I was thinking about a recent trip to Walmart and how parts of it reminded me of a story we had to read in 9th grade English.
This is the story of the Tell Tale Cart.
Intro Scene: (Dusk. The orange glow of a setting sun is rapidly disappearing behind a dark line of trees on the horizon. Like a dying coal it fades to grey. Lights across a shopping center parking lot are rapidly coming to life to greet the approaching night. There is a buzz from the lighting and the sound of a lone car quietly moving across the asphalt. The camera follows the van and zooms in to our hero.)
The ultra-luxurious minivan pulls into an empty parking space at Walmart. Underdaddy bounds confidently out of the driver’s side. He moves with the finesse of a Jaguar around the opening and closing of the car door. To the untrained eye, he would appear like a phantom sweeping out of the car while the door flapped like a delicate metal wing. He barely looks back as he holds up the key fob remote and points back to the van while pressing the lock button. A seasoned veteran. He presses twice so the van honks. This alerts would-be burglars and lets them know that a super security system is in place and is ready to valiantly protect the collection of empty water bottles, half consumed sodas, and what might have been a hotdog or a petrified tree. Precious cargo that is guaranteed to be safe.
Underdaddy strides towards the automatic sliding doors with a cool confidence that is somewhat unexpected from a thirty-something balding man with a Pac-Man t-shirt and cargo shorts. In the fire lane, a woman is loading the last bag of groceries into a large SUV that has been strategically hovering near the front door and blocking traffic. Our hero has an eye for citizens in need so he slows down to assist the damsel in distress.
Underdaddy: Excuse me kind citizen, I noticed you are finished with that grocery cart. Might I be of service and return it to the store?
Damsel: Are you sure? (She seems to hesitate)
Underdaddy (Feeling like the Shopping Cart Savior): Verily I say to you, this is not a problem. I need a cart for shopping and you need to allow the SUV to leave the fire lane so we aren’t all burned alive inside this fire-resistant metal and concrete building.
Damsel: (Obviously in awe of such selfless bravery) You are my hero! Take this cart. Shop… so that others may live!
(Okay… so that is a little dramatic but I did offer to take someone’s cart on the way into the store which should win a civil service award or something. Back to the story.)
The fair damsel exits in the Escalade and Underdaddy continues into the store with the rescued shopping cart. He is walking proudly (nose up, chest out) and enjoying an adrenaline high from such a noble deed. Who says chivalry is dead? He barely notices a slight tick of a damaged wheel that is tapping softly but regularly on the vinyl tile flooring. The thump is nothing to be concerned about. A petty complaint that is only noticed by lesser men. Underdaddy is a local hero and willing to sacrifice through an imperfect cart.
He makes his way to the feminine hygiene section to grab a spare pack of tampons. No one needs tampons yet but with four small girls he knows that stockpiling feminine products is a strategic investment. Add in a few new toothbrushes to replace the three that magically “fell” in the toilet on top of turds that someone “forgot” to flush. The wobbly cart continues to thump and the small dental products bounce playfully around the cart with each slap of the wheel. Underdaddy nears the edge of the tampons and notices a fellow male browsing in the “personal” products shelf and holding a box that appears to be water based lubricant. Momentary jealousy gives way to a deep understanding as he realizes the box is actually an Early Detection Pregnancy Test. A four pack. That poor bastard. The men exchange a somber nod and Underdaddy continues past. The soon-to-be-exiled man makes a casual comment, “They need to fix those lumpy wheels huh?”
Underdaddy smiles and, as he quips “They won’t waste money on that…”, he considers the rhythmic thumping for the first time. It is a definite rapping of a flat place worn into the rubber wheel. The vibration is making his hand tingle so he tries to vary the speed of the cart to make the thump less noticeable. Slower gives a harder *thunk*….*thunk*….*thunk* and faster makes the cart feel like it is rolling over a continuous washboard pattern, *thunk*thunk*thunk*thunk*. He considers if the wheel could be fixed by jamming some chewing gum onto the flat spot of the wheel.
The situation makes him think of the Buddhist concept of duhka (doo-kah) which is represented as a wheel out of round and a life out of balance. He continues through the aisles trying to be at peace with the noisy wheel and happy for the reminder that life needs balance. He doesn’t want to end up like a lumpy wheel. He picks out some energy efficient lights that are most certainly the wrong size, brightness, or shape then continues to the pet food area, stopping only once to browse the bargain movie bin. He thinks to himself, “Why did they produce so many generic animated movies?” and “Why is half of this bin the exact same movie?” He decides that any place of business that allows lumpy carts probably isn’t very concerned with the contents of the discount movie bin.
After the fifty pound bag of dog food is in the cart, the thumping seems to grow louder. The additional weight should help keep the bounce of the wheel to a minimum but instead it just made the sound stronger. Lifting upward on the right corner of the basket while pushing seems to help but only momentarily. Holding a fifty pound cart on two wheels is energy intensive and by the start of the grocery section the hero has grown tired. He settles for a dull pounding sound as he enters the dairy section.
More groceries are added. More weight. Louder thumping. Banging in fact. Other shoppers watch from the corner of their eyes and Underdaddy can feel their glares. They are quietly wondering who would pick such an annoying cart and then walk around the store annoying others. The slamming wheel is threatening to chip the floor tile and the car is bouncing up and down like a hotrod with hydraulics. A couple of pin stripes down the side and some flames and who would know the difference?
The pounding is getting ridiculous. Underdaddy stops to examine the wheel. Did it lose more material on the trip through the store? Is the wheel made from a package of square wooden coasters? Is the cart slamming on the floor hard enough to crack the welded frame?
Everything appears normal so the brave hero presses forward. He can see the underutilized row of registers at the front of the store. Another hundred yards and he will be able to pay for the groceries and household products and return the God-awful, brick-wheeled piece-of-shit cart to the cart return. He tries to smile through the searing wrist pain and blurred vision that is growing worse with each body slam of the products. The leisurely stroll has become an attempt to walk a raging jack hammer. He no longer cares if the eggs remain unbroken or the bananas unbruised. The thumping of the cart stabs his brain with every smack of the wheel.
The seed of a thought planted by some asshole with a pregnancy test has grown into a thorny thicket of mental anguish. Underdaddy struggles to remain brave but all he can hear… or see… or feel… is the cart!
Time slows down and he can feel the wheel rotating in space. The next one is approaching.
Just like a Jack-In-The-Box or an unpopped can of biscuits, he knows the moment is coming but it still startles him.
No human should have to endure this pain, this lower middle-class water boarding torture. How much can one DAMN wheel cost? Surely not enough to affect the executive jet service of the stockholders of Walmart! Enough is enough. If it happens one…. More…. Time….
Underdaddy stops in the middle of the aisle a mere thirty feet from an empty check-out line. Rage bubbles out of his eyes in the form of a cold dead stare at the offending wheel. He snaps into action and flings the cart into the air with a guttural growl. Groceries scatter. Metal clangs. Children scream.
The thumping wheel has become a throbbing vein attached to the forehead of a screaming madman. He runs to the checkout line and grabs a package of grill lighters and dashes off into the clothing section setting fire to the socks and women’s underwear. He swats at the racks of oversized night shirts and shoulder tackles a display of discount canned chili (with beans). He doesn’t notice the crackle of the intercom.
Security (via Intercom): Walmart would like to remind our shoppers that involuntary fits of rage are prohibited for your safety and ours. As always, thank you for shopping at Walmart.
The rampage continues. After a near 100% loss of slicing tomatoes in the Produce Section, the fallen hero returns to the upturned cart to finish what he started. He jumps on the side of the cart and bounces repeated to crumple the basket. Red faced and with tattered clothes, he is still cursing a lumpy and misshapen hunk of metal when the police arrive and place him in custody. The officers of the law drag the wide eyed attacker out of the front door and past an illegally parked Escalade. The same Escalade from earlier. Underdaddy returns to reality momentarily when he recognizes the same woman who gave him the cursed cart. She has returned to the store for the same reason everyone does, she forgot something. She recognizes Underdaddy from earlier and has the gall to mention as he slides past, “Sorry about that cart…that wheel was just awful”
He flails wildly and screams into the now darkened skies, “You evil bitch! You knew about the cart this whole time!” The betrayal is more than the broken man can bear. His body goes limp as his mind is defeated. The police roll him into the back of a squad car and slam the door shut.
As he lays against the faux leather and smells what seems to be sadness and urine he realizes a small victory. At least he is away from that terrible cart and the constant *thump*. He smiles and closes his eyes as the car pulls away. The tires roll evenly on the asphalt and the car drives off into the distance.
Never question the power of the Tell Tale Cart.
If you have ever been driven to the edge of insanity by a shopping cart with a thumpy wheel, this post is for you. I have the urge to smash them beyond use to protect the next person who might use it. You’re welcome.
-Underdaddy to the rescue.