The Stupidity of the American Consumer: An All Time Low

Yesterday I found myself in desperate need of chocolate while on my lunch hour so I stopped in Walgreens to peruse the aisles looking for that certain something that would curb my craving. After careful consideration and deliberation I chose a pack of Rolos and headed for the check out.

There’s always been something I have found infinitely fascinating about the items lining the check out area. They are those last-minute impulse buy items… you know, batteries, lighters, matches, decks of cards, emery boards and toenail clippers… candy, gum, mints, Rolaids, miniature tools, scotch tape, pens and lint removers… chapstick, hand lotion, miniature bottles of Jack Daniels (depending on your state’s laws) and tiny packets of aspirin.

I’ll bet stores make a killing off of these items. If you don’t actually need them right then, you certainly will think that you do immediately upon seeing them. They are practical, every day items that will probably never go to waste. So what’s the harm?

Though it was during this time while casing the cache of goods otherwise known as the Gullible Buyer’s Trap, patiently waiting my turn in line (because only ONE of the THREE cashier lines are actually OPEN — which I’ve decided, by the way, is totally a ploy by upper management to move more of this nickel and dime crap) my eyes fell upon something new!

In the center of all of those must-have trinkets was a little display simply called: “help.” It was colorful and unique with kind of a cool design which is probably why it grabbed my attention in the first place. However, upon closer inspection, I discovered how completely ridiculous this thing actually was. In fact, I found it to be so completely stupid that I laughed out loud as I whipped out my camera to document this odd and asinine find.

Oh yeah… and I knew without a doubt that it would also be the subject of my very next post. Which, as you see, it has become.

The rack held six different color-coded boxes each containing a different product for a different “need” spelled out in very simple letters on a plain white cover. They were (yes, in all lower case lettering—probably because some focus group of imbeciles told them it looked cool): help I have a headache, ” “help I have a stuffy nose,” “help I can’t sleep,” “help I have allergies,” “help I have a blister” andhelp I have an aching body.”

You’ve got to be kidding me.

Are we really THAT stupid that we either A. Don’t know what the hell to buy for what ails us? Or B. Don’t know how the hell to ASK the pharmacist for a suggestion on what to buy for what ails us?

Listen people, if you don’t know what to buy then you should be talking to a doctor not searching for boxes at the check out counter as though it were some sort of pharmaceutical Magic 8 Ball!

So, I thought that perhaps I could help by offering a bit of advice of my own to assist anyone who feels that THIS is indeed the place to go for medical “help”…

  1. Problem: You have a headache. Solution: You have a hammer in the shed?
  2. Problem: You have a stuffy nose. Solution: Suck it up. It will pass.
  3. Problem: You can’t sleep. Solution: Try a bottle of wine and some Leno. His jokes put me to sleep every time.
  4. Problem: You have allergies. Solution: That hammer still lying around? Seasons will change soon enough.
  5. Problem: You have a blister. Solution: Ever heard of gloves?
  6. Problem: You have an aching body. Solution: Stop doing the thing that makes your body ache.

See how simple that was? And it didn’t even cost you a trip to the store or God forbid — interaction with another human being.

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Crazy for Shoes

Three years ago, while living in New Mexico, I was gainfully employed as a graphic designer, but I needed to land a part-time job to earn some extra cash. I set out on my journey to find this part-time job and fortunately found one fairly quickly at a brand new Kohls store that was just getting ready to open. I was thrilled to have gotten an offer so soon after starting my quest for cash. I filled out the paperwork and agreed to jump through all of their corporate hoops in order to start getting that additional paycheck. These “hoops” included a criminal background check (no problem), employment history check (ditto), reference check (call them up!)… and a drug test.

Here is where I should probably mention that like many other “chemically-unbalanced” Americans, I was under the influence of some prescription medication that helped me to feel a little happier… A little less like sitting in a corner and crying… and rocking… and talking to myself… A little less like setting my hair on fire… A little less like ripping everyone’s head off or crashing my Wal-Mart cart into their cars… A little more… shall we say… balanced 🙂

One would think that this medication, being prescribed by a local and reputable doctor, should not and would not pose a problem on a drug screen. But just to be on the safe side, I took my prescription with me to the facility on the appointed day that I was to—eh-hem—produce the sample. I told the girl behind the counter (who looked like she should be drug-tested herself) about my “situation” and showed her the prescription. She made a photocopy of it and recommended that I inform the store management to cover all my bases. OK. Not a problem. I called management as she suggested. Surely this would be OK. I cannot be the ONLY one out of 150 new employees taking legally-prescribed, mood-altering medication. And besides, who can argue with the virtues of honesty and openness?

However, much to my surprise, management asked me to provide them with medical and pharmaceutical records for the past 18 months! 18 MONTHS!?!?! I was beginning to wonder if that task alone was even worth the $7.35 an hour I was going to be making?!?! But I complied. The records were obtained and presented and then I waited.

And I waited…

And I waited…

Bear in mind that other people I knew and had met along this journey toward part-time-minimum-wage-retail-imprisonment (I mean employment) were already getting calls about scheduling their training and orientation, etc. And yet I waited. While I waited I began questioning the ethics of what the management team was actually doing. Were they even allowed to peer that deeply into my medical life story? And so, while I waited some more… I conducted some independent research on EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) regulations and compliance.

I won’t bore you with what I found there… but suffice it to say that if they did NOT hire me over this prescription-drug-laced urine sample and my “questionable” medical history… I actually had a real case on my hands. And believe me I was considering it… I would have made A LOT more than $7.35 an hour and then I wouldn’t even NEED the damn part-time job. I had the name, address and phone number for the nearest EEOC office—located in El Paso, TX—in hand when I finally got the call that they were ready to schedule my orientation and training.

Lucky for them. <cue Law and Order scene change music>

I attended my orientation at Kohls. It lasted 4 hours. More paperwork. Laughable sexual harassment videos. Stupid Get-to-Know-Your-Team-Member games… Then I found out what I’d really been anxious to know: the department I’d be working in! They passed out work schedules to everyone with their name and the name of their department in the top left corner in big, bold letters. I was so excited! Would it be Misses Apparel? Accessories? Maybe Lingerie? Or Bed & Bath? I was imagining the possibilities when I got my paper and it simply read: Shoes.

Yes, shoes. I almost laughed out loud when I read that at the top of my work schedule. The people around me all had sophisticated, multi-syllabic department names on the tops of their papers like: Junior Menswear, Intimate Apparel & Sleepwear OR Jewelry & Accessories… but on my paper it just read: SHOES. And ladies, I love shoes as much as the next gal, but let me be clear: We’re not talking Prada, Gucci or Manolo Blahnik here… we’re talking affordable-practical-department-store-shoes-for-the-whole-entire-family type deal. Needless to say, I was deflated and disappointed.

Wait a minute! I see what’s happening here!

Sure, sure, Kohl’s Department Store… AVOID a potential EEOC lawsuit and go ahead and HIRE the psycho drug user… but let’s put her in SHOES. She can’t really do much damage there. It’s literally stacks upon stacks of numerically-arranged pieces of leather and rubber, held together by synthetic glues and gels wrapped in paper and encased in cardboard. I’m sure we’ll ALL be MUCH safer that way. The worst thing she can do is wing some Sketchers at someone’s head. If she comes in strung-out, hung-over, or wound-up, she should still be able to eek out the phrase: “Ma’am, can I show you something more like a wedge in, say… a size 7?”

Accessories and Apparel are too “out front.” Housewares is obviously too dangerous, for all the knives and glass that are around. The Bed & Bath Shop is out because she might figure out a way to hang herself with the sheets and towels… And Home Decor is a no go because perhaps she would set fire to the whole damn place by lighting an obscene amount of scented candles… no, no, no… Let’s put her in SHOES.

So for several months, I stood amidst towers and towers and stacks and stacks of shoe boxes for 6 hours at a time… for $7.35 an hour… occasionally fetching a different size from the stockroom and once assisting in the investigation of a shoplifting incident. At least I didn’t have to touch anyone’s feet. And I never felt like ripping a customer’s head off… well, almost never. Maaaaybe once or twice… 3 times MAX. But that was the great thing about the prescription medication… I may not have been working in a cool or glamourous department—but then again—I was probably too medicated to care.

Nyquil: Makes Colds (and Cash) Disappear

It’s quite a racket really. A multi-billion dollar industry feeding off one of our most basic of needs… the need to feel better. Fast. Proctor and Gamble, Johnson and Johnson, Bayer, Halls and Kleenex (just to name a few) have us right where they want us.

Standing in the cold and flu aisle at Rite-Aid last night my head was spinning. Perhaps it was the sinus pressure or just a good buzz from the expired Dayquil I had consumed hours earlier. But I actually suspect that I felt faint due to the ginormous, yellow price tags beneath all of the items I needed to purchase in order to feel relatively human again.

$10 for a 4-ounce jar of Vicks Vapor Rub?  Yeah, we here at Rite-Aid think that’s a fair price. $7.99 for 12 sore throat lozenges (with magical healing vapors, don’t forget)… Halls believes thats reasonable. $16 for a combined package of Dayquil and Nyquil (the-nightime-sniffling-sneezing-coughing-aching-best-sleep-you-ever-got-with-a-cold) cold medicine—the mere 6-day supply… Proctor and Gamble considers that two-for-one deal a real bargain! And you know what? Of course they can charge whatever the hell they want to because by the time we’re actually standing IN THE AISLE of the store, our judgement has already been severely impaired by our insufferable symptoms.

So basically the small blue basket hanging on my arm that is barely one-third of the way full is worth my entire paycheck. Hmmmm… how badly do I want to feel better? If I don’t get some relief, I won’t sleep. If I don’t sleep, I won’t do a good job at work. If I don’t do a good job at work, I’ll lose my job… leaving me broke and penniless and unable to purchase this outrageously-overpriced shit in the first place. It truly IS a dilemma.

I settle on a compromise of buying ALL generic and only the necessities. I selectively choose to address the ability to breathe, the ability to swallow without the sensation of downing shards of broken glass, and some assistance with sleep. Oh and some assurance that I won’t fly into a sneezing fit during the next staff meeting and risk being mistaken for an epileptic in the midst of a gran mal seizure.

Let’s face it, when it’s all said and done and the 10 days that the “common cold” takes to “run its course” are up… I am left with the remains of these costly items. They’ll wind up in a box or on a shelf or tucked waaaaaay in the back of a cabinet somewhere. They’ll join the ranks among the other useless, dried-up, crusty members of my ever-growing collection of expired jars, tubes, bottles, blister packs and baggies that are cluttering up random corners of my home because for reasons beyond my comprehension, I refuse to throw them away.

And this small fortune will sit there—gathering dust—until A. I move. Or B. I need to make room for another year’s cache of cold remedies. Or C. I am hospitalized for consuming some antihistamines that were around during the Clinton administration.

Taste the Rainbow

Although only 36, my daily needs for pharmaceutical assistance seems to be growing exponentially. Granted, it is largely due to the psychotic, indecisive weather we’ve been having lately, but still the collection seems to grow by the day.

In an effort to shave valuable seconds off of my usual morning rush-around routine, I have begun setting out this plethora of daily meds the night before. I open each impenetrable child (AND adult) proof bottle and count out the colorful pills that will assist me on the next day’s journey.

Sitting in the bottom of my cereal bowl, they strongly resemble a handful of Skittles. They exist in a myriad of shapes and colors and look rather enticing as though they might actually be sort of yummy…

  • The red one bolsters my immune system, gives me energy and helps to naturally regulate my central nervous system.
  • The pink one keeps my eyes from watering, nose from running and throat from itching.
  • The orange one enables me to breathe with my mouth closed.
  • The peach one calms me down and takes me to my “happy place” whenever I choose to go.
  • The yellow one works to eradicate the infection that has taken up residence in my sinuses and inner ear.
  • The green one acts as an herbal crutch that claims to stave off the troubles of an immune system crippled by the violently swinging weather patterns this time of year.(The jury is still out on whether or not this one even works.)
  • The blue one allows me to walk amongst the living relatively pain-free.
  • And the purple one… well that one is for everyone who comes within 50 feet of me. It pretty much protects them from my misguided wrath, inappropriate emotional outbursts and/or tears.

Needless to say, I am looking forward to Mother Nature making up her damn mind about whether it is summer or still spring or winter or what-the-hell-ever . But until then, I’ll fill up a glass of water each morning and continue to taste the rainbow. Trust me, it really is best for all of us.