Over the years, I’ve gotten pretty good at being poor. I’ve had a lot of time to practice, and yesterday I had the chance to really test my stuff. I went to the store at 4:35 PM yesterday with a mission: buy dinner for two people and two cats for under 5 dollars.
I think Walmart is deliberately designed to get more people into the building than safety or sanity might suggest is a good idea. There are 4 sets of automatic doors at this one, and the only times I can imagine that wide of an entrance being useful are on shipping facilities where the trucks drive straight into the buildings, or it could be reminiscent of castles which had to allow for horses and carriages to come through the gates. I am inclined to think Walmart architects were going for the latter. They want it to feel extravagant, and they want as many people or horses getting in there as they can.
Walmart is where I went to perform my poverty in the castle courtyard. Rather, it’s the only place I could think of where I could probably afford enough food for two adults and two cats without having to do crime.
I rode my bike to Walmart and ignored the weird dry clicking and squeaking sounds it was making because preemptively addressing issues is for people who don’t hope there’s a sample section because they’re feeling kind of hungry. I parked my bike, hoped nobody would go through my bags and steal my pump or any of the stuff in there that looked like trash but actually had very clear utility: empty glass bottles I use for water mostly. I took one of Walmart’s ridiculously huge shopping carts which I knew would hold, at most, 5 small items. There were roughly five thousand other people in the store which covered about a 17 miles swathe of barren land. Looking up, one might find an endless horizon of synthetic sunlight they use to trick everyone into thinking time doesn’t pass in Walmart. There was a sample section in the produce, and I got a bit of a white peach. Good start.
There is an entire category of my cooking that can be described as “chaos and rice.” This entails some combination of ingredients cooked together in such a way as to not be wholly unpleasant. Then I throw it on a pile of rice so it looks like I’m in control of my life. That’s the kind of recipe I was going for.
It’s hard to reconcile your perception of your identity with what you’d do to survive in times of desperation. I would’ve run a child down with my shopping cart if he hadn’t put down the squash I wanted. I don’t think he was even considering buying it. No child has ever wanted a squash. There has never yet been a child who looks up from their coloring book when their parent says “child, whatever would you like for dinner” and responded with “a whole squash.”
I think he was just going to take a bite out of it because that’s something I’ve seen happen when children and produce are combined, and that would also be the perfect beginning of the end for the day I’d been having. He didn’t bite it though. He didn’t sully the perfect squash, which looked to be about half a pound so it would only be 50 cents which is the kind of deal my little poor heart sings for.
Got a zucchini for the same price. No child flattening necessary. Off to a good start.
Like any hobbit, I like mushrooms more than people. Most stores sell these individually so I can just grab a little bag of 3 or 4 of them. Plenty for my purposes. In an attempt to absorb every desperate cent of the people who have to shop there, Walmart has taken away individual mushrooms and replaced them with more expensive little boxes. I’ll go to the grave hating capitalism for that extra $1.50 it took from me.
Have ever been to an airport and seen that one person who is walking a bit faster than everyone else and staring straight ahead like a mannequin given momentum? That’s me in the grocery store when it’s hosting two thirds of the city’s population. I stare straight ahead and push my cart, and if someone gets in the way, I do take responsibility for their wounds. That’s the sense of sociopath self-preservation that drove me to the soup aisle to find diced tomatoes, then to the cat food aisle to find a can that was large enough for two small cats to split and under a dollar.
And then that was it. I had everything I needed. The only other ingredients–rice, an onion, and a smattering of spices–were at home. I barreled to a register, made it to one exactly as another woman did. She looked tired, so I let her go first. I didn’t see she had a cart she must have spent a full day filling. It took 15 minutes more to get out. The cashier rang my little handful of vegetables up and looked at me in a way that I’ve since decided was empathy.
Then I was free. Then I was home. Then the cats were fed and the food was cooked and later is was smeared over rice, and my impoverished little hear spent $4.70 which may not seem like justification for a full post, but this is the kind of tiny, tiny victory that keeps my spirit from completely decaying.