Sein-language at Walmart
Seinfeld was a show about nothing. But what made it so successful is that “nothing” really is “something.” Moreover, I think everyone has, at times in their lives, experienced a “Seinfeldian” moment, where a trip to the grocery store turns into an epic, daylong fiasco of little slips and mishaps that would be nothing on their own but turn into quite something to talk about and remember forever and yada-yada-yada.
I think in our present-day culture, if there’s one place for a true Seinfeldian moment to occur, it’s at your local Walmart. Proof of this is the fantastically popular People of Walmart photos blanketing the internet: a bodybuilder combing the aisles wearing see-through nylons for pants, a man sleeping on a patio set with an open can of Pringles and other assorted snacks on a coffee table, where he has his feet propped up like he’s at home, and so on.
Personally, I’ve never seen one of these People of Walmart with my own eyes (and I don’t necessarily believe that images like the one above are particular to Walmart; I think you find oddities like that anywhere – just go to Vegas for 10 minutes and the images I described above would seem normal), but just the other night I did experience or, more accurately, witness what could be considered an episode of Seinfeld at the checkout lanes in the Walmart in Algonquin.
The events that follow started normally enough, a real just-before-closing routine … if Walmart actually closed (it was around 9 p.m.).
As usual, there are about 100 checkout lanes and only about seven were open. At those seven were approximately 100 people waiting to pay for their items and make it home in time for the 10 o’clock news. Mob mentality was brewing.
At exactly this time, a clerk approached the head of the lines and said: “Lane eight is open.”
Whenever this happens under the above-described conditions, I’ve always compared it to an object tossed up, reaching that nexus of assent where it can climb no farther and then pauses for a millisecond before it falls. It’s that pause I’m talking about. That moment where everything stops before the whole system falls apart. The calm before the storm, in other words.
A crowd of people rushed to lane eight, led by a tiny but vicious woman who probably weighed 90 pounds soaking wet and was merciless in her approach. Not surprisingly, she won, checked out, and was out the door before half the people in line knew what was happening.
About this time, a jovial-looking guy about my age and in my line turned and shouted in my direction, “Hey, lane eight is open, lane eight is open!” He paused, glanced at lane eight, and said, “Never mind, lane eight is full.” The checker said something to him I couldn’t hear, and he darted around, looking toward the other end of the store, saying, “Lane 23? Lane 23 is all the way down there.” He shouted to rest of us in line, “Don’t go to lane 23. It will be too late by the time you get there. You’ll be tired and dizzy and not know what’s happening.”
Behind me, another guy appeared, apparently a professional in checkout-lane traffic, and surveyed the system before him. He shouted to his unseen wife, “Honey, down here, down here!” He stopped, reassessed, and then, “Oh, never mind. It’s too late now.” He quickly strode off in the direction of lane 23.
Things quieted down for a few minutes until this guy appeared again, this time carrying a kid’s bike in one hand and leading a pack of three kids and his wife. He directed his wife to wait in the line next to mine and took solid position behind me. Think basketball coach in the final two minutes of a close game.
He pointed to his wife. “Stay there, stay there, stay there,” he said, watching. “Okay, now. That lane over there.” And on cue, he and his whole family took off to another lane.
By this time, I was at the register, my items running through the scanner. In the line next to me, I noticed a small man, wiry, well-muscled, and energetic. His shorts kept falling down below his rear end, and he kept tugging at his thick black hair while he said things like, “Yeah, I have a dog. It’s a big dog,” to the woman working the register. He then proceeded to hoist himself up on his cart until his feet were off the ground and tottering.
On the way out of the store, I could hear a Jerry Seinfeld standup intro playing in my mind: “I was in the checkout lines at Walmart the other night…”