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I did not mean to start the revolution, but it was the Fourth of July, with fiery streamers flashing over Pullman, Washington. On the highest hill, a Walmart loomed. Its parking lot provided a view for fireworks over the wheat fields and university below. Students were gone for the summer. Prairie dogs were asleep in their burrows.
Everyone knows the story. Like an invasive plague, Walmart displaces mom and pop stores, and conscripts their children to a life of low wages and food stamps, while selling Chinese goods. Nevertheless, under the starbursts exploding above, I smelled the burning scent of freedom our forefathers died for, in spite of the eighteen-wheel Walmart truck, probably laden with Beijing goods, parked behind me.
With a sense of shame, I faced the grey box, and decided to enter. Earlier, I had tried to find a tool in the local thrift store, to change a spark plug, for my Cutlass Ciera, a near obsolete American car. Even in a small town, one could find a fifty-cent socket. However, a hefty-looking boy at the counter, who looked like Michael Moore's son-in-coveralls, informed me that he usually snags tools like that himself, because his family has a farm. I looked at the wholesome interloper, and headed to the only other show in town, Sam Walton's Big Box.
The doors opened. A plethora of TV's, trousers, and Chinese wares stretched before me; with countless boxes of farmed produce, that provided grist for grocery seekers. People have to eat.
In the belly of the beast, I passed the wine section. Aisles merged in a winding maze with no easy way out. People moved slowly, and I was soon under a shopper's spell. Everywhere I looked--stacks and stacks of uncompromising order. It was too much.
Like a zombie, I bumped against a bin. I looked at a box of lemons, picked one up, and put it in a box of limes. Yellow in green. It was a gestalt moment. I had broken Sam's rule of visual conformity. Somehow, I felt liberated, exhilarated, a twinge of freedom. It was like a video game where you get a yellow coin. People still circled, like pilgrims around a shrine, but I was free.
Glass doors glistened. Florescent tubes glowed. On both sides, frozen boxes featured frosty faces. I was in the ice cream section. Skinny Cow, Oreo, Cookie-Dipped Drumsticks; Eskimo Pie, Fuggy-Wuggy, and Chocolate Chip. It was a frozen fructose paradise. Rows and rows of Penguin Toes, Nutty Buddies, and Frozen Ho's. Too much for one soul to bear. My salivary glands began to quiver. I could hear Sam's hoary breath.
Suddenly, I found myself holding a bag of frozen peas. Instinctively, I thrust it in the ice cream section.
The store shuddered. The pack of peas, like a green-robed monk, broke up the army of ice cream. The aura of order, at least momentarily, was halted. With Macbethian rectitude, gears ground to a stop. Approaching warp speed, I could imagine Captain Kirk saying. But I was in a super store. What was happening?
"INTRUDER DETECTED," a microphone blared.
Sirens went off. Employees took positions.
"ICE CREAM SECTION COMPROMISED! ICE CREAM!"
I retreated to the liquor aisle, edging toward a bottle of Crown Royal. I fingered the purple felt.
'PEAS IN THE POPSICLES!"
Popsicle truck music began to play. I could hear ice crack, frost fall. The store began to tilt.
I seemed to be in a paralled universe, a shifting matrix, with fractals flying in every direction. Had I lost my mind?
"PEAS IN POP! DOES NOT COMPUTE! EVACUATE!"
Workers began moving product. Employees began to file. I could hear trucks outside. The store was vacating. Like a gigantic ant colony. In the fogged door to my left, I saw something move.
"No pees in my p...poop!" A figure stuttered behind ice cream. "Not in my store!"
Then I could see. The door swung open. The cryptogenic face of Sam Walton, himself, rose from the Haagen-Dazs. His hoary face began to thaw. His eyes, like frozen grapes, were devoid of hue. A rusty color lit his withered cheeks.
"Master!" Employees crowded around. "Master Wally!"
"Who was it?" Sam demanded.
I pretended to peruse the wine. A bottle of merlot for $2.97? How could anyone compete?
"Just a bag of peas." An employee retrieved a package. "In the ice cream."
"Much more than that," said Sam. "Sacrilage!"
"Arrest them," said the employee.
"For what?" said Sam. "It's not shoplifting."
"Shop-Shifting," said another employee. "Why, even a grandmother could do it. Just to make a point."
"What am I going to do?" said Sam. "Arrest grandma for putting a lemon in the limes? Give her a sour-tation? That would be bad for image. Somebody has disrupted the order! Why, it's worse than grocery store graffiti! What if my employees did it?"
His employees looked at each other.
"Forget I said that!" Sam's shriveled grape eyes withered further. "Keep it quiet! This could spread! Like the plague!" One of his ears fell off.
"Your truck is waiting," said an employee. "Do you want to leave?"
"That would be prudent," said Sam. "How far is the next store?"
"Seven miles. On the Idaho border. Where Sarah Palin went to college"
"Perfect," said Sam. "They'll be clueless. Make sure my bin is cold. I don't want my children to catch scent."
Then I began to understand. The cryptogenic frozen corpse of Sam Walton, was being ferried from store to store, to keep the Four Heirs of the Apocalypse from dividing the corporate estate, so to speak. When science improved, he would come back with a vengeance. They would not pry a single dollar from his cold dead hands.
"It's exactly 32 degrees, sir."
Listening, I moved behind an aisle. I put a box of Ding Dongs in the bread. Even if I shopped there. I could still fight. I was a one man revolution. Anyone could do it. One small act, like putting a lemon in the limes, sent a message. Also, an employee would have to move it back, at a cost of a few cents. If many people joined, it could add millions, possibly billions to Walmart's costs. It would make them compete on a more equal level with local stores. Maybe make them change policy, and bring back American jobs. It would also be a symbol against the colossal un-American megastore. Everyone could play a part. If you already shop at Walmart, a simple fruit-flop would suffice. Everybody misplaces things. No crime against that. It would drive the corporation nuts.
Sam began to heat up.
"Careful, sir. You're beginning to thaw around the lips."
A huge explosion boomed outside. Fireworks were still going.
"China invented gunpowder; that's true," Sam rubbed his chapped mouth. But who profits from gunpowder? Who makes bombs, grenades, and predator drones? My corporate buddies, that's who!"
"Sir! Your cheeks smell like dead fish!" An employee tried to cool his face with a Nutty Buddy.
"Ice cream!!" Sam pulled away. "China invented that, too! Emperor Tang in the Sixth Century. I think Marco Polo brought some back. But Not enough refrigeration over there. So we make it in the U.S. That's what gnaws at me! Like worms in my rotted corpse! If I can get China to make ice cream, I can close down more American factories, and export all the ice cream jobs over there! Why, I could put billions more in my pocket!"
"Don't worry, sir! You'll get it all, eventually!"
"Ah, my precious!" Sam fell back gumming a fudgesicle. "My precious China cream!"
They put Sam's shriveled carcass in a box, and began to pack him with bins of Blue Bunny ice cream. I saw the bag of peas go under his armpit. His face began to grow rigid, like a pack of squeeze pops.
I made my way to the tool section, and grabbed the last socket before they put everything away. The price was good. $2.75. Made in China,
At the counter, I saw a cart filled with groceries someone had left.
"Idiot!" said the checker. "Now, I'm going to have to spend an hour restocking! Sam's going to have a fit!"
I calculated in my head. Could there be other Shop Shifters in the store? I paid for the tool, and watched the checker wheel the cart to the back, as Sam was wheeled out the front door.
When I got home, I checked Facebook. People were posting tags of lemons, popsicles, and Pringles, and creating Twitter codes. I clicked on a song: "Put a lemon in the lime, and you shake it all up". It was out of my hands now. Any person could have power, simply by moving a lemon. Walmart was finished.