that resembles a sunburst or flower.