I discovered Jolt Caffeine Energy Gum while in a checkout line at KMart. Pride forces me to clarify that I am not a frequent KMart shopper, and I’m opposed to these types of ginormous big-box stores, partly out of environmental and societal concerns, and partly out of snobbery. But last Saturday, we happened to be driving in Somerville and I spied the KMart Garden Center. Hoping to score some cheap plant containers, I urged Mr. Pinault to pull over.
It’s been at least 12 years since I’ve been in a KMart, and Mr. Pinault is a complete KMart virgin. As we walked through the parking lot, I teased Mr. Pinault – “Omigod, I can’t believe you’re going to KMart!” – but I shut up the moment we entered the vast, cavernous store. An intricate maze of towering shelves fanned out before us, inviting us into a labryinth of cheap Chinese imports. Abject people milled through the aisles, leaning on their steel-caged carriages, their eyes dully darting from product to product to product. A hush filled the store, and it was louder than any audible noise could be. We had entered a capitalist purgatory.
We discovered that the Garden Center was currently functioning as a “75% off” clearance area for Christmas decorations. At least 20 mostly Hispanic women sorted through giant bins and queued for the electronic price checker to check the discount on snowflake napkin rings and Nativity scene lamb figurines.
On the way out, we decided to buy some laundry detergent. All 3 checkout lines were mobbed by people with absolutely full carriages. The cashier would slowly seize one item, scan it, then place it in an individual plastic bag. Every so often, the customer would question the price of an item and decide they didn’t want it. The cashier would then have to void the item, a process that required a manager to type a code onto the register’s touchscreen. Nobody seemed impatient or in a rush; I guess it’s either this or Saturday afternoon television.
My attention wandered to the crammed candy display, where I spotted Jolt Caffeine Energy gum (2 pieces equals 1 cup of coffee! With ginseng and guarana!) I was intruigued enough to buy the gum. When we finally made it out of KMart, I popped two pieces in my mouth. The taste was pretty gross, but I chewed. After about five minutes, I discerned a rush of caffeine. I inexplicably wanted to cry, so I spit out the gum and drank some water until my heart calmed down. Jolt Gum made me feel like KMart makes me feel: Anxious, slightly ill, and upset that such a thing exists.