Fear and Loathing in Wal-Mart

Reading The Peever’s constant rants about the utter disdain for the monster that is Wal-Mart made me reflect on my own three and a half years with the company and whether it was as bad as the man is constantly making it to be. Obviously it is, as the pure shame I feel simply by revealing my association with Wal-Mart is enough to make me never show my face in public again. That’s how bad the stigma of being associated with the place is. And while The Peever’s assertions are correct in many facets, I must point out that working there isn’t as difficult as it seems. At least it wasn’t for me.

I worked at three different stores from 1998 to 2002, those being in Galesburg, East Peoria and St Louis. Working at three gave me a good idea as to how the company works in different areas, and it isn’t very much. Watching people thinking $7.50 is a good wage is somewhat disconcerting, wherever you go. When I was hired I started at the wonderful sum of $5.40. After my first two weeks and a paycheck of $315, I thought suicide might be a better option. When I left in 2002 I was at $9.10 an hour, which by Galesburg standards was a fortune. The saddest thing was I knew people who had been at the store since 1989 and were only at $9.00 even. I was resented for this. It was only by my own wile and initiative I lucked into such a mammoth wage, simply by changing stores and lying about my wage scale to the new stores. When I showed up for my first day at the St. Louis store, nobody knew who I was and where I’d come from.

In 2002, when I was fired, the longest serving associates at the Galesburg store were at $10.40 an hour. These were people who had been employed since the day the store in Galesburg opened in 1985. That is pathetic. Still most of them were in a comfort zone with their jobs and were at ease with it. When they retire they’ll be at $13.00 an hour surely.

I never heard them complain.

When I first started at the Galesburg store I was run ragged by a now-deceased manager who made sure my group of stockers and I were working constantly. The second we were seen to be slacking, out came the knives. It only recently occurred to me that I should have told him to fuck off for the pitiful amount of money I was earning. I had the satisfaction of knowing he sat on the toilet seat I pissed on every day though.

The dealings with difficult customers, deranged managers and beaten associates is a daily struggle in such a job. I admit to almost coming to blows with dozens of customers, simply because they disgusted me ñ such was their arrogance and impatience. Not all, but many.

Coupled with the typical lack of workers and a ton of freight to be stocked that was pillaged before I could stock it and you have a recipe for a killing spree. I would like to ask a manager from the Galesburg store how I was supposed to keep the Chemicals department stocked on a Saturday afternoon, when there were a hundred people crowding the aisles and emptying the shelves. This woman asked why my "outs" were so frequent and the shelves bare. Take a look! Too many people, with just me, alone, trying to cope with it.

So what do you do? Nothing. Sleep in receiving. Take a two-hour lunch. Destroy freight. Sexually harass willing female workers. Once I dropped some Palmolive cleaning liquid and left it on the floor. A few minutes later my department manager had twisted her ankle on it as a furious group of workers looked for the bastard who left it there. At the St Louis store I was removed from the premises by the store manager for one too many offenses and placed in a warehouse the store operated 20 miles out of town. Out there were six other men in my situation. With no supervisor present, all I did for three months was sleep in the racks, ride bikes around the warehouse, eat junk food, piss on the merchandise, throw footballs and smash plates. How else can you fight back against such a worthless employer?

The list of things I could have been fired for is endless, but what I was dismissed for, eating a piece of candy, was fitting. I had been actively hunted by the store manager of the day and that was it. But on the flipside, what can you say badly about a store where you can lie down on a pallet in the middle of the aisle at three in the morning in East Peoria, be spotted by a dozy manager and just watch him look and walk off? It works both ways. Yes there’s no union or perceived rights, but its only as hard as you make it for yourself. If anything, it was to easy to get away with things.

Just about everyone I worked with at Wal-Mart was eventually fired. One guy for taking three-hour lunches for six months, another for threatening to hang a black associate, one for having drugs in his system during a hospital visit on company time and another for telling a store manager to get lost while he ate three double cheeseburgers while stocking.

Everyone there knows what a joke the place is. In nearly four years I only heard one person say they loved their job. She was laughed out of the break room. And I never did the squiggle during the Wal-Mart cheer.

I still have some credibility. And I can sleep knowing I made a mockery of Wal-Mart, no matter how insignificant.