Into the Valley of Wal-Mart, Riding the Gift Horse

1206576751803092354elkbuntu_Blue_gift_with_golden_ribbon.svg.medWinter break has arrived, and with it, the incredible gratefulness that I feel that always accompanies any and all gifts from my students.  I didn’t become a teacher because I wanted presents at Christmas time.  After 16 years, this gesture still surprises me.  Nor am I the type to “brag” about what I get.  Sadly, I can recall a number of instances when teachers would get together, where the quality and the type of teacher gifts would get discussed and talked about, almost like you might hear from a discussion of last night’s football game on ESPN.

The point of this post is therefore not to brag, but rather to relate the misadventures that came along with one particular gift this year:  a Wal-Mart gift card.

Anybody who knows me personally, can vouch for my dislike of Wal-Mart.  This, for instance, encapsulates my feelings.  My old teaching partners at my old site used to love Wal-Mart, along with Chik-Fil-A, and even though a few had political leanings that mirrored my own, they couldn’t stay away from either place.  For my own part, I once actually won a Wal-Mart gift card to get supplies for my classroom at my old school site, and I politely turned it down citing to the principal the same sort of distaste and discomfort with their business model and practices I still feel.  Especially when you read stuff like this nugget from last week.

But all of that seemed to go out the window when, Christmas morning, I unwrapped the gift card that my student, A., had given me.

Dang it.  What did this mean?  Once before, I had gotten a gift card from Wal-Mart, but the wife and I wound up white elephanting the gift to someone who had no compunction about shopping there and who, at the time, eagerly accepted our largesse.  The wife heard my under-the-breath reaction and asked what was going on.  When I held it up, her “Ah” told me that she was on the same wavelength.

“That’s too big of an amount to give to her, or anyone else.”

“I know.”

“You should probably use it.”

“That means I have to go into the store!”

“See, if you can use it on-line…”

“Oh, yeah.”

It was brilliant.  I could be a hypocrite without even having to step into a store.

So, on Wednesday, as the wife found herself running work errands, and Kate buried herself in her room with her own new iPad Mini, I logged on to

The website interface was as clunky and cluttered as the real-life Cerritos store had been the one time I had been in it, back in the early part of century.

Still, I knew what I wanted:  Dark Knight Rises DVD.  New Walter Mosley.  Maybe headphones for Kate’s new iPad.

2810-beAfter dragging Katelyn away from her iPad long enough to choose the bear headphones as shown on the right, I put in the payment information from the gift card.  I also noticed that shipping would be free if I chose what was called the “Site-to-Store” option.

I thought about it.  If I chose that option, I would be forcing myself to physically have to walk into a Wal-mart.  And not just once, 3 separate times.  Holding my distaste for what I was about to do at bay, I clicked to buy the items.  Later on that afternoon, the wife chided me for spending cash at Wal-mart, even though 95% of my purchase had been covered by the gift card:

“It wasn’t that much, though. Could have been worse…”

“It is worse.  It’s Wal-mart!” comes my reply.

On Thursday, I get the first text message.  Kate’s headphones are in.

“Wow, already?  Kate, your headphones showed up.”

“Yeah!  I want my bear headphones.”

We’d been driving her back from her hair appointment, and I see the message as we pull into our driveway.  Kate’s been complaining about wanting some food but that all vanishes when I tell her headphones are in.  She asks if we can go get them.

I agree.  I then begin to brief her.  I want this package pick-up to be as surgical an extraction as I can make it.  Get in.  Get out.

“Kate, hold my hand at that store.  Do not let go for ANY reason.  Ok?”

“I will, Daddy.  Is that store scary?”

“Oh shoot”, I think to myself.  I want to raise a Blue State child, but not at the cost of making her terrified.

I quickly reply to her, “No, just real interesting.”

We drive over. The parking lot looks somewhat empty.  It’s early on a Friday, and the Boxing Day crowds from Wednesday appear to have slowed a bit.  Still, I make myself aware of my surroundings, even though it’s the middle of the day, not Zero Dark Thirty.  For her part, Katelyn is perfectly behaved.  We walk through the parking lot and into the store.

Oh my.

It’s bright.  And I have no clue where to go.  The customer service department is to our immediate left.  But all I see are signs telling me that it’s for Returns.  Still, Kate tells me to get into that line.

“Daddy, it’s that one.”

“No, I don’t think so, Boots.  Let’s look.”

Except it’s hard to look. I am feeling conspicuous, but worse, I can’t see over the aisle shelves to read any signs to tell me where to go for Site-to-Store.  Following the arrows in any sort of organized pattern, I find myself all the way back where we started from.

“Daddy, are you sure that it’s not that line?  You should ask someone.”

She made sense, but she didn’t know that I was already planning on doing that, if only I could find an employee who looked like they weren’t busy with another customer, or didn’t look like they were in a bad mood.  I walk over to the checkout line, and find an employee not busy, but with an expression that looked like he was in a bad mood.  My thought: Michael Shannon

“Um, excuse me, I was trying to find the place to pick up “Site-to-Store” purchases?”

“Go on back to Jewelry.”

Huh?, I think to myself.

With Kate still in tow, we head back into the store.  The aisles appear even higher.  I remember and think back of how traumatic this might have been for the wife, when she had to go to a Dallas Wal-mart in the middle of the night a few years back, having missed a connecting flight on a trip, forcing her to spend the night without her luggage.  I dismiss such thoughts when I arrive at the jewelry counter.  Then I look around to see where they would put shipped items of various sizes in a counter area that wasn’t very big.  I walk over to a saleslady who is, mercifully, not with a customer.

“Excuse me, but an employee up front told me to come here to pick up a “Site-to-Store” order from the internet.”

She puzzles over this.  “No, not here.  You go back up front to Customer Service.”

“Oh,” I reply, “that’s what I thought.”  Then it slips out, “That guy might have been high or something.”  This gets a slight chuckle from the girl.  (Later on, Amber, hearing that, asks, “You didn’t say that, did you?”)

As we turn to head back up front for the 3rd time, this comes out from Kate:

“See Daddy, I told you.”

“You were right.”

Ok, the sign wasn't *this* small.  But it was close!

Ok, the sign wasn’t *this* small. But it was close!

We go back into the return line.  It’s longer than it had been when we walked into the store.  For a trip I had hoped would be quick, this visit was turning into a quagmire.  A manager-type is working the line, trying to get us to go to another register for returns, until she hears that I need the counter for “Site-to-Store”.  She tells me to go to the Photo counter, next to returns.  There I see the tiny sign for “Site-to-Store” pick-up.  And there is no line.  We walk up.  Our trip could have been over much sooner.  I have robbed Kate of precious minutes of her childhood wandering around a Wal-mart.

We at last get her headphones.  I get her back to the car (Everyone back to the choppers!), and we head home.

“So Daddy, you got me my headphones at Wal-mart.  You didn’t get my iPad there, too, did you?”  She asks that question with her unique sense of righteous indignation.

“No, of course not.  We got it from Santa’s special workshop in Cupertino, California.”

“No, Daddy, they make it at the North Pole.”

“Well, Katelyn, you see factually, Santa contracts out certain types of advanced technology…”

One trip down.  2 more to go.