The carnival of the damned

In the course of tooling about in hopes of accomplishing ordinary errands this weekend, our path of travel led the reliable Family Swagger Wagon near the dreaded local Wal-Mart. The Puddinette, on a quest for one particular item and generally being of the mind that anywhere bargains can be found is a Good Enough place for her, suggested that we stop in for The Item and perhaps a few other needed things.

I groaned audibly.

My lovely wife, however, has never been one to allow something as irrelevant as my preconceptions or curmudgeon-like attitude ruin a perfectly good shopping excursion. So she applied a crumb-coat of guilt by suggesting we could let the kids have some fun window shopping for basketballs, robots, and Baby-Pees-and-Pouts and oh, wouldn’t it be nice to just take our time and not have to rush through the afternoon. In the face of this argument, I could have chosen to hold my ground and maintain the I’ll-waste-my-day-meandering-through-Wal-mart-when-you-wheel-my-cold-dead-body-through-it-on-a-dolly position, but I’m nothing if not a sucker. I like the Puddinette to get what she wants, so I swallowed my complaints and parked the car.

We entered the building and selected a cart, which obviously had to be wiped down with one of the complimentary anti-cootie wipes all the stores seem to offer nowadays. Honestly, looking at the world today, I often wonder how I survived my own germ-ridden childhood. I suppose I should be glad for the free plague-protection, but mostly I believe that kind of thing is more for mothers than the kids. Trust me, my young ‘uns don’t seem to come home with the crud of one kind or another any less frequently than I did. But that’s probably another post.

So we began our grand excursion, wandering the aisles in search of the handful of things we needed. I harrumphed and guffawed as was dictated by my general level of snobbery, and even audibly clicked my tongue in dismay when I noticed they had plantains for sale. Sure, it’s probably a good thing that Mr. or Mrs. random home cook can readily acquire plantains, but the label for the item in question read, “Ripe plantain bananas”, and, well, that’s just plain wrong. It’s like selling “Ripe grapefruit oranges”.

At any rate, shortly after that, we reached the main aisle and I passed an end-cap of something to my left. I turned my head that way, and was horrified to find the day-glo Eye of Sauron staring back at me:

That’s right, I suddenly found myself eye-to-eye with the World’s Largest and Most Disturbing Cheez Ball snacks.

Well, OK, fine, maybe it didn’t look exactly like that. It actually looked like this:

But, still, look here, my friends, and gaze upon the orange, bulky siren song of faux-cheesiness. Look here, and see thine own Doom.

Seriously, if you aren’t operating a popular child care center or a nursing home, you shouldn’t buy this nearly bottomless plastic jar of processed evil. I bet you $10 bucks that when you open that thing, the Four Horsemen ride out of it like kids in a ball-pit and condemn you to an eternity of unspeakable horrors.

As if that wasn’t enough, we turned another corner and ran smack into a face-painting table sponsored by Kellogg’s. Yes, that’s right, there was face-painting at Wal-Mart. And of course, once a kid sees a pop-up face-painting operation, well, nobody’s going to be happy until there’s been some tempera applied to cheeks. While we waiting for the cereal-commissioned artist to complete her task, the P.A. voice announced that there was a Pop-A-Shot competition going on right now by the diary case.

Because, sure, who doesn’t think: milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, mini-basketball?

Faces cheerily painted, we then made our way over to shoot some hoops and pick up a carton of skim milk. I then began to worry that with face-painting and games of skill and chance available, could a caricature artist, a funnel cake booth or a ticket-taker for the Tilt-A-Whirl be far off? To my utter fear and disgust, I cringed at the notion that we had blindly happened upon Wal-Mart on Carnival Day.

I had entered the store believing that our key to survival was avoiding the People of Wal-Mart. Instead, here I was confronted with the possibility of being accosted by clowns and balloon animals.

Luckily, that seemed to be the end of the festivities, and we all managed to make it out alive, with our dignity mostly intact. In the end, though, we learned a very important lesson:

Wal-Mart is still evil, and should be avoided at all costs.

Also, the atomic bomb of Cheez Balls probably should be outlawed by the Geneva Convention.

I’m just saying.

Pud’n