The Crappiest Wal-Mart in America

Well, maybe not the crappiest, but the Wal-Mart "supercenter" in Martinsburg, West Virginia has to be among the top 500 most crappy Wal-Marts. Last evening it was dirty and ill-kept, the bathroom was about as clean as the men's bathroom in Penn Station was in 1974 (I remember that bathroom, that's how crappy it was), and the employees appeared just as down-and-out as the customers. In places like West Virginia it's hard to avoid Wal-Mart, and so my boycott waxes and wanes situationally, and since my family visits the Panhandle quite often (a generally beautiful place, by the way), and since, being an American family, we need lots of crap, especially Chinese-made breakable crap, we find ourselves in that Wal-Mart more than I would like.

But about those down-and-out customers: If you want to see the underside of the unregulated capitalist economy, the people who can't find the non-existent escape ladder from poverty and its pathologies, visit the Martinsburg, West Virginia Wal-Mart. Morbid obesity; spontaneous, public bouts of corporal punishment directed against dirty children; ten-year girls dressed as whores; tattoos running up necks and down legs; smoking like you only see these days in Baku; it's all here. I considered myself a socialist until I was about 23 (that was when I fled my kibbutz for the final time) but a visit to the Martinsburg Wal-Mart reawakens my distaste for steroidal capitalism.

Wal-Mart has built a perfect system for the maintenance of the permanent underclass. I asked one worker last night if she ever shopped outside Wal-Mart. She said no, she could find everything she needs right here. I then asked her the relevant question: could she afford to shop at a store other than Wal-Mart? No, she said, smiling. And what a smile: Dental care is an unreachable luxury for most of the poor of West Virginia, even the poor of the Panhandle, which is the least put-upon section of the state. Stump-teeth, collapsing gums, whistling dentures, these are mouths straight out of David Shipler.

Wal-Mart has had some media success lately in its disingenuous campaign to convince liberal elites that it is not driving America into the gutter, but, as I have pointed out elsewhere, this is the most self-serving of campaigns, a way to drive costs down and convince elites that Wal-Mart is going green. But the invisible workers, hopeless and toothless, their poverty ensuring their consumer loyalty, living on what is essentially company scrip, benefit not at all.