Let us not mince our words: The Costco on Skypark Drive in Torrance, California, is a battlefield of desperate souls, their blood roiling with angst and rage, as they move through the aisles amassing oversized bottles, boxes, and sacks of foodstuffs as if they were hoarding for some imminent famine.
The aggression begins with the parking lot, which is always full. People fight for spaces and, according to the checker I spoke to yesterday, fist fights are all too common.
The hostility is exacerbated by the store's poor design which has the exit and entrance at the same opening. Trying to get into the store can result in having a chunk of your heel hacked off by the shopping cart of the bellicose customer behind you.
There is a general rudeness and competitiveness in the Costco shoppers unlike anything I've ever seen. My conversation with the Costco checker confirmed my sense of this. He said customers are always rude to him, that he's yelled at, and that he frequently sees fights between customers.
The promise of abundance that Costco provides stirs a spirit of desperation and meanness in the Costco members. The malevolent spirit that pervades the store reminds me of the desperation Tobias Wolff describes in his short story "Smorgasbord":
They ducked their heads low to receive their food, and while they chewed it up they looked around suspiciously and circled their plates with their forearms. A big family to our left was the worst. There was something competitive and desperate about them; they seemed to be eating their way toward a condition where they would never have to eat again. You would have thought they were refugees from a great hunger, that outside these walls the land was afflicted with drought and barrenness.
Wolff has captured the spirit that afflicts the Costco shoppers who seem to be shopping their way toward a condition where they will never have to shop again. And indeed they act like "refugees from a great hunger" ready to fight anyone who might threaten their survival.
How come no one’s invented a
sleeping bag that looks like a made bed?
Come on, guys. There are millions of dollars to be made here. Not only do guys
like me hate making beds. We hate sleeping in made beds. All they do is get
messed up. You get up in the middle of the night after tossing and turning and
you can’t find your feet. Or one of your legs is missing under a pillow or a
sheet or something. What a mess. And then the next morning you have to make the damn thing. Notice someone came up with the word
make to describe the harrowing
ordeal of neatly spreading out the bedding and tucking in the sheets and
blankets. The worse part is finding the sheet’s “contoured corners,” which are
never big enough for the mattress so that they keep slipping off the bed. I
mean, you can barely move or else the sheet will just “pop” off the bed. I
can’t tell you how many times I’ve woken up to find myself sleeping on bare
mattress because I couldn’t get the “contoured corners” to fit right.
I’ve noticed a new
trend for responsible companies to provide a demonstration video to show you
how to use your new exercise machine or your new car. Well, I’m here to tell
you it’s about time the sheet manufacturers started doing the same with their
“contoured” sheets. But then again, if you have to watch a video in order to do
something, is it really worth the hassle? Day after day, making your bed when
you could be spending that time eating a bigger, manlier breakfast.
This is where the
sleeping bag comes in. Not just any sleeping bag, mind you, but the Man Bag,
one that looks like a made bed. This way when a girl comes over she’ll think
you actually made your bed. She’ll think you’re refined and domesticated.
She’ll think you sleep in the finest bedding available. Only after she gets to
know you better and you feel it’s safe to you tell her the truth, you let her
know that, yes, you choose to sleep inside a Man Bag because you’re the type of
guy who likes the looks of a great bed combined with the convenience of not
having to make the bed. She’ll either respect you for keeping up on the latest
bedding innovations or she’ll dismiss you as a crude troglodyte unworthy of her
affections. But if she does the second thing, is she really worth keeping
around? What other offenses will she find? What other demands will she make? So
you see, having a Man Bag is a good relationship test. She gives you grief in
that department and I can assure you she’ll bust your chops for a whole slew of
other imaginary offenses.
Still not sold on
the Man Bag? What if I were to tell you that it would have special zipper
pockets inside where you could store your food, your vitamins, and your hidden
stash of Viagra? No more getting up and lumbering into the kitchen, stubbing
your big toe along the way, as you navigate precariously through a dark,
pocket for your phone. Another for hiding stuff no one is supposed to know
about. Wireless Internet stitched into the flannel lining. You get the idea.
The Man Bag would be more than just a place to sleep. It would be the Mother
Ship of All Sleeping Bags, the place where you conduct all your important
A strong desire
for the Man Bag rests in the dark, secret chambers of every man’s heart, but
most guys are too ashamed to admit it. Well I’m not ashamed. I’m not only gonna
get my Man Bag idea off the ground, I’m gonna make it cool to want one. Just
don’t be surprised when women want to get in on the act. They always want what
we have. Of course, they’ll have to change it around to suit their tastes.You know, they’ll turn it into a Chick
Sack. They’ll want theirs in pink or lavender and theirs will smell like
potpourri and if you’re married you’ll probably have to let her choose the
style and color. But just remember. The idea came from a guy and it originally
was made for guys. No amount of feminization done to my Man Bag can change that fact.
The Turkish word, muganda, is the name for the man-child. He is in his thirties or forties and still nestled in some musty room in the back of his parents’ home. It is clear that he has reached a point where he will never grow up, hold a full-time job or have a steady girlfriend. He hangs out with like-minded male friends. They dress similarly. A favorite outfit is Adidas workout sweats with the top’s zipper lowered to the navel to reveal an unsightly thicket of chest and stomach hair. There is the obligatory gold chain necklace and gaudy rings.
Muganda wears hole-ridden loafers with no socks and is too lazy to insert his feet all the way inside the loafer. As a result, his heel crushes the top of the shoe and he cannot walk properly but rather must shuffle around, which causes an annoying, distinctive noise that, as a small consolation, at least warns people of his approach.
As to be expected, Muganda has a shaggy-haired, stale-breath, just-woke-up-out-of-bed aspect about him. He and his buddies hang out in bars and restaurants where they ogle at the young ladies. With bulging eyes and wagging tongues, they gesture obscenely as attractive women pass them by and they go through life having never figured out that their rude antics make them repellent.
Muganda also likes to play sports but not with people his own age who might present a formidable challenge. Instead, he will stumble upon a group of nine-year-old boys playing soccer or basketball and he’ll impose himself into the game, cheating, using his bigger size as an unfair advantage, and enjoying the thrill of triumphing over small children whose game has been ruined by this narcissistic bully.
Of course, America boasts its own version of Muganda. In our country, he is more likely to be called a SLAM, the acronym for still lives at mom’s. You’ll see this forty-something specimen, stringy-haired and somewhat burly from a steady diet of turkey pot pies and Pop Tarts, riding an old bike late at night. Usually, he’s running an errand for his mother, going to the liquor store to buy her gin and tonic. There are variations of the Muganda or SLAM, depending on what part of the country he resides.
For example, in huge swaths of America, there is the Muganda who has a particular fondness for large trucks. These are forty-thousand-dollar raised four-by-fours with tractor wheels and flags and poles dangling so high above them that they scrape the telephone wires. To afford the payments on these bellicose monster trucks, these Mugandas must still live with their parents.
I saw one such Muganda one afternoon while pumping up for gas at an AM/PM in Bakersfield. A nearby truck was especially obnoxious because it was equipped with a novelty horn, the kind that makes dozens of farm animal calls—cows, roosters, pigs, goats. The truck's owner, a sure Muganda, was standing next to me while pumping fuel into his truck and flirting with a pair of girls whom he saw inside the mart as they swirled chocolate fudge sauce on their frozen yogurt.
This Muganda tried to make eye contact with the girls and tooted his rooster horn. When they didn’t look up, he switched to a pig, then a howling wolf. He went through the entire gamut, playing every farm animal he had, but without winning the favor of the two young women. Frustrated, he drove off, his truck making a belligerent growl, the rage of a man imprisoned by his emotional retardation.
There is a certain type of roguish gentleman who, after many years of indulging in his tom cat appetites, finally decides to get married. His reason is simple: He has pissed off just about every woman on the planet and he must find refuge by marrying the only lady whom has not yet thoroughly alienated—his current girlfriend.
According to sports writer Rick Reilly, baseball slugger Barry Bonds’ short-lived reality show was a disgrace in part because for Reilly the reality show is “the last bastion of the scoundrel.” Likewise, for many men who have offended over 99% of the female race with their pestilent existence, marriage is the last sanctuary for the shit head who has stepped on so many women’s toes that he is, understandably, a marked man. Therefore, these men aren’t so much getting married as much as they are enlisting in a “witness protection program.” They are after all despised and targeted by their past female enemies for all their lies and betrayals and running out of allies they see that marriage makes a good cover as they try to blend in with mainstream society and take on a role that is antithetical to their single days as lying, predatory scoundrels.
Additionally, marriage’s well-known neutering effect on over-sexed single males makes these men less threatening and contributes, they hope, to pacifying the scorn of their former lovers.
The analogy between marriage and a witness protection program is further developed when we see that for many men marriage is their final stab at earning public respectability because they are, as married men, proclaiming to the world that they have voluntarily shackled themselves with the chains of domesticity in order that they may be spared greater punishments, the bulk of which will be exacted upon by the women whom they used and lied to for so many years.
Because it is assumed that their wives will keep them in check, their wives become, in a way, equivalent to the ankle bracelet transmitters worn by parolees who are only allowed to travel within certain parameters. Marriage anchors man close to the home and, combined with the wife’s reliable issuing of house chores and other domestic duties, the shackled man is rendered safely tethered to his “home base” where his wife can observe him sharply to make sure he doesn’t backslide into the abhorrent behavior of his past single life.
Indeed, it is assumed that the woman married this scoundrel on the condition that he disavow his despicable past behavior and aspire to be Reformed Man. The wife therefore in effect becomes a sort of probation officer who closely monitors all of her husband’s activities, keeping a close look at signs of recidivism—hoarding pizza under the bed, refusing to wear underwear, making surreptitious cell phone calls to former girlfriends who work as “professional dancers” by the airport.
Looking at the new strictures that Reformed Man must adhere to, it is apparent that marriage is in many ways a probationary compound for the man who is trying to turn from his reckless past and that marriage contains all the necessary constraints, which will, hopefully, protect the shit head from his past female enemies, prevent him from straying too far from the home, and monitor his post-marital behavior to insure that he is no longer the anti-social predatory single beast that was once so damaging to society.
Many men will see the above analysis of marriage as proof that their fear of marriage as a prison was right all along but what they should learn from the analogy between marriage and prison is that they are more productive, more socialized, more softened around his hard edges, and more protected, both from the outside world and from themselves by being shackled to their domestic duties. With these improvements in their lives, they have actually, within limits, attained a freedom they could never find in single life.
I used to know a Bakersfield man, a Paul McCartney look-alike, who was fated to live in the shadow of the great celebrity. He had the same nose, mouth, chin, ruddy jowls, sad-shaped eyes, and arched brows. He has the same hair, which he kept groomed the way McCartney did in the 1970s and 1980s, long in the back and feathered in the front.
However, Bakersfield McCartney was a tad shorter, stockier, and most noticeably had acne scars peppered on his cheeks. I first noticed him “trolling” himself at clubs, standing by himself in his black sport jacket, his “Beatles jacket,” and patiently waiting for an attractive woman to approach him and “break the ice” by commenting on how much he looked like Paul McCartney, as thousands of past successes had taught him. At clubs he would wear a stupid half-grin since his brain didn’t really have to be active in any sense as he simply used his resemblance as bait. The whole pick-up sequence must have been a rote, perfunctory affair.
Perhaps his biggest challenge was trying to show that his heart hadn’t become too calloused by this routine and that the woman fawning all over him was one of a few to make the brilliantly observant connection between him and the real Paul McCartney.
I later saw Bakersfield McCartney at my health club, where he had the same dumb half-grin on his face. His expression betrayed a certain expectancy, as if he knew it was only a matter of minutes before an attractive woman approached him and commented on his celebrity resemblance, a precursor to greater pleasures ahead.
Not surprisingly, I later found out that Bakersfield McCartney was a salesman—of cars and cell phones mostly—and that his resemblance worked to his advantage in the sales arena. All he had to do when people gawked over his resemblance to the great Beatles legend was act coy and “Ah-shucks,” and he could remain effective in the realm of sales—whether it be cars, cell phones, or, at the clubs, himself.
You could tell by looking over his life that he had no real challenges other than feigning good-natured surprise when the 99% of people he met commented on his striking resemblance to Paul McCartney. Otherwise, he was content to live in the shadows of the Liverpool crooner. Last I heard, he had never married, had never carried a long relationship, had never really put much effort in anything he did at all. He was a man content to live off a one-note gimmick and he had no shame for being so easily satisfied. Lacking any rigorous struggles to become a real person, he had become somewhat of a cipher, a hollow man with nothing to say about anything. His mind was simply full of the expectations of receiving “goodies”—accolades, sexual attention, strangers’ obsequiousness as they become elated in the presence of a mock celebrity.
His life lost its cheap glory in middle-age when his facial features distorted—bigger ears and nose, a reconfiguration of jowls and chin—so as to significantly obscure his face so that he no longer looked like the Beatles legend. With no more celebrity connection, his posse of friends and lovers abandoned him and his sales dwindled. Sullen and bitter, he moved back with his mother, a widow, where he now resides. I imagine him now introverted and chubby from a sedentary lifestyle, his bedroom cluttered with Beatles souvenirs, as he languishes in his bedroom where he daydreams of his past glory.
Just what is the appeal of consuming slop until one is moribund and incapacitated? It seems a uniquely American experience. I’m reminded of an out-of-print book by Laurence Shames, The Hunger for More, where he explains that America’s frontier, fueled by the myth of Manifest Destiny, created an appetite for conquering vast lands. In the absence of virgin forestry, we, as Americans, still have the hunger to conquer and exploit, but now we’ve circumvented that rapacity into consumer excess and in the process, I would add, we regress into our troglodyte ancestors.
Gluttony and feral barbarism disguised as the pioneer’s conquest. This is precisely the theme that restaurants and other industries use to appeal to our most base instincts. A mile away from the buffet is another popular restaurant aptly decorated like a Wild West saloon. Its theme is the prospector’s search for the mother lode. The restaurant specializes in oversized portions of steak, prime rib, baby back pork ribs, spicy chicken wings, cheddar cheese mashed potatoes, deep-fried onion ring “flowers,” carrot cake, cheese cake and chocolate fudge cake. The cakes are famous for their moisture, the result of several cups of mayonnaise that are used in the batter, and for their huge size. Each “slice,” if it could be called that, is over a foot tall and leans to the side as if it were about to tip over, but through a miraculous breakthrough in chemical-additive engineering, the cake remains upright and intact.
The portions are so big that the waiters have to practically use cranes to get the platters of food from the kitchen to the patrons’ tables. Big helpings of food require big tableware. The knives resemble ivory-handled scimitars, and they evoke a more primitive age when people dressed in animal skins and tore the blubber off of beached whales and woolly mammoths.
While romanticized by these Wild West restaurant theme parks, troglodyte-style eating is ultimately an anti-social act. For example, I’ve heard there is a steakhouse in Houston where each partitioned table has its own color TV. Hunched over like ravenous carnivores, customers squint at the TVs, just inches from their face, while cutting into their oversized rare steaks, blood and meat bits splattering against the television screens. Every now and then a busboy rushes to the TVs and wipes blood juices off the screens with a sponge. He works around the patrons who, transfixed by their program, will not budge from their spot. I imagine that as the busboy places his hands dangerously close to the chomping mouths, he sometimes gets a finger or two bitten off. His digits, sticking out of the patrons’ mouths like chicken bones, are probably inhaled during the feeding frenzy.
An even more anti-social, regressive form of eating is the drive-thru eatery that accommodates the multi-tasking SUV driver. My friend recently witnessed a most hideous sight. He was waiting at Carl’s Jr. in the drive-thru lane behind a heavy-set, middle-aged woman in her Mercedes SUV. Looking like one of Odin’s Shield-Maidens with too much mascara, she was multi-tasking beyond her feeble brain's capacity. She was on her cell phone, she had the sun visor down, she had the visor mirror open with the visor light on, she was putting on both lipstick and eye makeup, and she was trying to inch up to the drive-thru window all at once. She nearly hit the car in front of her twice. She nearly backed into my friend’s car behind her after she overshot the window. She didn't get off her cell phone to give her money or receive her food. She didn’t acknowledge the Carl’s Jr. employee once. As she drove off, she still had the visor-mirror-light effect going, she was still on the phone, and she was also trying to eat French fries out of the top of the bag, stuffing the fries into her fat mouth when she nearly hit a pedestrian. Not surprisingly, she never stopped to check on the person she had almost maimed. She was apparently too oblivious, or worse, too imperious to stop and apologize.
With these bellicose SUV drivers terrorizing people in the drive-thru lane, the rest of us need to fight back and assert our own troglodyte image. We need to have our own oversized truck or SUV so we can protect ourselves from the self-centered, multi-tasking Viking lady. We can even outdo her. Thanks to Bull Balls Truck Nuts (“Purveyors of Fine Quality Truck Balls!”), we can attach huge, swinging, synthetic bull testicles to our SUV’s rear hitch. Oversized bull gonads, the scrotal sacs creased and wrinkled for verisimilitude, will add to our brassy flair and help establish our alpha status as we try to get to the head of the drive-thru line. Like the animal kingdom, we must, during the lunch hour, ward off our competition and savor the spoils. No one said anything about sharing when it comes to Manifest Destiny.
Recently I witnessed an extended family, all fat, coming out of the buffet. They were limping, bloated, sickly, full of crapulence. The matriarch, the grandmother, had a huge travel bag full of donuts and biscuits that she had pilfered from the buffet tray. Apparently, she hadn’t stuffed herself enough. The donuts and biscuits were falling out of her over-packed tote bag as she hobbled across the parking lot. You could see the baked goods rolling across the asphalt like rot-gut bowling balls. This grandma’s butt was too big to get into the back seat of the banged-up, rusted Mercury Topaz, so she had to swing the door all the way open. Seemingly oblivious, she rammed the right door into the left door of a brand new dark gray Honda Accord parked in the next space. The Topaz door was wedged right into the once-pristine Accord and I could see sparks and gray paint chips flying off it. All the while the grandmother, straining with her cane, was lowering herself into the Topaz while grunting like a pig. She squatted lower and lower while gagging and squealing. Spittle flew out of her mouth along with bits of semi-masticated biscuit clods.
It gets worse. Grandma’s weight sunk the back of the Topaz so low that the car’s rear hit the asphalt and this made the door wedge deeper and deeper into the Accord. By now the door had violently gashed that poor new Honda. I was just standing there with my gym bag in my hand wondering if I was the only person who saw what was going on. It then occurred to me that someone’s Accord was getting thrashed. I rushed into the gym and explained the situation to the manager and he let me tell everyone what had happened over the PA system. A guy ran off the StairMaster while screaming hysterically and I followed him to the parking lot. The family was still sitting in the Topaz. They were so stuffed from their feeding that they were now “recovering” inside the car with the windows down, fanning themselves with the buffet’s take-out menus. The Honda owner was irate. He screamed at them and they just looked at him with bovine indifference, their chins glistening with drool. A bunch of clueless gluttons destroying and devouring everything that comes into their path.
In front of the all-you-can-eat buffet is a sign of rules and conduct. One of the rules urges people to stand in the buffet line in an orderly fashion and to be patient because there is plenty of food for everyone. Another rule is that children are not to be left unattended and running freely around the buffet area. My favorite rule is that no hands, tongues, or other body parts are allowed to touch the food. Tongs and other utensils are to be used at all times. The rules give you an idea of the kind of people who eat there. These are people I want to avoid.
But as I walk to the gym from my car, which shares a parking lot with the buffet patrons, I cannot avoid the nauseating smell of stale grease oozing from the buffet’s rear dumpster, army green and stained with splotches and a seaweed-like crust of yellow and brown grime.
Often I see cooks and dishwashers, their bodies covered with soot, coming out of the back kitchen door to throw refuse into the dumpster, a smoldering receptacle with hot fumes of bacteria and flies. Hunchbacked and knobby, the poor employees are old, weary men with sallow, rheumy eyes and cuts and bruises all over their bodies. I imagine them being tortured deep within the bowels of the fiery kitchen on some Medieval rack. They emerge into the blinding sunshine like moles, their eyes squinting, with their plastic garbage bags twice the size of their bodies slung over their shoulders, and then I look into their sad eyes—eyes that seem to beg for my help and mercy. And just when I am about to give them words of hope and consolation or urge them to flee for their lives, it seems they disappear back into the restaurant as if beckoned by some invisible tyrant.
Lately, I’ve been having a recurring nightmare that a giant hairy claw with thick talons emerges from the kitchen door, from which flames flicker, and then this monstrous claw grabs one of the dish-washers around his torso. He flails his arms and screams for mercy, but to no avail. The claw pulls him back into the fuming hell of stale grease and rancid chicken fat. Whatever the significance of my disturbing dream, I am haunted by these images of those poor men trapped at their job and I am overcome with dread and anxiety every time I pass them on my way to the gym.
My Los Angeles health club looks like an enchanting pleasure dome, an extravaganza of taut, sweaty bodies scandalously exposed in spandex tights contorting on space-age cardio machines, oil-slicked skin shrouded in a synthetic fog of dry ice colored by the dizzying splash of lavender disco lights. Tribal drum music plays loudly. Bottled water flows freely, as if from some Elysian spring, over burnished flesh. The communal purgation appeals to me. My fellow cardio junkies and I are so self-abandoned, free, and euphoric, liberated in our gym paradise.
But right next to our workout heaven is a gastronomical inferno, one of those all-you-can-eat buffets, part of a chain, which is, to my lament, sprouting all over Los Angeles. I despise the buffet, a trough for people of less discriminating tastes who saunter in and out of the restaurant at all hours, entering the doors of the eatery without shame and blind to all the gastrointestinal and health-related horrors that await them. Many of the patrons cannot walk out of their cars to the buffet but have to limp or rely on canes, walkers, wheelchairs, and other ambulatory aids, for it seems a high percentage of the customers are afflicted with obesity, diabetes, arthritis, gout, hypothalamic lesions, elephantiasis, varicose veins and fleshy tumors. Struggling and wheezing as they navigate across the vast parking lot that leads to their gluttonous sanctuary, they seem to worship the very source of their disease.