Peter Chianca: Welcome to Planet Wal-Mart

Peter Chianca

I don’t know about you, but I sort of miss the days when Wal-Mart was harmless. You know, back when they were just a mammoth conglomerate putting small retailers out of business and forcing manufacturing jobs overseas, thus helping to cripple the U.S. economy. They were almost lovable then.

Now, though, they’re downright scary. It’s not just that every time you go into one you get this niggling feeling that you might just never come out, like a Roach Motel. It’s more that Walmarts have become little planets unto themselves, where the citizens all laugh at our silly Earth customs, content in the knowledge that someday we’ll all be subjugated and forced to wear little blue smocks.

Just look at some of the recent stories to have come out of Walmarts:

· In Kansas, two employees became the latest of several couples to get married in Walmart stores, this most recent pair getting wed at Register 3 — the same checkout lane where they met and where the engagement had taken place. We can only hope they at least moved over to Housewares for the honeymoon.

· In Miami, a woman was just convicted of poisoning her Walmart supervisor by putting rat poison in his soda. According to the Associated Press, the woman said she was just trying to force him to go home sick, but it’s hard to believe that in the entire Walmart all she could find was rat poison to do that. Don’t they carry Cheez Whiz?

· In Hagerstown, Md., a naked man wandered up to the store, but that’s not the weird part — he was probably just looking for the stonewashed Dickies. The situation went really over the top when Walmart threatened a freelance photographer who snapped pictures of the man with lifetime banishment from store. I’m not sure exactly how they enforce that, but I’m picturing a series of furtive walkie-talkie exchanges by men in blazers, followed by a full body smackdown in Garden & Patio.

· Even animals who get on the company’s bad side aren’t safe, if a story out of an Evansville, Ill., Walmart is any indication. Apparently the manager there ordered two assistants who had been keeping a cat in a trailer behind the store to “get rid” of it, leading them to — what else? — shoot it repeatedly with a pellet gun they took from the sporting goods department. Again … no Cheez Whiz?

My point is, I want to shop in a store, not a twisted little serfdom where everybody’s going around getting married and poisoning each other, like “Romeo and Juliet” with giant bags of cheap Fritos. And if you don’t think it’s gotten that bad, check out the job listings for the Bentonville, Ark., headquarters, which is looking for a “Homeland Security Manager.” Makes you yearn for a simpler time, when terrorists had less interest in the place where you bought your underwear.

Not that Wal-Mart has nothing to offer — there is that cheap film processing. And the cheap DVDs. And the cheap socks, gloves and pajamas. And the cheap … well, let’s face it, it’s all fairly cheap. But so is crack the first couple of times you get it. (And at least with crack you don’t have to wait for 20 minutes before realizing what you’re on isn’t a line for a register, it’s a pileup behind a cart that got caught between a stack of TVs and the giant singing Santa Claus.)

The way I see it, we might have to pay a little more, but in the end I think we’d all be better off if we stuck with stores without their own ozone layers, and that aren’t hotbeds for romance, murder, drama, intrigue and possible infiltration by terrorist organizations. Call me old-fashioned, but I’ll take a nice, little mom-and-pop operation any day.

So if you need me, I’ll be in Target.

Peter Chianca is a managing editor for GateHouse Media New England. His original column runs every other week; this “Best of Chianca” column is from 2005. Follow him on Twitter at