20121013-100003When it comes to the Costco game, I’m a bench warmer at best — rather slow, slightly confused and marginally motivated. But, recognizing that my membership was about to expire and I had no plans to renew it, I half-heartedly made my way over there last weekend.

I hadn’t been since I signed up for my membership last year. That first time, I had wandered around the store with glazed eyes. But this time, I was a little more advanced in the game. Costco, Wostco, you can’t catch me, I told myself. I’m only here because I got sucked into the $100 executive membership because I’m stupid and now I’m trying to salvage some of my losses.

So I walked in. Or I tried to walk in before I had to show my membership card. Let me ask you this, dear readers: Do you have to try harder to be a customer at any other store? As I heard in an NPR article recently, most stores have people standing at the door welcoming you in. Costco workers are there to keep you out.

And once you do get in, you are completely on your own. No helpful signs pointing you in the right direction. No workers willing to walk you to what you are looking for. Instead it is what it is. Do you want this Hamilton Beach popcorn maker or not? Because that’s what we have to sell today. No, we don’t have any other brands and, no, we probably don’t sell popcorn kernels. We do have this purple hair dryer. Yeah, purple. No, we … don’t even think of … No! We don’t have any other color.

So I picked up the purple hairdryer not because I needed it, but because I might need a back-up and this one was $19.99. That seemed like a good deal, but I really had no idea because the last time I price-compared hair dryers I was 17. But I walked on, pretty happy my cart wasn’t empty anymore and that I was making progress.

Was I making progress? Was I saving money? Though I’d walked in with confidence, my answer was now: I had no idea. Like I said, Costco is a game for smarter players than me. Yes, a bottle of Pantene is (maybe) $5.69 at Kroger. Now I was faced with a bottle at Costco that was $14.99 but was made for a race of Giants. Was it cheaper? It’s not as if I knew the price per fluid ounce. Same with the box of Cheerios the size of a fridge. Yes, it was probably cheaper because my stepdad Peter knows the price of everything and he loves Costco so this was probably cheaper. But how in the heck was I going to eat that whole box before it went stale?

Still, my train of thought went in this direction: “If the zombie apocalypse hits, man, that box of Cheerios would come in handy. It would keep me fed for a while.”

That line of thinking is another essential part of the Costco shopping experience. At one point or another, you start to plan for the worst. Because I had decided I wasn’t going to renew my Costco membership, this feeling was intensified.

So I started throwing a bunch of shit in the cart: a 60-pack of sponges, Tide, Bounce, dish pellets, Jet Dry. Obviously I wasn’t thinking too far ahead since all of these required running water. But still, it was feeling kind of good to be a survivalist out there. Planning ahead. I started looking around for stuff that could be used for tourniquets. I bought six barbecue lighters.

But then I looked around, and I wondered if we actually had survived or if we were already the zombies. The people shopping around me were looking a little suspect. Their kids were jumping around them like fleas, bored to tears by this Soviet space. Mom and dad’s posture was slumped, and their mouths were open. I caught a glimpse of myself in a Conair two-sided vanity mirror and realized we all looked like a fresh batch of “Walking Dead” extras.

I escaped the thought by hitting the dry foods section in earnest, where I debated whether I needed a box of Carr’s crackers big enough to feed a First Baptist congregation. It was in so considering that I noticed the middle section of the store. The part where the clothes and toys are. Where the books are. People seemed to be less grey-faced there. They seemed to be mulling, not because they had to but because they were choosing to.

Is that where hope lived? Was the sound of souls being sucked dry less prominent there? But then a woman looked up at me and I saw there was the word Dummies in her book title.

The most interesting part of the Costco trip happened when I was waiting in line to pay. That’s when I noticed a sign for a giant hot dog, one dressed with relish and chopped onions, and selling for $1.50 in the Costco cafeteria. Looking at that huge dog, I had to wonder: What kind of dining expectations would have to be set aside for a person to not only be willing to eat a meal cooked by a wholesale retailer, but then sup in said space at a table fitted, no less, with an umbrella in case of rain?

My cart was heavy, my soul was dry and the game was lost. I was willing to find out.

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