The summer before I went
away to college I got a job running a fireworks stand through a family friend.
The hour-long drive to and from home every day didn't thrill me, but it was the
best job offer I had at the time. My only other option was cleaning up the
parking lot at the local Wal-Mart Supercenter for minimum wage. I went to the
interview, but as soon as I saw the New Employee Training Room, I could tell
that something was a tad odd. It was a large whitewashed room with computer
consoles lining every wall. Each of the terminals was occupied by a head-phoned
individual basking mindlessly in the soft glow of customer service and Wal-Mart
history lessons. The first and only term that came to mind at that point was
"brainwashed." I could just picture myself coming home after a few days of
"So," my father would say, "how was work
Samuel Walton built up the first Wal-Mart in Bentonville,
Arkansas on May 9, 1950, I would reply dreamily, as if discussing some
long lost lover.
"Great," I could hear the sarcastic tone of my mother
saying. "But do you have to wear your work uniform to the dinner
"As a representative of Wal-Mart, I must always be ready to
My fear of becoming one of the mindless drones in
Wal-Mart's arsenal was further solidified in the interview. The interviewer was
a fifty-and-some-odd-years-old woman named Mallory (Knox, I believe). Recently
released from an all-woman's prison in upstate Louisiana, Mallory was now a
part of Wal-Mart's renowned Convict-Reform program and regarded the corporate
giant as her own personal savior, Jesus Christ.
"There are just so many
opportunities here," she cooed, her tar-stained teeth dimmed an even dirtier
shade of green by the mellow lighting.
By mellow, of course, I mean
lighting for the purpose of dazing first-timers into a sense of submission. The
stupefying of interviewees makes it extremely easy to hire them onto a
low-paying, thankless job. Needless to say, I felt myself being sucked into the
mindless void that Mallory's every word served to create. Terms and phrases
such as "torturous work" and "no room for advancement" seemed to pass straight
through me, leaving me completely unaffected. By the time she was finished with
her entrancing spiel, I was practically begging to sign on the dotted line. I
was completely prepared to sell my entire soul to Wal-Mart for a measly $5.25
an hour with no benefits or sick-leave. Mallory smiled widely, as if to say,
"Another one bites the dust." She informed me at this juncture that I had to
pass a drug test before I could be allowed into "the family."
big deal," she said when she saw the disappointed look on my face. "Tomorrow
morning, just go over to the drug-testing unit at around eight o'clock, get
tested, and we'll have you all signed up by noon."
I nodded so
emphatically I still suffer from the whiplash at times. Mallory put together
the forms and handed them to me like they were some all-important,
"Now, remember," she said in her thick
southern drawl, "you only have twenty four hours to be tested. After that time,
Wal-Mart can't hire you for an entire year."
I smiled and shook her
hand, fighting the urge to hug her like she was a surrogate mother who I'd
never see again. As I walked out to the parking lot, protecting the drug forms
from the light drizzle, the trance slowly began to wear off. A terrible fear
slowly overtook my mind. What had I just done? Was I insane? If I went through
with the drug test, I would end up being de-programmed, my mind reconstructed
as yet another zombie in the Wal-Mart arsenal. I stood next to my car trembling
with indecision. The effects of the mental serum called Mallory, while fading,
still had a good grip on my subconscious. Looking down at the papers in my
hand, my mind battled against itself over what to do. Finally, with a burst of
energy, I threw the papers onto the wet, puddle-ridden ground, hopped into the
car, threw it into gear and sped away as fast as I could, as if the papers were
some demonic entity that would give chase, trying to consume my very
That night, when I explained the whole thing to my father, he sat
very quietly, nodding his head now and then in deep, contemplative thought.
When I finally finished my tale of deception and personal redemption, he said
something I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
"So... We don't
get a discount at Wal-Mart?"