A Night at the Big Box Store

By Erika Hoffman

I needed Blue Coral Wash and Wax. Walmart carries it. It was late. I asked my husband to accompany me because folks who could be type-cast in Night of the Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, or Orange is the New Black stalk the aisles of this cavernous building. So, we drove, parked, and entered the gaping maw. It was nearly deserted, sort of spooky-looking.

Pronto, I found what I sought.

“Let’s check out!” I announced. Curious George that he is, he started roaming, looking for, well, who knows what. “Ok,” I said. “I need to pick up travel- sized toiletries for our upcoming cruise. Hang out here; I’ll be back.” When I returned, he had a huge gray container that he thought we needed for recycling since our neighbors have them, and I’m the only slob on the cul-de-sac who unceremoniously heaves a huge black Hefty sack to the curb without any container containing it. And yeah, sometimes an occasional Tab can escapes and rolls down the road toward the sewer.

“Ready now?” I asked.

He followed me to the check- out. One person stood in line; he looked like a meth lab entrepreneur. This was the first person so far I’d laid eyes on other than the cashier, an Indian fellow who had the use of only one arm.

When this winsome customer in front of me finished, I unloaded onto the conveyor belt my gazillion packets of mouthwash, deodorant, plastic poncho, toothpaste for sensitive teeth, Q-tips, disposable razors and a myriad of other teensy-tiny products. My husband hollered, “I’ll be right back.” Before I turned around, he’d dashed off for parts unknown. Previously that evening, I’d asked him if it were ok if I didn’t take my purse or cell phone. My purse, akin to a duffel bag, causes old shoulders to ache. So, besides the clothes on my back, I carried nothing.

The clerk rang up my purchases.

“My husband scooted off to get something.”

“Ah, you don’t know where your husband is?” he asked in a sing-song voice.

Now, the store manager, a doppelganger for Viola Davis in How to Get Away with Murder yelled to my cashier, “Gupta, you’re on break. Go now.”

“She’s waiting on her husband to pay,” Gupta answered.

Viola swiveled her head surveying my miniature stuff, the gray recycling container and my car wash detergent.

I eased into the main broad corridor perpendicular to the aisles. The Indian clerk joined me. He looked around, squinted, and said, “So what was he looking for, your husband?”

“No idea,” I answered. I wondered if my better half had scampered to the bathroom. Or if he was lying somewhere struck down with a heart attack, or mugged – way in the back of the store out of security camera range. My mind ran wild with possibilities.

A balding, Ichabod Crane octogenarian hobbled down the corridor with a cane.

“Ma’am, ma’am!” called Gupta. “Is this your husband?”

Trying not to look horrified and pondering exactly how old I appeared without make-up, I replied, “NO!”

Gupta began pacing up and down in front of me. I continued silently praying no one would approach the check-out because Gupta was the only cashier, and his register wasn’t cleared.

I heard a noise. A morbidly obese man with folds of fat lopping over the sides of a motorized scooter peeled around one corner and zoomed up another.

“Oh!” cried Gupta. “There’s your husband!”

“NO! That’s not my husband!” I was beginning to think this foreign cashier had a fiendish sense of humor. At least, I hoped that was the case!

Then, Viola reappeared. “Gupta, you need to take your break!”

“We are still searching her husband.”

“What’s his name?” Viola demanded. “I’ll page him.”

I said his name loudly. Magically, he appeared hustling down the aisle.

“Here he is!” I shouted. Gupta took up his residence behind the cash register. My husband handed him his credit card. We put the plastic bags of a million little things, the container and the car detergent into a buggy.

As we headed to exit, I murmured between gritted teeth, “Where were you? I was about to call 911!”

“I was looking for boxer shorts.”

“And you couldn’t find any?”

“Not the kind I like.

”When we moved to the final automatic sliding door, an old guy who resembled a Walmart greeter reached out his hand blocking us.

“An alarm went off. Got to check,” he mumbled.

“What?” I asked.

As luck, would have it, a line of curious onlookers queued behind us.

The geezer took our receipt and mentally clicked off all my junk with prices like 97 cents or $1.99.

“Is there anything in that container?” he inquired.

“Gee,” I said and had a sinking feeling because it never occurred to me that there would be something inside the box, and if there were, I prayed he’d realize that we didn’t hide it there.

He pried open the box.

Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

He handed the receipt to my husband. “You are free to go.”

“So, why did an alarm go off?” I asked dubiously since I’d never heard any sound in the first place.

“Either of you have an iPhone?”

“He does,” I said, pointing at my husband.

“They’ll set off alarms.

”Astonished, I blurted out, “You mean to tell me with the hundreds of folks with iPhones who cross this threshold each day that they trigger alarms, and you rush out to check each one?

”He didn’t answer, but the young Hispanic couple behind me laughed.

We trudged to the car, looking like an old Ward and June Cleaver.

“Who’d have thought a simple jaunt to the local Walmart at 10 o’clock on a weeknight to pick up some wax and wash would garner so much excitement and such a cast of characters?”

“Yeah,” my tired hubby said.

“I think there’s a story in this adventure – somewhere.”

About this writer

  • Erika Hoffman

    Erika Hoffman

    Erika Hoffman writes stories and essays about her life. She also teaches a course on penning non-fiction narratives, hoping others will find the same satisfaction she does in this vocation/avocation.

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10 Responses to “A Night at the Big Box Store”

  1. Ann says:

    Thanks, I needed that laugh after just encountering a snake in the backyard. Erika’s breezy style and superb word choices always cheer me up. I’m smiling and calmer now.

  2. Linda O'Connell says:

    Erika, I know exactly what you went through. My dear one likes to look for bargains daily. Your essay is heartwarming, humorous, and too close to my life.

  3. Carol Trejo says:

    What a great break from work! You are so entertaining and leave me laughing! I certainly enjoy your writing and your descriptive style leaves me feeling like I’m right there with you at Walmart! Thank you for taking the time to share with the readers your personal adventures.

  4. Claudia says:

    Feeling a bit guilty for laughing at your non PC descriptions of the Walmart “late-night crowd” but enjoyed your story.

  5. Jane W says:

    Hahaha! Loved this!!

  6. Barbara Margolis says:

    The charm of the big box store is that you walk miles in search of that one item that matters to you, while passing many aisles of tantalizing merchandise that one always can use. A person can get lost in those places! I laughed out loud when the checkout clerk tried to guess which man was your husband. Naturally there was only one lane open—as usual! A very entertaining story.

  7. beth fallaize says:

    love this one can see me doing that to my husband

  8. Dallas Swan says:

    I love your descriptions each person I can see clearly in my mind’s eye, so fun to use your imagination from a story rather than the TV. I know I really like a story when at the end I have a smile.

  9. Love the cast of characters in this late night errand. Bet your husband didn’t think you’d tell everyone he was looking for boxers! Funny story that gave me a laugh.

  10. Rose Ann says:

    Funny story!! It’s usually me that gets waylaid in a store when my husband is with me. Interesting to see it from the other side. Maybe I’ll take pity on him next time. Thanks for the laugh today!

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