Sunday, June 05, 2016

Walmart stake out

I had a homework assignment last week to go to a public place and write what I was observing all around me in an unusual form. Inspired by my beloved X-Files, I did a stake out.

Note--At 9:38 pm, I was approached by a police officer and asked to move out of the handicapped parking spot. My explanation that I was doing a homework assignment did not impress him.


Observation Log
Saturday night, June 4, 2016
Orem, Utah Walmart
Stakeout location: a handicapped parking spot just north of the market entrance (where I am illegally parked).

9:03 pm
I am Dana Scully, sitting on watch duty, badge hidden, red hair framing my face. I’m looking for stories. I’m an emotional voyeur, watching the faces of the people walking in and out of the Walmart, waiting to see if their faces will tell their secrets. Trying to remain somewhat inconspicuous, laptop notwithstanding. Carts roll with a metallic rumble across the pavement, the white noise of the I-15 in the deep background. In the summery dusk, potted flowers wilt in front of the store entrance. It’s warm, in the upper 70s. My allergy pill is wearing off.

9:06 pm
Older couple. 50s or 60s. Both wearing striped shirts. His is white, hers is pink. A silver car rolls by, windows down, classical pop piano blaring. A guy in his twenties walks past my cracked window; he’s too thin, angular jaw and long brown hair. He’s got a goatee and he’s talking with concern to someone on a cell phone, one hand in his pocket.

9:09 pm
Students from Utah Valley University push each other around in one of the carts—the kind that has the plastic seats for kids. They’re laughing hysterically, and in my 30-year-old wisdom, I think fondly of the days when I could be obnoxious in public without feeling obnoxious. Sirens suddenly ring out from Sandhill Road behind me. A fire truck and two ambulances. Their alarms change in pitch as they get closer, closer, then farther, farther.

9:11 pm
Inside the lobby, vending machines stand side by side with two redbox kiosks and a “treasure shoppe,” one of those rigged arcade games where you use the claw to try and get a stuffed animal. Two kids—I imagine them siblings—stand side by side to try their luck. I wait to see if they’ll win, but of course they don’t. Growing up, I always begged for quarters whenever I saw one, and my parents never let me try. My mom finally gave in at a Denny’s when I was 11 or so, and with one swift, smooth movement, I gripped a white puppy and let it fall into the slot. My mom was astonished, but I don’t know why. I always knew I could do it.

9:14 pm
This is the second person I’ve seen walk out of the Walmart with a limp. I feel like an a**hole for taking a handicapped parking spot.

9:15 pm
Two boys in their late teens stand next to the potted plants. They chat, with false shows of bravado. One’s got mismatching socks. They take turns pulling out their phones and scrolling through. Displays of masculinity so absurd, they’ll crack into a thousand pieces if you bump up against them too hard.

9:17 pm
I hear a wolf whistle…once…twice. It’s not aimed at me, but I’m enraged by it anyway. I could give whoever whistled the benefit of the doubt (maybe they’re just signaling a friend), but these teenage boys by the potted plants have got me all caught up in toxic gender constructs.

9:19 pm
A flashing yellow light signals a line of carts being returned by machine to the overhang. I wish they’d had that machine when I worked at Walmart, walking through the parking lot with an itchy yellow vest, Idaho sun high above me. Age 19, working full-time with two other roommates. We’d get snowcones on our way home every day, then sit in the warm living room, discussing episodes of House.

9:21 pm
Spotted! Returned Mormon missionary! Modest khaki shorts, navy blue t-shirt with a compass on it, the words “Arise” written across it. Hair tidy and militarily short. Glasses. He’s carrying two bags, and I feel certain that if the doors weren’t automatic, he’d hold them open for you.

9:23 pm
In the few minutes I’ve looked down to type, I missed it—the moment that shifts between dusk and twilight. I wait to catch it every summer evening, but it always happens in the moment I blink, or look at my book, or get distracted.

9:24 pm
Orem, Utah is mostly white. Lower middle-class and blue-collar folks frequent the Walmart the most. People speak in that regional accent peculiar to the Rocky Mountains. (“Mou-ins.”) I hear an occasional phrase in Spanish, a sentence or two in Arabic that makes me glance up. Two brothers, each pushing a shopping cart, in what sounds to me like heated debate, but it could be the media informing my interpretations.

9:27 pm
A middle-aged woman in her Sunday best strolls by, holding an unopened game of Monopoly. I begin to make up a story about her. Her college-aged children are in town, and she ran out at the last minute to pick up a game to play, to keep everyone awake and together at the kitchen table. Or maybe she’s teaching Sunday School tomorrow, and she’ll use the fake money as an object lesson. Or maybe she’s found some craft on Pinterest, and she’ll spray paint each of the pieces and glue them to a frame.

9:37 pm
My allergies are getting the better of me. I’ll wander into the store myself now, make my way to the pharmacy. One package of Allegra D. One of the white, lower-class Mormons in Orem, Utah.

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