Business decisions are not violations of your rights. Usually…

Most of the Second Amendment advocates on social media are up in arms – no pun intended – about Walmart’s decision to deeply scale back its sales of ammunition. Now, it would be easy enough to pillory Walmart’s press release. “Short barrel rifle ammunition” and “large capacity clips” aren’t really a thing, after all, but getting details right is less important than getting the proper spin on your public relations story.

The short version of what I’m sure will be my unpopular take is that Walmart is, first and foremost, a business. It exists as a money making machine for its shareholders. The end. Somewhere in an Arkansas-based executive suite, they made a business decision that they could afford to lose some percentage of their sales by getting out of a segment of the retail ammunition business. Unless Walmart is being run by certified morons, it was a dispassionate decision made based on dollars and cents… and no, before someone asks, Walmart isn’t infringing on your Second Amendment rights.

It’s been a long time since Walmart was just a simple chain of southern variety stores, but they are still big business in rural communities across the country. They sell a metric shit ton of hunting equipment, outdoor supplies, and yes, ammunition and firearms. Because of their ubiquity in the marketplace, avoiding their reach completely feels unlikely… but a simple check of my last year’s expenses shows me that if I simply change where I get my canned goods, dry foods, and basic groceries, I can deprive them of upwards of $5,000 a year – a bit more if you figure in other household incidentals.

One person’s changed buying habits won’t make a lick of difference to Walmart, of course, but it will funnel money into other businesses, that are, perhaps, less willing to sell out a core demographic element of their business model. A few hundred or a few thousand people determined to do the same can make a tremendous difference in throwing cash towards businesses that support, or at the very least aren’t antagonistic towards their values and priorities.

Walmart has their own business calculus and so do I.

Wild Kingdom…

Back when I was growing up and dinosaurs roamed the earth, we got 12 television channels. We were a stage past turning the selector knob (although there were still one or two of those old sets in the house). It feels archaic in retrospect, but it was perfectly normal back then.

I don’t remember the channel number, but where that TV landed more often than not was the local Maryland Public Television station. At the time, it fired up the transmitters at around 5AM and signed off with the national anthem around midnight. Public broadcasting was my first exposure to a lot of programming that I consider formative and central to who I am today – most walmartnotably shows that taught me to appreciate the British sense of humor. But grainy Monty Python episodes aren’t what made me think about public television today. That distinction belongs to seemingly inexhaustible variety of “animal shows” they were fond of running back in the early 1980s.

While it doesn’t have the quiet, authoritative dignity of Wild Kingdom or a Jacques Cousteau special, there’s something of a flavor of these shows in my regular trip to Walmart. After pulling in on Saturday morning to see half the not insubstantial parking lot occupied by a car show, I knew I was in for something special. All I can tell you is Walmart didn’t disappoint.

The very next thing I saw after the visions of chrome was a geriatric man pushing his easily 600 pound wife/significant other/pet wildebeest and a fully loaded basket of groceries out of the store seated on one of those carts built to have multiple small children strapped to it. I’ll admit it, I was transfixed. My only regret is that I already passed the scene before realizing I should really have taken a picture (so it would last longer). Now, I’m not a small man in any sense of the world. I don’t make a point of mocking the obese, because by any legitimate standards I am one of them. But I still manage to walk my fat ass into and out of the grocery store without requiring a two man lift and a push cart to make it happen. Honest to God, it took me a good five to ten seconds to process and come to terms with what I was seeing.

You’d think it might be over once I got parked far, far away from the door with at least once side of the truck protected by a curb, but no, there’s more. Saturday at Walmart was the gift that kept on giving. Near the front door were three cars all attempting to occupy the same bit of the space-time continuum at once. As I drew near, I heard the unmistakable sound of the deeply inbreed female redneck screeching three kinds of hell in the general direction of the (most likely) equally inbred male redneck who had stopped his Clampett-mobile in the middle of the travel lane to let his female companion take the wheel. This was just seconds before the older, female Alpha Redneck leapt from her car with the agility surprising for a woman of her age and apparent state of drunkenness. And then she took a swing at the male driver for daring to block her way. This all led to three full sets of paired North American Rednecks swearing and threatening each other in full plume. Honest to the little baby Jesus the only thing missing was a banjo player.

At this point all parties turn to look at the guy who was holding his chest and laughing his damned fool head off while walking past the commotion and staring at the shambles of six utterly wasted human lives as they further shattered on the hot asphalt of Walmart’s parking lot. It was truly one of the most monumental displays of redneckery I have ever seen in person… and had you grown up where I did, you’d know that’s really setting the bar quite high.

So there you have it, my friends. I hope it’s clear now how we got from basic cable in the 80s, to public television, and back around to how Walmart is possibly the 5th circle of hell. Like the African savanna, it’s an interesting place to observe wild creatures in their natural environment, but the moment we start interacting with them, we’ve endangered them as well as ourselves. The best and safest course of action is for all of us to avoid contact and allow this devolution to run its course, hoping that in time these roving bands will slaughter each other into a state of relative equilibrium allowing those who have more than a handful of firing neurons to complete further field studies.

A trip to Walmart (or Barbarians at the gates)…

When it comes to grocery shopping in southern Cecil County, Walmart represents the least objectionable of three craptastic choices. Right off the bat that should tell you everything you need to know about the grocery situation here in the northeastern corner of Maryland. I would seriously consider selling a kidney if someone would build a Giant, a Safeway, or a Kroger somewhere closer than the current 90 minute round trip drive to get to any one of those options.

Since it’s the lesser of the local evils, that’s were I end up most weekends. I was there yesterday and here are my studied observations on the experience:

walmart1. There are approximately 237 billion parking spots surrounding Walmart, yet nine times out of ten I end up pulling down the lane behind someone who will sit and wait for the family of six to load their two carts of groceries, buckle the kids into their seats, adjust their mirrors, turn on their GPS and select the “home” option, back halfway out of the spot, stop for no apparent reason for 30 seconds, back the rest of the way out into the lane, spend 20 seconds trying to shift into drive, stall out, restart the car, and then drift away at approximately .175 miles per hour. All of this might even be acceptable if it were midnight on the day after Thanksgiving, but it’s 11AM on a Friday. There are acres of open spots as far as the eye can see, but the douchtard in front of me wants this exact spot for some reason. Well, congratulations. You got it. You saved yourself at least 15 extra steps you’d have had to take from one of the already available spots. This trip is not going well and I haven’t even gotten out of the truck yet.

2. There are three carts inside the door. One filled with some combination of leaves, trash, and possibly a diaper, one that has apparently hosted a seagull convention, and the third and final option… That one apparently doesn’t have any bearings in one of its wheels, so I get to spend the next 40 minutes wiping bird shit off my hands or listening to THUNK, THUNK, RATTLE, THUNK, THUNK, RATTLE, THUNK, THUNK, RATTLE, THUNK, THUNK, RATTLE every time I take a step. I don’t know if there’s a hell or not, but If there is, I’m absolutely convinced the background noise is THUNK, THUNK, RATTLE.

3. Walked by the ammunition case. No ammo. Or more specifically no ammo for guns that anyone actually owns or uses on a regular basis. Can’t blame Walmart for that one, really. It’s just another disappointing part of this little voyage of the damned.

4. Milk, eggs, bread… Even Walmart cant screw up the staples too badly. Just when I thought things might be turning a corner a three year old girl came charging out of nowhere and flung herself at my cart. Looking up to see what she probably expected to be the face her theoretically loving parent, what she got was a surly look from an unknown middle aged guy with a goatee. Clearly this was not what she was anticipating as the result was a yelp that I can only equate with what happens when you step on a dog’s paw and the child attempting to sprint away and running directly into a bottled water display set up in the middle of the aisle. It seems that with enough momentum, one can really bounce off the side of a few pallets of bottled water. Who knew, right? The last thing I saw was her theoretically loving parent showing up from the next aisle over and clearly wondering why her little darling was lying flat out on Walmart’s floor.

4. I wanted to make a roast on Sunday. Roast beef was a regular fixture at Sunday dinner at my grandmother’s house and about once a month I pull out the stops and make one with all the trimmings. I have found decent cuts of beef at Walmart from time to time, but they’re few and far between… as you might expect, this trip was not one of the exceptions to the rule. It looks like I’ll be partaking in the much more recent family tradition of Taco Sunday again this week.

5. I walked up to a checkout counter that had just cleared its last customer. Not waiting in line to checkout is practically unheard of here at my local Walmart and I thought maybe I was going to get a break here at the end of this test of my endurance. Of course it wasn’t. The cashier was apparently engrossed in her conversation with the last customer. After unloading my cart onto the belt, she was still engrossed. I pushed the cart forward so I was standing directly in front of her and she was still engrossed. I’m pretty sure if I hadn’t started adding my two cents to their conversation, she would probably still be engrossed. Look lady, I don’t need you to be happy to be there. I don’t even need you to be pleasant. All I need you to do is slide my crap across the little scanner thingy, take my money, and let me get on with the rest of my day. The sooner that happens the happier we can all be.

Basically, the only good thing I can ever really say about a trip to Walmart is that no one has yet set my truck on fire in the parking lot. That’s probably only a matter of time, though, because truly the barbarians are at the gates.

Today’s post is the latest installment of “By Request,” where the readers pick the topic and I rant about it.

God bless America…

It’s Saturday… and here in Ceciltucky, Saturday means the weekly grocery run to Walmart. Now Walmart being what it is, I rarely leave with only groceries. Today’s plan was to pick up a few backs of the D-cell batteries that there are never enough of at the store before a hurricane and check prices on a variety of ammunition over in the gun aisle. Let the record show, that I was at least successful at scavenging sufficient batteries for the next power outage.

Ammunition was a different story. Aside from a few boxes of assorted 12 and 20 gauge shells and even fewer boxes of .30-06, Walmart’s cupbord was looking pretty bare. I guess at least a few of the people around here have been paying attention. Usually I’d be annoyed that what I had wanted wasn’t in stock. Instead, I looked over at the guy running the gun counter, nodded hello, and simply said “God bless America.”

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

Presented for your approval, a mélange of topics that have made me want to alternately gouge out my own eyes, bludgeon others to death where they stood, and curl up in the fetal position and just have a good cry…

1. Being a whore. I sell my body for money, well, the brain part of my body anyway. I don’t usually give any particular thought to how my John wants to use me for the eight hours he pays for, but sometimes it’s just damned hard to ignore. I’ve run across very few things in my professional life that are more annoying that spending hours, days, or months working on something only to get told “woops, looks like we won’t need that now.” Whether what I’m working on ever sees the light of day or not, my time is reasonably well compensated. Still, it would be nice to know you’re whoring yourself out for something that’s actually going somewhere. You’d think a decade on, I’d be use to just lying back, opening my brain, and thinking of England, but I don’t seem to quite have the hang of it yet.

2. DVDs. Between movies and TV show season, I’m guessing that I have something like 500 disks that spend 99.999% of their time doing nothing but taking up shelf space. For all but a few favored movies or shows, they might only see the light of day once a year or less. The logical solution to no longer wanting these DVDs sitting around occupying limited storage space is to rip them to several large hard drives and serve them up through iTunes. That would be the logical solution except, of course, for the part where no one in the world offers a convenient method of extracting large amounts of data from DVD and converting it to an iTunes-ready file… and no, I don’t consider ripping and encoding one or two at a time to be a convenient method. Sadly, a quick cost/benifit analysis telles me that with the vast amount of time and effort involved in getting my movies from Point A to Point B the hard way, it might legitimately be more cost effective to just put all my DVDs into long term storage and build a new collection from scratch when I want to watch something. Just the thought of having to go that route annoys me to no end when there’s a far far less expensive, but ponderously over complicated solution to be had.

3. Walmart Pharmacy. I don’t know who gave these jokers my office phone number, but rest assured, I will not be coming in to pick up “my” two prescriptions no matter how many messages you leave. Even if they were my prescriptions, when you told me the bill was $510.64, I’d point at you, laugh, and walk away.

Royal Warrant…

For the last couple of centuries companies that provide goods and services to the royal households of Europe were permitted to advertise themselves as Royal Warrant holders. Basically that means they get to slap a royal coat of arms on their letterhead and let everyone and their brother know that they are the official purveyor of some product to the sovereign. That probably ment more three centuries ago than it does today. As usual, though, that’s not really the point.

When I moved in here at Rental Casa de Jeff I inherited a US flag that had been flying from a bracket on the deck for God knows how long. It was faded, but serviceable and survived a hurricane and whatever other weather northeastern Maryland threw at it. After the most recent round of storms, though, the frayed ends graduated to full fledged tears and it was time to retire the old girl. This finally brings us to the point of the day’s post.

The Flag Shop in North East, Maryland occupies probably 100 square feet in the corner of a building at the southern end of Main Street. As far as I can tell they’re open mostly at random times and the only employee is the old guy who owns the place. After trying to sell me on the virtue of the 15-star, 15-stripe “War of 1812” flag, I picked up a more conventional 50-star variety. Let’s just say that the prices aren’t exactly competitive with Amazon. Still, there’s just something about the place that I like. It might have been that he reminded me that the VFW down the street would take my old, worn flag for proper disposal or that he knocked a buck off the price because I paid cash. I’m going to go ahead and proclaim The Flag Shop my official purveyor of flag and flag-related accessories, if for no other reason than I like having the option of walking into a place that’s not Walmart and buying a flag that wasn’t made in China.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

Note: I know I missed last week’s edition, so you’re getting a “best of” What Annoys Jeff this Week that covers that last two weeks. No extra charge. Enjoy.

1. Meetings that start at 6PM. Saying this out loud is probably detrimental to my career, but I can’t think of any good reason aside from executive ego that justifies starting a meeting at 6PM when most everyone in the room start their day between 7 and 7:30. You either have no respect for their time or really bad time management skills. Either one of which is generally considered bad form by fancy business schools everywhere.

2. People with no sense of urgency. When I’ve been telling you for more than a week that something needs to happen by X Day, don’t be surprised, offended, or otherwise defensive on X+2 when I tell you what you’re giving me is too late to include. I don’t care that you worked really hard on it. In conclusion, you’re a douchebag.

3. Large volumes of small children. Individually and in small numbers, I’m surprisingly ok with (other people’s) kids. Pack lots of them into a relatively small space and it has a tendency to make me twitchy. It’s just that they’re collectively so loud… and fast moving. When you’ve spent your entire adult life living in blissful solitude, I’m not going to lie, a gang of 15 six year olds reeking mayhem and chaos next door is something of a shock to the system. It’s a shame that the uberwealthy hiring a hermit to live on their property to give it a pastoral feel went out of fashion with the Victorian Age. I think that’s a career path where I could have really set the standard for excellence.

4. “Scooter” People. If you’re going to ride the electric scooter at Walmart, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect that you pay at least partial attention to what you’re doing. And by that I mean try not to drive it directly into my back while continuing your conversation with whatever slack-jawed yokel you came with to do your grocery shopping as if it didn’t happen. I have to admit it took real stones to give me a dirty look when I called you on it. Most of the time, I have an instinctive tendency to defer to my elders, but in your case I’ll make an exception. You, you muumuu wearing, blue haired battle-ax, are an asshat.