…You poor, stupid fool. Well, maybe that’s unfair. After all, it’s been nearly a year since you’ve been inside the place, and it can’t possibly be as bad as you remember it. Maybe it was just a few bad memories, grown worse with time. Besides, geographically it’s the closest place that’s open, and you only need to pick up a few things. “How bad can it be?” you think to yourself, and set off down the street.
You have passed the third McDonald’s on the block, and stand in front of the entrance to the main part of the building.
Oh, no, wait. It’s blockaded.
Next door down should do it.
Okay. You think you remember the way. You choose the escalators to the right. Coming up to the second, or first floor, depending on which sign you look at (they use both systems of floor numbering interchangeably here, after all) you see a couple standing around their child, smiling. How cute. Oh, wait, no. The kid’s pissing on the floor. You step out of the way of the approaching stream, and try to pretend you didn’t just witness what you just did as you attempt to gain entrance to the supermarket section of the floor. The spinning barricade, if you remember correctly, is on the other side of the building. Fuck it, just use the closed checkout lane ahead of you. One of them only has a chain across it.
First off, toothpaste. It’s near the laundry section. Look from a distance until you see the brand you want. Wait, what are you doing? You tried to get a closer look at the brands available, and you caught the attention of the display ladies. One of them starts approaching you with a box of toothpaste, a brand you don’t recognize. The others follow suit, squawking in incomprehensible Guangdong-accented Chinese. If you listen closely, you think some of it sounds familiar…
Snap out of it! Shit, you’re surrounded. Grab the box you want off the shelf. Close enough. Whatever the flavor is, it’ll taste at least marginally better than tooth decay. Now wave your arms, shout BU YAO BU YAO, and push your way through. As persistent as these ladies are, they’re none too sturdy, and you can break through them with relative ease, until you are back to relative peace and relative quiet.
Now, the next thing you need should be on the next floor. The problem is, this floor doesn’t always seem to exist. Sometimes you’ll go up a floor, and find yourself two floors up. Space and time don’t work the way you’re used to. Fortunately you must have remembered your sacrifice to Cthulhu today, because it only takes ten minutes to find the moving ramp up, behind a stack of boxes labeled “SILKWORM WARM.”
You dodge a pair of unsupervised children, whose heads are dangerously at crotch height, and navigate a maze of shiny electronics and noisy demonstrations, until you find a water bottle. No, not that one, not that one…Hooray! Just what you were looking for. You grab precisely three binders from the “Back to School” section, and find the ramp up to the foodstuffs section. It is broken, stationary, and this revelation has shattered the mind of a fellow shopper. She stands with her cart blocking the entrance and her mouth agape. After a few moments, the gears start to turn and she decides that dammit, this situation might not have been on any exam, but maybe if she pushes the cart straight ahead it’ll get her to the next floor. You follow behind slowly, silent, seething.
Peanut butter would be nice. You circle the store three times. The third time you pass where the peanut butter should be, it is actually there. There is one jar on the shelf that isn’t de-laminated and shedding plastic flakes. It’s not the kind you were looking for, but beggars can’t be choosers. ParknShop used to have ridiculously overpriced cheese, but one day, it disappeared. Today, there is some cheese. Not the same brand, and more expensive than you remember. You go to take a closer look. A bespectacled girl, young but old enough to know better, shoves in front of you to get something she could have more easily reached by nearly any other means. It’s okay though. You’re a foreigner, and as such you are invisible to Chinese people. Unless they’re staring at you, in which case you are all they can see until they remember they have an iPhone.
You hold your breath through the dried fish display and finish shopping. You find a checkout line that looks like it might be shorter than the others. It’s hard to tell. Finally, your turn comes. The checkout lady fumbles through your basket, gets to the binders, notices something is amiss with the UPC tag on one of them, tosses it aside. You need three, not two, and when you try to express the idea that she can just scan one twice, since it’s the same exact damn product, she shrugs and shakes her head. The feeling of dread in your stomach intensifies. She takes your card, swipes it, notices an error. It’s an old card, and it doesn’t always read correctly. Usually swiping it slowly in the opposite direction works just fi–no, wait. she’s swiping it faster and faster. By this point, she doesn’t seem to be trying to get the machine to read the card as much as she is trying to go through the motions of pretending to as quickly as possible. You try to show her what you’ve seen to work at every other store you’ve been to, but suddenly she stops, looks blankly in your general direction, and says three words that could almost pass for English.
“You Have Cash?”
Remembering your past experiences with counterfeit change, you don’t even bother to check. Resisting the urge to flip the basket off the checkout counter, you throw your hands up and storm off towards the escalators. The kid’s pee from earlier has now spread into an unavoidable slick mess covering the width of the passageway. In your frustration, you had forgotten about it. It’s okay, you don’t really need your tailbone, do you?