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Rat-Mart's Wal-nuts
[Posted 10 March 2005]

I hate Wal-Mart. I hated Wal-Mart before it was fashionable to hate Wal-Mart.

Years ago, before Wal-Mart's business practices became widely known and deplored, I shopped at a local Wal-Mart in my brother's neighborhood. It was one of those huge mega-markets with a full grocery store in the same building, really the only all-night grocery store nearby. One morning I decided to make pancakes with walnuts, one of my favorites. My brother and I had loved pancakes with nuts since our childhood -- our mother used to make them for us. And so off I ran to Wal-Mart, to pick up some genuine maple syrup and walnuts before my brother decided to make something else for breakfast.

This was before the same Wal-Mart became the site of overcrowded parking lots with rude drivers, and lines that didn't move because there was only one cashier for the entire store during 3rd shift. Those problems would appear months later, probably as competitors disappeared and people had fewer shopping choices. No, this time things ran smoothly. I grabbed a bag of walnuts, a bottle of real maple syrup, and was making pancakes soon after (yes, the same pancakes from my cookbook -- I like substantial pancakes that make you feel full).

My brother and I enjoyed breakfast, as I continued to make more pancakes and shoveled them onto the plates. But when I reached for the bag of walnuts again, I made a discovery that somehow I'd missed both in the store and during our earlier rounds of drenching the cakes in syrup and nuts. There was a big, ragged RAT HOLE in the back of the bag of walnuts. I don't even know how the nuts hadn't been falling out in the store, since the hole was almost a couple of inches in diameter. My brother and I broke into hysterical laughter.

"Want more rat nuts?" I offered.

"Don't remind me," he laughed.

We decided that if we ate nuts from the open end of the bag, and didn't venture too far toward the rat hole, we could enjoy nuts the rat hadn't touched. Then we threw the rest of the bag away after breakfast. I didn't bother taking it back -- I knew how long the customer "service" line would be late in the morning. I also didn't bother reporting Wal-Mart to the health department, even though I probably should have. I just stopped buying food at Wal-Mart. Somehow the thought of rat nuts -- or Wal-nuts -- came to mind whenever I was tempted to venture out early in the morning for groceries. And I stopped using Wal-Mart entirely after long lines and insane parking lots became the norm, aside from the cheap merchandise that'd regularly fall apart in a year or less.

Of course, it wasn't Wal-nuts that kept Wal-Mart out of New York City last week. Instead, "The nation's largest retailer, Wal-Mart, has been forcibly thrown out of the nation's three largest cities due to its low wages, bad benefits and anti-worker policies." Wal-Mart was also in the news recently for closing a Quebec store to avoid becoming unionized at that particular store. It seems hating Wal-Mart has become immensely fashionable these days. And it wasn't because of rat nuts. It's the way they treat their workers, force jobs overseas, and drive local businesses into bankruptcy. For whatever reason, I'm glad people are finally finding their way to other stores. I'd hate the thought of Wal-Mart monopolizing even more of the grocery market.

Especially when I want to buy Wal-nuts.

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