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An Ode To Target (Oh Brother, Can You Spare A Five-And-Dime?)

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Truth be told, I’m not into shopping. Those more “domesticated” than myself might look at this American consumer spectacle as an Olympic right of passage into adulthood, to be sure. To me, though, it’s just another zombie freestyle event right out of a George A. Romero movie, complete with headset cell phones created by yuppies that feed on our battered and bruised brains – and the only one who seems to be screaming in the audience is me.

Go figure.

It is a “Blue Light Special of The Living Dead” to say the least, but for this former youth, anyway, once weaned on Woolworth’s, Space Invaders, comic books, Wacky Packages, and other assorted cosmic flavors of ICEE and cotton candy – I’m just not biting.

When any member of the fairer sex drags me out for a day of competitive price-gouging at the local shopping complex, I always seem to shrug with a most simplistic form of enthusiasm usually reserved for Republican roundtables or focus groups revolving around the latest and greatest groundbreaking improvements in laundry detergent, fabric softeners, and other such futile flights of fancy.

There is one sole exception. There is one such miraculous monument to modern monetary marvels and spending with such mindless, reckless abandon that I simply cannot resist: Her siren song of fiscal depravity. She is the Lady Liberty of inexpensive bed linens and throwback Atari games alike – and her name, my friends, is Target.

Target is the futuristic symbol of simpler days now gone by the wayside. It’s the big box store with the red and white bulls eye and the Spuds MacKenzie dog who teaches us all it’s okay to bleed red, white, and blue credit card debt until we ultimately die, gasping in quiet desperation for one last cash advance before we head into the proverbial Poltergeist light (or bankruptcy court, whichever comes first).

Target, in the end, is just Wal-Mart – for more upscale hillbillies.

On any given Sunday, it never seems to fail: My girlfriend or mother (and, really, are they both not interchangeable?) will always find a way to drag me off on some damn fool crusade of consumerism. Even though a local Target store is a stone’s throw away from us in any given direction, it will undoubtedly take us two or more hours to get there by car, after getting stuck driving behind “Ma and Pa Kettle” out on their scenic, weekend drive.

Once you arrive at your doomed-from-the-beginning destination, that’s when the Wonka-like magic and wonderment truly begins for any and all advanced adolescents trapped in a tragic time warp. It is the discount dance of the dead.

Forget about grabbing one of those wobbly plastic shopping carts soaked with neon-red blood from fatalities along the consumer highway. There is simply not enough time to dawdle! I intend to grasp as many throwaway goods that will initially make me feel okay about myself for about 2.4 nanoseconds, like some spastic game show contestant on a secluded cable station, in a galaxy far, far away.

Gone are the food court pretzels and other assorted snacks that taste like prison food (or worse, Applebee’s). Well sure, cost-cutting culinary delights might still be there, but with the adjusted rate of inflation, these salty snacks of Satan are surely not worth purchasing unless you are willing to default on a mortgage loan (or three) in the meantime.

Moving right along, like a septic shopper flowing with the ebb and tide of a mighty materialistic river, my current mission keeps me searching for those comics of my youth on the revolving metal stand in the center aisle. The Brave and The Bold always featured Batman and some super guest star to foil any manic madman of his day. Sadly, all I find this time on the rack is a Harvey Pekar graphic novel teamed-up with some oh-so-trendy idealist suffering from Epstein-Barr syndrome (sigh). Where’s the justice?

That’s neither here nor there.

I haphazardly rush off to the zany T-shirts department in search of the next wacky pop culture slogan. Sure, “I’m With Stupid" is (and always will be) an instant classic, but what would I find for me now in this Lost Ark shopping emporium – the Statue of Liberty buried in a mound of credit card debt and sand? (I mean, besides the numerous pedophiles waiting in the wings and dressing rooms. Those little curtains and ding-dong buzzers are really no security, Padre!) Buyer beware. So where’s Chris Hansen of Dateline NBC standing next to the display of “Hansen Soda” when you sorely need him the most? Slacker!

Sure, I guess buying a case of Cheerios (at reduced savings) might make the average shopper smile smugly with delight, but not me! This little rascal needs so much more to fight off the glaring grasp of the Grim Reaper, it seems. This assorted bunch of itemized items tossed to and fro on the shabby shelving ultimately makes me feel as depressed as the sluggish shares of my TIVO stock (searching for the nearest Wall Street ledge).

Whatever the case, Target is still the best cure-all for this Cleveland kid inside with a case of the cold, mo’ better blues. I still miss the gold fish department from Woolworth’s, where I purchased my first guinea pig (“Mr. Pig”) and saved him from an untimely death at the Elmer’s Glue Factory (It’s true: I am the Oscar Schindler of the Woolworth’s pet department, people!) Tragically, my big brother helped him “buy the farm” in the end.

It still makes me a little sad inside when I see some yuppie screaming into his cell phone like some shrieking harpy, asking his significant other, “I’m in front of the yogurt section now, Zelda! Strawberry, Lemon, Coconut? Well, damn it, what kind of yogurt do you want, you ungrateful shrew!”

Whatever the case, my girlfriend and I will always purchase our laundry basket of throwaway trinkets of mass destruction (T.M.D.’s) in a futile attempt to discourage us from talking about our true feelings, I’m sure. Where’s the harm?

As I stand and deliver in the “10 Items or Less” lane of Target, I have to ponder whether or not there is much more to life than the ability to squander a few hours away (and a little more of our souls) in the trivial pursuit of discounted George Foreman Grills and aptly-priced bath accessories.

I guess, like Bogey and Bacall (or that other chick), we’ll always have Paris — and the local Target — as time so cruelly marches on like the Nazis on Nuremberg. Here’s looking at you, kid! (What do you mean my credit card’s been declined, you bastard!)

Like some tawdry bathmats at a low, low price – didn’t we almost have it all?

About Chris McVetta

Chris McVetta is a writer and comedian from Cleveland, Ohio. He is a graduate from Cleveland State University and an alumni of The Second City comedy writing program. His first job in journalism was as an Editorial Assistant working with Harvey Pekar ("American Splendor") at The Free Times. Most recently, his was invited to speak at the Ray Browne conference on Pop Culture at Bowling Green State University.
  • http://jonsobel.com Jon Sobel

    Wow, Wacky Packages. That take me back.

  • http://www.associatedcontent.com/user/39420/joanne_huspek.html Joanne Huspek

    Damn, this was funny! More upscale hillbillies, indeed!

  • Chris McVetta

    Indiana Jones and the Hee Haw Temple of Doom?

  • Kristen McDonald

    It sometimes amazes me how I can waste hours and hours wondering around target. I don’t even have to buy anything, I simply walk around and observe. I don’t know how I do it, but places like target simply fascinate me. What am I doing with my life?

  • Chris McVetta

    I wish I had some snappy comeback for you, but I don’t. All I can say is I often feel the same way, spending time at Target on many a rainy day. Maybe it harkens back to my childhood and spending countless hours with my grandparents, going from store to store, endlessly “shopping for values.”

    Maybe I miss that.

    Either way, I didn’t mean to go “all Fox Mulder” on you, but you are certainly welcome to hang around here any time you want!

  • dudemeister2008

    This is freaking fantastic!!!

  • http://www.myspace.com/chris_mcv Chris McVetta

    Well, thank you, mom and/or my high school guidance counselor!