From the January 2006 Idaho Observer:
Faust in WalMart—a satire?
by Pete Creelman
Nothing looked at all out of the ordinary to shoppers entering the Walmart store on Bell Road—store #2,666. A few of them noticed that the store had a new street number—666 West Bell Road. Some customers took notice of this unusual street address, even though it was hidden in very small letters, but most paid little attention to it.
Customers who shop at Walmart are looking for real bargains like the new digital camera, 4 megapixels, for $109.95; the dress shoes on sale for under $10; or the 20 lb. box of laundry detergent for $3.95 and hundreds of other specials that day.
They could care less what the store number was or that the new street address had changed to 666 West Bell Road. Some more religious folks who did take notice of the store address, were alarmed and feared even walking into the store. But they did anyway, and then quickly set up a picket protest outside the store after they saw what was going on inside. It was like the Salvation Army presence at Christmas time. They were waving bibles and ringing bells, and saying to customers entering, "Be careful of who you talk to in this store, and watch your back!" "Remember, call on Jeeesus if you need him," they said waving their bibles. "When you come out, stop and see us. We’ll pray for you while you’re in there!" they said.
Customers entering this Walmart store wondered what all the fuss was about, inside it looked pretty much like it always did. There was the 60ish, grandmotherly lady welcoming you near the shopping carts. But there were a few significant differences. The common refrain, "where are the sales clerks when I need them?" had now changed. Now, when a customer who might have some addiction to a product in the store, such as candy, or watching and buying movie DVDs, or clothes or some other products, entered the isle of that product, something strange happened. First of all, the lights over that isle flickered on and off in an eerie manner and there was a crackling, mini-lightening sound. Then there was this sound, like the wind blowing through a crack in a building, an eerie howling sound, and suddenly a sales clerk materialized.
The sales clerk was neatly dressed in a red vest and black slacks rather the Walmart blue outfit. While the customer was pondering whether or not to buy the particular item, the sales clerk would approach the customer and start a conversation. "Hello, welcome to Walmart," the sales clerk said. "How the hell are you today?"
The customer was a little puzzled by the red outfit, a red vest, white shirt, red tie, and black pants. "How the hell am I?" the customer asked herself. Shouldn’t it be "how the heaven am I?" she wondered. "Fine," she said. "What’s with your red and black outfit?" she asked.
"Oh, don’t concern yourself with that. It’s a new clerk outfit Walmart is trying out," the sales clerk said.
"You seem unsure about buying that big box of chocolates, right?" asked the sales clerk.
"Yeah, I’d like to lose 15 pounds, and eating chocolates won’t help that, but I love chocolate!"
"Hey, go ahead and buy them. You know, we only live once. Splurge and enjoy yourself now! Why not buy two boxes! They’re on sale! Why not?" asked the sales clerk.
The customer was puzzled. She’d never had this kind of personal attention before in Walmart. Why now? she wondered. The customer put two big boxes of chocolates in her shopping cart, now convinced she was doing the right thing. The sales clerk had this Chesire cat grin on his face. His laugh, which was deep and guttural, unnerved her. Then he simply evaporated into thin air. She wondered about his slightly pointed ears and his devilish grin. She thought she’d never seen a sales clerk like this before anywhere! "Maybe those folks out in the front of the store are onto something," she thought to herself as she went over to the next isle.
Then, in the electronics section, another customer was looking at the TVs on sale, debating whether or not to buy the new 26" combo TV and DVD player. Out of nowhere, there was a whooshing sound, the lights flickered on and off, and yet another sales clerk appeared dressed in the same red and black outfit. The same conversational routine: "Hello, welcome to Walmart. How the hell are you?"
"What is going on in Walmart," the customer thought to himself. "I was thinking of buying another TV, but I’m not sure. I already have five sets, one in our master bedroom, one in the kitchen, two in the kids’ rooms and a widescreen in the family room.
"You do have a lot of TV sets," said the sales clerk. "You seem to be undecided about buying another one. Am I right?"
"Yeah," the customer said. "I’m trying to reduce our TV dependency. Buying another set isn’t going to help reduce our TV watching," he said.
"Oh, don’t worry about that. You know, TVs don’t addict; it’s people who become addicted. Just buying another set isn’t going to increase your watching, would it? If you weren’t watching TV, maybe you’d be reading or talking with your kids, or something else, wouldn’t you?" the sales clerk asked.
"You’ve got a point there," the man said.
"So, what’s the harm in buying another TV set? TVs are pretty harmless themselves. There are a lot more dangerous and harmful things you could be doing. You never know what you might pick up to read these days. The censors are doing the best they can, but some weird stuff does get out sometimes," said the clerk.
"You know, I think I’ll buy that combo TV. Thanks for your help."
The sales clerk had this big "cat swallowed the canary" grin on his face. Again, he disappeared into thin air.
Products and merchandise were flying off the shelves (literally and figuratively) at 666 W. Bell Road. In fact, there were some situations where a customer would be pondering on buying a product and that product would actually fly off the shelf and land in their shopping cart to the shock of the customer. They’d put it back and it would fly back into their basket.
Signs in the store had subtly changed. "Buy now and you will pay later!" read one. "Forget the guilt, splurge!" said another. "Buy American—the Chinese will love you!" said yet another. In this store, the Walmart blue clad sales clerks could be seen huddling in corners of the store in animated conversation over these new red and black clad sales clerks. They had anxious looks of serious concern. They spoke in hushed whispers, looking furtively all around as they spoke. They questioned why these new clerks could dress in red and black when the traditional uniform was Walmart blue. And why did the red clad sales clerks have their own break room? The sign on it read, "Authorized personnel only, others enter at your own peril!" Occasionally, they heard screams coming from this room. This made them even more nervous. Some of the clerks became so anxious that they asked for counseling and so Walmart hired an in-store therapy person.
Yet sales skyrocketed at this store. Who can argue with success? Walmart executives were looking very closely at expanding this successful experiment in sales/marketing to all their other stores. Some critics said that store management had literally made a deal with the Devil. Store management said, "We are just wiser marketers and our sales are stronger, that’s all. Dr. Faust doesn’t work for Walmart," they said. "Anyway, Walmart has always been a God-fearing store. Our employees take prayer breaks as well as coffee breaks," they said. "We have the lowest prices in town and now we have the most persuasive sales clerks at our 666 West Bell Road store."
What’s wrong with that? they wondered.
The bible-waving picketers persisted, but most people walked right by them, oblivious. Many customers said the new sales clerks in red and black were so helpful. But a skeptical minority wondered, "wither go America?"
Many ministers in local churches spoke about the controversy and gave sermons on the ethics and morality of shopping at this 666 W. Bell Road Walmart store. The Sunday sermon church markees reflected this controversy with such topics as: "Would Jesus Shop in Walmart?" or "Will Cheap Prices Save You?" or "Can a Shopping Addict ever be Redeemed?" Even the "Church Lady" on Saturday Night Live weighed in saying, "Isn’t Walmart special! (speshyaalll)" and drew laughs from the viewing audience when an actor appeared with "her" representing a Walmart executive trying to explain his case. She grilled him with the question, "Would Jesus ever shop in Walmart?"
He looked embarrassed and looked up to the ceiling. "Jesus won’t help you now," she said in her most stern and rebuking voice. The studio audience laughed boisterously.
Nevertheless, Walmart was undeterred by the controversy and the criticism, and added even more red/black clad sales clerks to their store at 666 West Bell Road, and started putting them in their other stores. Their new mottos were, "What’s good for Walmart is good for America" and "Buy in Walmart for a better America!"
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