Lost Cultures of Columbia Turnpike: Kmart

Here it is… your moment of zen.

http://www.businessinsider.com/sears-obsession-with-wall-street-2016-3

For those who don’t remember (I haven’t written on this topic in a while), Columbia Turnpike is a long stretch of road that cuts through our town. I worked for many years in a store along this road. If you go up Columbia Turnpike now, you’ll see several abandoned buildings, some of which used to be thriving businesses or factories that helped to keep us afloat. Most of these factories packed up and left before I was born. These industries have an innate sense of survival. Unions gained momentum and threatened their ecosystem. The smart businesses went to China, while nothing became of those buildings… or the people who remained.

The fall of the Industrial Age has seen the rot of its decline seep into other facets of American life. Retail is no exception. The smart businesses aligned with China and other countries to get their wares for cheap, while exploiting labor that, while it might not be slave, still remains in question for morality’s sake. Factories shipped their business to other countries and invaded like a virus attacking a cell. You see this several times throughout history, especially with this being the time of ‘Giving Thanks’. The pilgrims left Europe, where they were certainly not welcome and had to kill many an ‘indigenous people’ to call this place home. It’s always been more a game of survival than anything…

I didn’t enjoy my time in retail, as is evident by the incessant nightmares that bubble up from time to time, where I feel the terror of being a part of that world. For those who haven’t endured it, I don’t know how to convince you of the terrible feelings that arise when I enter these places. I can’t walk into a Target or a Wal-Mart without feeling this sense of impending doom… most likely because I felt it for over a decade. I went into work without a sense that things could get better. Why should I? Every year that I was there things got worse. I grew accustomed to that feeling and, in all honesty, became numb. It’s the type of talk that a hardened soldier should use, not a man who worked far too long at a shitty store.

Again, I don’t know how to explain it. Sometimes hell is the same to people and sometimes it’s different. Retail was my hell. More specifically, Kmart was hell. My coworkers and I endured something altogether baffling, as we watched our corporate elites exploit the minimal resources we had. They squandered and destroyed, like any other invading army. The corporate world is no different. It’s full of sociopaths and pederasts. They visited our store from time to time, always with a firm handshake, something vulgar when it comes to their touch. Businessmen use the handshake to fuck one another, because a firm grip assumes something masculine. It’s perverse. I wish they’d fuck and get it over with!

Trust was never established between us at the store level and those in corporate, but it didn’t seem to matter. We watched our store rot away, losing more and more of itself. We knew what was happening, but it all came with this sense of being overpowered. It was helpless… a lost cause. I didn’t give a shit at the time. If they were going to let this place fall I couldn’t care. I wanted it, same as them. I think that makes me at least a little responsible. I worked with ineptitude, sure, but maintained a bare-minimum within that same work ethic. I did what I had to, not what I could, because going ‘above and beyond’ was something a fool would do. Why work harder when you knew the outcome? Why work harder when you knew you weren’t going to get a raise? Why work harder when you knew that corporate had you by the balls and were just waiting for the right moment to squeeze?

The day that lives in infamy within the retail stratosphere is known as ‘Black Friday’. Thanksgiving is a pretty terrible day as well, but nothing compares. If you’re looking for a way to lose faith in humanity… go sit in front of a store around 530 in the morning and wait. What the public doesn’t know about this day is that three workers our chosen at random from corporate to be sacrificed in an effort to appease the crowd. The names come down from headquarters. We have no say in the matter, although we hope that the most inept employee gets picked, sort of to ‘cleanse our ranks’, if you will. The number of those chosen actually depends on the number of workers per store. We didn’t have many, so they went with three… but I digress.

Three sacrifices are chosen a week before the event. We honor their sacrifices, making them honorary guests at a party all for them. We get them drunk and provide for them plenty of escapes from the realization. The affair is always solemn. You’re about to lose a friend and while you’re happy it’s not you… well, you have to make the best of things.

Thanksgiving day everything changes. We surround them in a dark room and pummel them with socks full of bars of soap. We beat them within inches of their lives, strip them naked and tie them to posts outside the store. This all starts around 12 at night. We have to get ready for the day… this terrible day. People are already waiting by that time. The smell of the rotting flesh, as the sacrifices begin to chill on the November air is something I’ll never forget. They sit for hours. People change in that time. They can’t help themselves. It takes only a few hours, as more and more people come along and wait in the lines, before they attack. The sacrifices do enough to distract the people from our store. It gives us enough time to prepare and hope not to be their next victims.

Around the time that they finish with the three sacrifices, our store is ready to open. We wait at the front behind the doors, until they open and we run for our lives. There’s something in that hunger that is altogether human. It’s desperate and pathetic and… just a shame. I think of what it could mean to have so many people together and have it mean something. Instead, they fight for video games and bath robes. I wonder what it all means, but it’s like trying to make sense out of the movements of those little fruit flies. For some things… you’re just not allowed to know.

The building is still around for those to see. I could’ve taken a picture of it, but I found this one all the more endearing. It’s a husk of its former glory. For some reason, I get a calming sensation whenever I look at this photo. I had to share it with you all. I think of it rotting and collapsing to dust and feel really good. Most people will never understand the significance of this temple. I’m probably one of them. Nothing can describe what we endured. Nothing can describe the true horror of those days. If you’re curious, I’m sure you’ll see and think back to that time with a sense of wonder and, if I’ve done my job, hopefully an open mind.

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13 thoughts on “Lost Cultures of Columbia Turnpike: Kmart

  1. I like this dehumanizing aspect comparison between the store worker and the military person both like you picture are reduced to empty shells. It always ends up being a bit darker with your stuff which freaks me out but the brutal aspect is the part of out nature that we hide.
    Thank fuck I am avoiding corporate life.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “I think of what it could mean to have so many people together and have it mean something. Instead, they fight for video games and bath robes.”

    Regardless of what political beliefs anyone has, this statement here gives great insight into why the world is as unjust and terrible as it is. Great work!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I worked several years in retail, and I know exactly the feeling you were talking about. It was a tremendous growth experience. I met some great people along the way and learned a lot about myself and the world. Retail is certainly not unique to phony sycophants.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great writing, as ever. You do have a knack for going darker and I do get what you are saying. As a former retail worker in a department store, I had to put on a thick rubber suit in my mind as I entered the staff entrance. I fetl assimilated into the Borg. I hated it. Yes, I have some fond memories of the people,but most seemed to accept the staff/managment divides as normal and mebraced tryign to sell store cards to punters. I rebelled a couple of times, made my mark, withut getting fired, but it just goes on…I’ll be using this experience of retail consumerism in a novel I’m working on. Well done again on the writing.

    Liked by 1 person

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