Monday, October 19, 2009

The Walmart Scrooge

I am sure you have seen one of the series of e-mails of Walmart photos going around, perhaps you have visited the web site. Let me state up front, I know I am going to be accused of being a curmudgeon with no sense of humor. Maybe, just maybe, I may hit on a little tinge you too felt. Or, perhaps I AM a curmudgeon with no sense of humor.

The photos, all of them, ARE ridiculous. You can't help but laugh or stare in shocked horror at many. Even "better" are the incredibly clever comments people write to accompany them.

BUT, I have to admit, looking at them makes me uncomfortable. Laughing at them makes me feel guilty.

We took a trip to Chicago when I was about ten. We were looking for a restaurant. We would stop and view the menus posted outside the doors. My father was in shock at the prices of a BLT. Just then a homeless man came up and asked us if we had a bit of change to spare. My father laughed and making a joke about the cost of a lunch in Chicago said, "Not in this town." We all laughed. Well, almost all of us.

Let me clarify that my father was not an ungenerous man. My mom had told us stories of how he would take homeless men to lunch with him when he was younger and lived where there were actually homeless people. In our small town, it was not something one would see very often.

I had a quarter in my pocket. I wanted to give it to the homeless man. I don't think he got my father's joke. It was my young opinion that he thought we were laughing at him. I fumbled with my quarter wondering what to do. He turned and looked my way. The sadness in his eyes at being the butt of some joke he didn't understand has stayed with me for nearly thirty years.

As he walked away, my laugh turned to a lump in my throat. I didn't even eat lunch when we finally found a place we could afford. My stomach felt too sick.

In my mind, I see those faces of the Walmart Shoppers after the camera has flashed. I cringe to think of them coming across themselves on the internet and not getting the joke.

I am not trying to make you feel guilty if you laughed at the photos or if you think they are the funniest thing out there right now. I am really not. I wish I could laugh too, and I do appreciate the wit of those posting the comments. But I promised myself way back when I was ten, that I would never again laugh at someone who was down on his luck. Because even though we weren't really laughing at him, I never had the chance to explain. One set of sad eyes of a stranger locked in on me is enough.

So, perhaps I am a Scrooge. I don't mean to be. But unless laughter leaves me feeling happy, I'd rather not laugh. And laughing at the Walmart shoppers taken unawares just leaves me sad.


  1. Let me add that the cars, and some of the people ARE fair game. You wear your dancing tights to Walmart, you should expect to be laughed at. But I do think, many of those photographed are mentally ill, down on their luck or both. It is to these photos that I am speaking.

  2. I am so with you! I feel so bad for these folks rather than wanting to laugh at them. My heart aches every time I see one of these emails. I am glad you are giving them the benefit of the doubt in being mentally ill - I can't imagine another reason for some of those get-ups.

    My brother is a manager for Wal-Mart, though and I truly believe from some of the stories he tells me that there are some pretty colorful people out there that find Wal-Mart a safe place to shop.

    I think that making fun of others somehow makes people feel better about themselves. I would say that if we find ourselves laughing at our neighbors more than ourselves, some self-examination might be in order. I'm just sayin'. :)