Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Clearance Sale - Part 1

That summer we had no car. Fortunately we lived within walking distance of a supermarket, although it didn't seem like walking distance after struggling home with a backpack in one hundred degree temperatures.
Each time I went to the store I would walk past another that specialized in office supplies. As big as the supermarket with large glass windows at the front, presumably to show off the wonders within. The fact that it was obviously failing ruined this image.
The store always appeared to be a place of dust, no-one there except for obviously demoralized staff and a few zombie-like customers.
Then one day as I walked to the supermarket I saw large signs in office stores' window.
As I'm sure was intended, the red and blue stripes filling the poster around the text were less a patriotic statement than a crude attempt to arrest the eye of a casual passer-by.
I stopped to see what I hopefully expected to be a train wreck. Anything that required the deployment of those posters could not end well.
The trucks passed by on the high-way, making a noise like mechanized rain. It made for a suitable soundtrack for what I saw in the office store. Half filled shelves made of raw steel tubes, a floor that could do with a cleaning, bowed down customers amazed less by the cut prices and more by the fact that they were in this place at all. It was as though Communism had come to the USA, decades late.
A tall man came up to me. Later his appearance was often fluid so it seems important now to record his initial, possibly fundamental, image.
As I said, he was tall and of average build, against my experience with the very tall who usually tend towards pronounced thinness. His facial features were irregular, asymmetrical and, when he flashed one of his frequent smiles, extremely attractive. The crooked smile under the sparkling blue eyes gave one the feeling that the world needs pranks to be played out within it.
He lurched towards me and loomed like a crane.
"Care to come in madam? We have many great bargains. The end is near, so to speak." Then he grinned.
"No thank you," I said. "I have all the office supplies I need."
"But it's not just office supplies you know. Come back in a few days and you'll see."
Changing the subject before he made any more strange statements I asked, "It must be depressing to see one of your stores go under like this."
He laughed and as he did so his feature seemed to change, become far more angular. Then his laughter ceased and he replied, "Oh no. We didn't own the store when it was a going concern. We bought it as-is when the parent company made the decision to close it. Our speciality is making a profit from failure."
I was disgusted by this and, after a curt goodbye, set off home.
I was working at home that week and my husband made the grocery runs. When he came back one day he seemed a little dazed.
"You should see that Office store. It's amazing."
"How so?"
"You'll have to see for yourself."
Bored that afternoon I went to buy some milk. As I turned the corner to the strip mall I saw a small crowd around the door to the office store. As I got closer I saw that people were carrying out roughly cut tubes of steel. I realized, astonished, that they had been in there specifically to buy pieces of the racks. Who knew what they expected to use them for. Some people were carrying small grey boxes. I stopped one and asked what was in it. He told me -- dust. Shaking my head I walked on until I saw the tall man. He caught sight of me, smiled and waved at me and turned away to talk to someone in overalls holding a clip board.
Getting my milk I left for home, increasing my pace as I walked past the weirdness next door.
Unfortunately I was trapped by the tall man. He smiled and loomed over me. "Amazing isn't it. There is value in even the smallest things and people sense that and buy it when it's available."
"You're ripping these people off. They're naive enough to buy anything if you put a price on it," I said.
"Well, that's another way of looking at it. Either way our existence as a company depends on squeezing profit out of this store in any way possible. And shopping is the opiate of the masses after all."
Feeling that I could be about to enter into a pointless argument I said goodbye and left.
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