Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Month: May 2012

The Photo of the Sunset

I unfollowed everyone on Twitter, and then slowly re-followed everyone back. I brought the final divorce paperwork to the court, and then got it returned by mail because I was missing one of the forms. I grew a beard, and then sheared it off like the wool of a sheep, feeling the facial hair too hot to wear in the summer. My life is in constant flux.

Yesterday, I stood at the water’s edge and waited for the day to end. I had my iPhone in my hand. For years, I had made fun of the cliched photograph of the sun setting into the Pacific. But I wanted to try to capture it myself, just to see what made it so special.

As the afternoon shifted into evening, the sky above the Pacific was painted by nature’s brush in the bright color of a tangerine. A red-yellow neon shimmer took to the water, dancing with the waves. I started shooting, almost 200 photos in all, never stopping my thumb from clicking on the iPhone screen, except for that one brief moment when a buxom woman in a bikini passed by my view.

As evening turned to night, the sky turned into a rainbow of colors. At “photo 95” the sky darkened, and the atmosphere grew ominous, as if the world was going to end. At “photo 110” the vibrancy picked up, as if God was running his artistic creation through his own Instagram filter.

But I found the exact moment of sunset, the dipping of the life force into the horizon, a disappointment. I preferred the imagery when the sun was at a 45-degree angle and the blue of the sky was sprinkled with hot flames diffused by the clouds.

At the end of the night, when I looked over the photos, most of the shots were “nice,” except for the one or two shots where my finger got in the way of the lens. But none were perfect. Even my favorites of the bunch, “photo 61” and “photo 101” had flaws. When the ocean bristled with energy in one photo, the sky faded into the background. When the sky exploded with color in another photo, the sea darkened in the foreground. It was impossible to capture the momentum of the sunset in one shot. Maybe that is the ultimate challenge of it all. The event was one of movement, of flux, of time, the ebbing and flowing of the water, the shining and dimming of the light. Never static, like life.

Jesus at the Beach

Summer at the beach.  Tanned bodies, flip-flops, kiddie rides, ice cream cones, pop songs on the radio.  Sure, there may be too much skin exposed, and people are reading dumb books rather than Dostoevsky, but there is way more sin going on in a typical night on HBO than at a California beach.  C’mon, Jesus, mellow out and relax.  Grab a Hawaiian ice and watch the girls.

The Conversation

Jackie and I were sitting in the Cozy Cafe.

“Have you read “50 Shades of Grey?”  I asked.

“Yes.  It’s so poorly written,” said Jackie, my long-time blogging friend.

“That’s what I heard.”

“And the media is so superficial in discussing it.  They’re acting as women have never enjoyed erotica before. Or had sexual fantasies.”

“You know the media.  They just like to create controversy to get more readers.”

“But maybe it’s good that the fantasies of women are more openly discussed.  That women are finally able to be comfortable talking  about sex, masturbation, vibrators, and their own vaginas.”

What I liked most about Jackie was that we could discuss anything, without fear of embarrassment.

“I wonder if the openness of blogging has helped push this agenda for women.” I mused.

“You might be right,” she said.  “Women can be honest about what they want in their lives sexually.”

“I wonder if blogging even paved the way for a sexually-realistic show like “Girls” on HBO.”

“Interesting,” said Jackie.  “It’s like the time has arrived where women don’t have to sugar coat their sexuality for the patriarchy. We can sleep around. We can have bad sex. We can be fully actualize sexual beings.”

“Blogging has also changed the way men think about sexuality,” I chimed in.

“Yeah?  In what way?”

Jackie, with a masters in Feminist Studies, was always willing to discuss gender issues.

“I think, before blogging, men were mostly attracted to women because of their looks.”

“Yeah, tits and ass.  Men are so simple.”

“But that has all changed.  I know something has happened to me in the last year eight years of blogging. I have spent so much time online, interacting with a person’s creativity and talent, that it has become more important to me than a person’s physical appearance.”

“Maybe that is true for women, but never for men.”

“No, blogging has feminized men.  We fall in love with your writing and photography now, not your bra size!”

Jackie was still skeptical about my theory.

“Bullshit.   Even at BlogHer, I notice how the men act.  They spend the weekend surrounding whoever is the hottest looking momblogger in the room.”

“You are so wrong.  That doesn’t happen anymore.   We might notice a blogger’s cleavage, but we want to talk with the one who makes us laugh on Twitter.”

“I don’t buy it.”

“No, really!” I insisted.   “There is something sensual about talent.  Can I be honest with you — since you are always open with me, telling me about vibrators and stuff?”

“Sure.”

“Remember that great post you wrote last week. About visiting your grandmother in the mountains when you were a teenager.”

“Yes.”

“I loved it. I loved it so much, I thought about the imagery all night. The way you described the mountain air.  It was so beautiful.   And later, when I opened up my computer to read it a third time, I said to myself, “I wish I could fuck this post.”

“What?”!

“I was just so moved by what you wrote that I needed to fuck your words. I had to take my cock out because I was so turned on.”

“Wow.”

“Now, remember, this has nothing to do with the size of you dress or your hair.   It was your mind that turned me on.  I hope this isn’t too weird for me to tell you.”

“I’m speechless.”

“I just figured that since you read “Fifty Shades of Grey” and like “Girls,” you would be comfortable with my own honesty.”

“There is just one big difference.  That other stuff is fiction! It is cool because it isn’t real. But jacking off to my blog post about my late grandmother is f*cking sick!”

“It doesn’t really mean anything, or change our relationship.  I was just trying to tell you how blogging has changed me as a man.  How it has opened me up to new turn-ons.”

“You’re a fucking freak, man.   Pervert.  I never want to hear from you.”

“But I was just being OPEN WITH YOU!”

Jackie grabbed her purse and started leaving the coffee shop, the other customers eavesdropping in.

“Go jack off to your own dead grandmother!” she said as she left.  “I’m blocking you from ever reading my blog again!”

“But not on Facebook, right?” I pleaded, not wanting to lose a follower.

But she was already gone.

 

The End of Blog Niches as We Know It

Hi. Today is Wednesday, May 23, 2012. It is a sunny day in California. Today is also the day I have decided to end the personal writing blogosphere as we know it.

Sure, it will continue on in the same way for most of you — business as usual. But it will change for me, and once you see my paradigm shift, many of you will see the wisdom here.
Change is the future.

Blogging, once a radical act, has become pedestrian.  But I’m not going to take the obvious route, and rant about monetization.  Making money is good.  I want to discuss the concept of niche.

Bon Stewart recently wrote a brilliant post about niche from an academic point of view, and came down hard on the concept.

Every group within society has its markers, its distinctions. We think of them as our tastes, but they are – says Bourdieu – markers of our class identities, internalized and usually invisible to us. (Or they were until the hipsters started drinking Pabst, at least.)

Distinction says “I am not that. I am this.”

Unlike Bon, I’ve given up fighting against niches.  There will always be niches.  Even those who feel trapped in their niche are afraid to leave it.

In my view, the problem lies in one simple fact: we are not the master of our own niches. These categories have been created by others, usually marketers who want to sell us things.   We need to fit into a box to be acceptable.   Food bloggers. Craft bloggers. Mom bloggers. Dad bloggers.  Self-Help “You are Beautiful and Be Happy” Bloggers.

This does not work for me. There is a talent to writing for a niche, but it is not a universal one. It doesn’t mean that we are talentless. It means that we don’t have children. Or aren’t married. Or aren’t close to being experts in cooking or knitting or celebrity gossip.  Or we are just weird.

And frankly, a system which categorizes writers by personal lifestyles is extremely crude. Do you read Charles Dickens because of his parenthood?

The dominance of this rigid, superficial system of inclusion — created by the market — is something frequently discussed offline. Some of my friends have simply stopped blogging because of it, feeling as if they don’t belong in the market.  Others have become defiant, shouting to the world that they don’t need any niche; they can march to their own drummer.

I used to be the latter, wanting to go it alone.  But it is a lonely road.  A niche offers more than just monetization or categorization. It offers companionship in a group.  And having a “tribe” creates confidence and power.

I have decided to embrace the niche. Embrace the friendship and power in order to combat the pressures of this lonely and difficult profession.

The difference with my niche system is that I don’t want to follow what the market has decided is right for me.  That boots me to the back of the bus, because that is where the market thinks I belong.  I want to create a niche that works and empowers me.

There is historical precedents for creating your own niche.   There have been countless artistic and literary movements throughout the ages — Cubism, the Bloomsbury Group, the Beat Movement, Impressionism, Romanticism, Social Realism, Neo-realism, etc.  Many of our favorite artists and writers from the 17th to 20th Century were members of these niches. They were creative individuals — yes, but they also teamed with others to nurture their creativity. Was it exclusionary?  Yes.  Was it focusing on distinction?  Of course.   But it was a far less primitive system than separating the world by lifestyle, marital status, and gender.

I’m done trying to figure out whether I am a humor blogger, a memorist, or a diarist.  I would love to be a member — at least of a while — of a group of Humorous Surrealists. Many of my favorite posts involve hyper-realism where I talk to my dead father or get berated by my own penis. I would love to read more writers who write in this style.   What do our styles have in common?  What is different?  When does the surrealism overcome the artistic point of the piece? What are we both trying to say about the current world?

I presented this idea to Sarah Gilbert of Cafe Mama, a writer I greatly respect. She said that she wished she could be in a movement titled “Domestic Realism.”  I loved it!   How much more empowering to be in a movement titled “Domestic Realism” than being seen as a bland “mommyblogger.” A “Domestic Realism” movement would be committed to viewing the world of the parent, warts and all, showing the dirty dishes in the sink rather than the Architectural Digest view of things.  It would be a distinction based on artistic temperament rather than social status.

I believe that drama is good for the creative spirit, so I can imagine having fun artistic conflicts, like in Paris of the 1920’s.  I would write a post accusing Sarah and her “domestic realism” friends of missing the point of the spiritual in art. She would strike back, accusing “the surrealists” as being immature frat boys, going for cheap bathroom humor.  Of course, when we met up at some conference, we would all laugh together, knowing that our arguments were part of necessary artistic growth, not personal nonsense over who breastfed and who used formula.  The Golden Age of Blogging would begin.

A bit crazy? Maybe. I love writing online, and it makes me sad to see so many of my friends give up.  When did the marketers, PR people, and sponsored posts start dominating the field and setting the agenda?  The current niche system only works for those who fit in.

My idea is simple: don’t quit. Let’s create our own artistic niches.  I’ll see you at the virtual Parisian cafe at night (uh, Twitter) where we can argue about writing.

(note:  this post was sitting in my draft file for a week until I read this post from Helen Jane: Know What You Want)

Instagram Los Angeles: Day at the Beach

The Gay Marriage Conversation

Jason called me this morning from New York wanting to talk about Obama’s public embrace of gay marriage.

“Isn’t it great?” I asked.

“Well, sure. It it terrific. But…”

“Yeah, he should have spoke up earlier. But you know, politics as usual.”

“It’s not that. It’s just that after Hiroshi heard the speech, he turned to me and asked me to get married.  He said it was our defining moment.”

“Cool. Mazel tov.”

“Shut up. I don’t know if I’m ready to get married.”

“C’mon, Jason, you’ve been dating him for seven years now.”

“He’s really pressing me.   He’s says we have to do it for Obama. That Obama is the first gay President.  That we need to be a symbol for the gay movement.”

“So, do it!  You can hire me as your instagram wedding photographer!”

“But I’m afraid.   It’s like once you get married, everything falls apart.”

“That’s not true.”

“Look at you.”

“Don’t use my marriage as an excuse not to get married.”

“Damn it.   It’s just I always hear that when straight people get married, they stop having sex.”

“That’s a myth.   You just do it faster.  So you don’t miss the beginning of Celebrity Apprentice.”

“I love Hiroshi, but just ever since the gay marriage thing became a bit thing, all my straight friends are pissed at me.  At work, they go “So when are you getting married?” And I say, “I don’t know if we’re getting married.”  And they go, “Of course you’re getting married!” It’s like I owe them something.”

“Jason, a lot of people have been working hard so you can get legally married.”

“I understand that.”

“I don’t think you do.   Do you know how many Facebook updates I have written in support of gay marriage? How many times I clicked on “Like” when a meme was going around the Internet calling for equality?  I think you could at least show some gratitude and get married for us.”

“Get married for YOU?”

“Sometimes you need to think of others beyond yourself.”

“But marriage.  It’s so… uh, uh, straight.”

“What do you mean by that?!”

“Straight.  As in boring.  Vanilla.  Missionary position.”

“Don’t use the term “straight” like that. It’s derogatory. Just because you’re straight doesn’t mean you’re boring and vanilla.”

“C’mon, Neil.  You’re straight.   Have you ever ****** or *******?”

“Ugh!”

“Exactly.  If I get married, it’s going to take all the fun out of being gay. I’ll be shopping in Walmart like you did today, buying a twelve pack of toilet paper.”

“Marriage is a wonderful thing.  It is so special to commit to one person, and share that love for eternity.”

“Maybe I should tell Hiroshi that I want to move to North Carolina.  It is beautiful there.”

“I’m sorry to tell you, but within ten years, I’m sure gay marriage will be legal everywhere.  You will run out of states to escape to in fear.  Except maybe Texas.”

“Yeah?  What is Texas like in the summer?”

The Sweet Smell of Honeysuckle

I’m a Grinch.  A Scrooge.  An Oscar the Grouch.   At least online I am.   I embrace sarcasm about the Internet out of self-protection.  You need to accept me as I am.  I am petty, passive aggressive, hoping to rip down the entire facade of our “community” and show you the emperor’s nakedness. I do not build up.  I destroy.  I don’t inspire others. I throw the wood into the flames.  If you hate drama, run.  If you think it is easy being a Grouch, it isn’t. There are always naive people trying to wear you down, as determined as Jehovah’s Witnesses wanting you to see the light.

Last night, I was reading Kim’s blog, Kimperative.   She was doing a meme.  One of the questions was this:

Q: Name one scent that brings back a very pleasant memory from your past.

Her answer:

A: Honeysuckle. It reminds me of walking with my grandmother over the hill on hot days, and nectar on my tongue.

I tried to visualize honeysuckle, and my mind went as blank as a white wall.  The smell of honeysuckler — nothing.  The taste of honeysuckle — nada.

I wrote this comment on Kim’s post:

To be honest, I’m not even sure I know the scent of honeysuckle, and it is extremely frustrating right now because you can’t just search for a smell on Google.

Do you notice how I manipulated Kim’s post into a discussion about myself?   That’s because I am a self-absorbed jerk.  And like it that way.

But did I stop there? Of course not!   I saw this honeysuckle issue as a way to send a “f**k you” to anyone who ever said that online life was “real.”

My status update on Facebook:

I’m reading a blogging friend write about her strong memory of smelling honeysuckle at her grandfather’s house, and I don’t think I ever smelled honeysuckle. And I’m realizing one of the biggest limitations of online life — you can’t search for the smell of honeysuckle on Google.

The update may not sound controversial, but the intent was evil.   I wanted to pull the rug out from everyone’s happiness.   The underlying message:  Sure, we can use writing, photos, and videos online, but we will NEVER be able to touch, taste, or smell another person online, and those are the SEXIEST senses of them all !  Who wants to live like a robot, just interacting with data?  Our entire experience is FAKE!

The best part of this argument was that there was no way to refute it.  I had won.  I destroyed the internet.  I brought up the fundamental fact that no one else would discuss:  We could never discover the smell of honeysuckle online.  We were eunuchs online, half-men and half-women, never to find true happiness.

Being a believer in science, I did some experimenting with Google just to prove my point.

I searched “honeysuckle.”

I found photos.   A nature video.

I found a quote from Shakespeare’s A Midsummers Night Dream” —

So doth the woodbine the sweet honeysuckle
Gently entwist. The female ivy so
Enrings the barky fingers of the elm.
Oh, how I love thee! How I dote on thee!

I found the lyrics to the classic Fats Waller tune, Honeysuckle Rose —

Every honey bee fills with jealousy,
when they see you out with me.
Goodness knows
You’re my honeysuckle rose

When you’re passin’ by flowers droop and sigh,
and I know the reason why.
Goodness knows
You’re my honeysuckle rose

Google was useless.   It was as if a billion dollar operation had suddenly fallen on her knees, like a once mighty statue turned to dust.    There was no finding the smell of honeysuckle.

My Facebook status update said it all.  It was so powerful in content, my blogging friends were running scared, as if this was the final day prophesized by the Mayan calendar.  My friends turned desperate, taking frantic stabs at proving to me that the internet COULD show me the smell of honeysuckle.

But I just LAUGHED at your petty attempts.

From Kendra —

I find it nice for about 1.3 seconds then it’s too sweet and perfum-y. Very strong, very distinctive.

From Wendy —

Honeysuckle is kind of a slightly lemony smell, but sweet. Like a sweet lemon pie. If smell had a shape/feel, it would be like one of those squishy nubby balls. It’s soft and round, but with some bright points. If it was a color, it would be electric blue with yellow whorls.

From Marla —

Right now ( and every year around this time) the air outside of my home smells like melted butter and sugar. It is the most amazing thing…stars, dandelion poofs and sweet butter. Yummy.

From Suzanne —

I grew up with honeysuckle in my backyard. I was at Huntington Gardens about a week ago and as soon as I smelled it I flashed back to the house I grew up in. Scent can evoke so many memories …!!

From Sarah —

I used to smell the honeysuckle when I’d run behind VMI in college. it was a big realization to me — that I was smelling honeysuckle — and it was a paradigm shift, from my lilac-scented NW upbringing to this subtler but more seductive fragrance of the south.

From Kristen —

There’s this incredible honeysuckle bush that I’ve been meaning to shoot a photo of…

Have you ever read anything more pathetic than these Facebook comments?   Like trying to tell an atheist that he should pray to God.

The INTERNET WAS USELESS.  It was limited.  It was created for self-promotion, information-overload, and porn.  It could never be REAL.  It could never produce the scent of honeysuckle.

And then Wendy, a blogger at Notes From the Sleep Deprived, spoke up, in a voice not unlike that of Little Cindy Lou Who, the littlest Who in Whoville, transforming the Grinch forever.

Wendy —

HEY!!! I can mail you some in a ziploc. I’m not positive it would work, but everyone should enjoy the smell of honeysuckle.

OMG.

My reign of terror was over.   Like King Kong at the end of the movie, I fell off the empire State Building, defeated by a momblogger from South Carolina.

“Case closed,” said Wendy,  “And f**k you, Neil — you can discover the scent of honeysuckle through the Internet.”

For the last few days, my social media stream has been overloaded by messages from one of those blogging conventions that seem to happen every other month nowadays.    There were constant tweets and updates about influence, sponsorship, and inspiration.   But no one at this conference was really paying attention to what was actually occurring ONLINE. Wendy from South Carolina had just singlehandedly saved the Internet from utter destruction.   Not only for me, but for all of us.    Because of her, we now know — as a fact — that you CAN use the Internet to do anything, even smell the scent of honeysuckle.

Which means it IS REAL.

Makes You Stronger

The last time you heard from me I went face to face against a serial litterer outside a Starbucks, and won, inspired to action after hearing Kelly Clarkson’s popular hit, “What Doesn’t Kill You” on my car radio.

The story does not end there.

A day after my moral victory, I went to my friend’s house near Pasadena to hole up and focus on meeting a writing deadline.   To help me accomplish this, I deleted all twenty of my Twitter apps from my iPhone.   I worked and worked, my white beard growing each day.   I know understand the prevalence of beards on both wise powerful wizards AND learned rabbis.   The beard brings wisdom.

After a week and a half of living like a hermit, my friend suggested we go to Norm’s for pancakes.

“Fine,” I said.

As we drove down a busy street en route to our breakfast, we noticed a little black dog scrambling down the street, against traffic. We drove past him, leaving him to his fate.

“That dog is going to get killed,” I said.

“Maybe we should save him,” my friend suggested.

“Like how?”

“We can catch him and bring him to his owners.”

“How do we know the dog doesn’t have rabies.   We should just call the ASPCA.”

“He’ll be dead by then,” said my friend.

Please notice that at this point, my friend is acting very caring to the dog and I’m like a wimpy little jerk who doesn’t want to get involved.  But before you attack me, and call me an animal hater, remember that I have never had a dog before. Also be reminded that there is a long tradition of reluctant heroes, from Luke Skywalker to Moses to Rick in Casablanca.  Do we hate them because of their initial reluctance to help others, or admire them for stepping up to the plate when necessary?

I had no interest in helping this black dog.  It was an ugly pug.  If it was run over on the street by a Hyundai SUV, no one would care. The world would continue on, as usual. People would continue to make love, kill each other, and pimp their blog posts on Facebook.

But then, a song came on the radio. It was Kelly Clarkson singing.

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger
Stand a little taller
Doesn’t mean I’m lonely when I’m alone
What doesn’t kill you makes a fighter
Footsteps even lighter
Doesn’t mean I’m over cause you’re gone
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, stronger
Just me, myself and I”

It was at that moment that I spoke up, the lyrics energizing my very soul.

“We need to save that dog!  He deserves to live!”

My friend, who was driving, did a quick u-turn, and we raced in pursuit.

I’m not going to lie.  It was my friend who grabbed the dog and delivered him to safety.  I mean, I WOULD say I did it all during the dramatic rescue, but that’s not the type of man I want to be.  I do believe my cry to “let’s do it!” started the ball rolling.  And even though my friend did the heavy lifting, I did my best to distract the dog, jumping up and down and coaxing him,  while by friend captured him.

After we placed the frightened (and frankly stupid dog) in the car, I entertained him with impressions while my friend drove to the address we found on the dog tag.

We ended up at the address of a very wealthy woman, who barely noticed the dog missing, and who didn’t even offer us a dog biscuit as a thank you.

But it didn’t matter. The reward was the rescue.  The ugly black dog made it home alive.

End of story?  No.  Kelly Clarkson, like a muse from a Greek myth, continued to push me to greatness.

After my two weeks away, I returned to Redondo Beach.   Sophia and I are still waiting for our divorce to be final, and we have done everything in our power to avoid the issue of me moving out my stuff.   The inertia has taken a toll on both of us.

There are some days that I don’t want to get up in the morning.  Please, no lectures. I know what I have to do.

On Wednesday, I was at my nadir.  So, I did what any intelligent person does when depressed — go on Facebook and ask for advice.

“What do you do when you are feeling low?” I asked my Facebook friends.

One woman said she is a big fan of retail therapy. She buys herself a pair of shoes and she immediately feels better.

I’m not a big consumer, but I decided to try this approach.   But shoes would not do it for me.

For a long time now, I’ve wanted a Kindle.   Do I need it?  Probably not.   But just like I don’t need an iPhone or a flatscreen TV, a man of the 21st Century should own a Kindle.

But which Kindle?  The Kindle Touch? The Kindle Fire?  That’s when, by sheer accident, I saw the front page of the Walmart circular shoved into the Sunday Los Angeles Times. For Mother’s Day, they were offering the least expensive Kindle (with the buttons) for $79, but it included a $30 Walmart gift card.  That meant the Kindle ended up being only $49, and I could use the other $30 to buy a whole lot of toilet paper.

I decided to drive over to the Walmart and go for the deal.

Walmart is not that convenient from where I live, and I rarely go to the mega-chain store. In my whole life, I have only been to Walmart a handful of times. I read a lot of jokes and negative comments online about Walmart, and I usually find them sexist, racist, and snooty.  How much worse can Walmart be than Kmart or Target?

I arrived in this new Walmart. It was enormous, and crowded.

I made a beeline straight to the electronics department.  At the counter, was a young Walmart employee. I hate to say this, because I wish it wasn’t true, but sometimes you can look at someone for one second, even before the person opens his mouth, and you know he’s not the brightest one in the room.

“I’m interested in this special you are running,” I said to the sales guy, picking up the weekly circular that was on the table in front of him and pointing at the splashy advertisement for the Mother’s Day Kindle special, which prominently showed a Kindle displaying the title page of the Hunger Games.

The salesguy looked at the circular.

“You want the Hunger Games? What’s that?”

“No, no. I want THIS. The Kindle.”

“The Kindle?”

“The Kindle. It is a e-book reader.”

Directly behind him is a display of the Kindles and the Nooks. I can see the Kindle Touch and the Kindle Fire both sitting in the glass cabinet, but not the Kindle that I want — the one on sale.

The salesguy looks into the display.

“We don’t have that one anymore.”

“The circular just came out two days ago. You’re already out of them?”

“I suppose so.”

I shrugged. I went on Facebook and wrote “Walmart sucks,” as if my status update was an effective act of revenge.  That will show them!

I took my walk of shame out of the superstore, empty handed, sans Kindle.

As I passed the McDonald’s that was inside the Walmart, I rationalized the experience to myself.

“I didn’t really need the Kindle. It’s better this way.” I said to myself.

“At least I got out of the house and got some fresh air,” I said to myself.

“What would I do with that $30 Walmart card anyway? I would have lost it,” I said to myself.

Near the front entrance was the customer service center. There was a long line of customers returning their purchases.   I was about to exit the store when my eye caught a glimpse of a large sign behind the customer service woman titled “Shopping Policies.”

It read:

Our firm intention is to have every advertised item in stock. Occasionally, however, an advertised item may not be available for purchase due to unforseen difficulties. If this happens, Walmart will:

Sell you a similar item for a comparable price (or reduction in price if the item is on sale). Or if you prefer, we will give you a Rain Check at your request so you may purchase the item (including One Time offer) at the advertised price when it becomes available.

Now THIS is why Walmart is famous!   It isn’t the cheap prices.  It is because the company does CARE about the customer.

I stood on line to ask for my rain check for my Kindle.  Who knows? — maybe Walmart customer service is so helpful they will even sell me the Kindle Fire for $79 as an apology for my wasted time!

I waited in line for twenty minutes. The couple in front of me took forever. They were returning a TV, a microwave, AND a toaster!  I wondered if they had just bought the items for the weekend to impress their visiting relatives.

I was next.

“Hello there,” I said, trying to win the customer service woman over with my cheerfulness. I showed her the Kindle ad on the front page of their circular.

“I really wanted to buy this for my mother for mother’s day…”

This was a lie, but I thought it presented me a decent guy.

“… but you seem to be already out of stock, just two days after the circular came out. Would I be able to get a rain check for the Kindle when you restock?”

“We don’t do any rain checks in this store,” she said.

“What about giving me a comparable discount on another e-reader?”

“We don’t do that in this store.  We don’t give comparable discounts or rain checks in this store.”

I smile politely.  Maybe she was new.

“There is a huge sign directly behind which says that Walmart with help a customer with an advertised special with a comparable discount or a rain check.”

“We don’t do that in THIS STORE.”

“But they do this in OTHER stores?”

“I don’t know about other stores.  We don’t do that in this store.”

“So why do you have the sign on the wall?”

“Because it is a Walmart policy.”

“It is a Walmart policy to have the sign on the wall?  Or to do what it says on the sign?”

“We don’t do it in this store.”

“And so isn’t this Walmart?”

“Yes, but THIS STORE does not give comparable discounts or rain checks.  I don’t know about other stores.”

“So, this store doesn’t follow Walmart’s own policy?”

“I don’t know what Walmart’s policy is.”

“If you turn around you will see it on the wall behind you.”

“I only know about THIS STORE.”

“Is there anyone else to talk to?”

“No.”

I took out my iPhone and started taking photos of the sign. The customer behind me, a mother with two children, was impatient with my questions.

“Enough already! It’s my turn,” she screamed.  “Go shop somewhere else!”

I left.   I couldn’t find my car in the mega-parking lot.  Finally, I took refuge in my car, looking myself inside so I could finally breathe.

“I really didn’t need that Kindle,” I said to myself.

“I did my best,”  I said to myself.

“I’ll post the photos of the signs.  It will make a good blog post,” I said to myself.

I turned on the ignition, ready to return back to my bed, more depressed now then when arrived.

But then, a song came on the radio. It was Kelly Clarkson singing.

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger
Stand a little taller
Doesn’t mean I’m lonely when I’m alone
What doesn’t kill you makes a fighter
Footsteps even lighter
Doesn’t mean I’m over cause you’re gone
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, stronger
Just me, myself and I”

I waited for the song to finish, left the car, and walked straight back into the fire — back into Walmart. I passed the useless customer service and returned to ground zero, the electronics department. My battle plan had changed; I would find someone who understood my language. The dopey electronic sales guy was still at the counter.

“Hello again,” I said. “Do you have a manager here?”

He pointed to Maria, a well-coiffed woman in a blue jacket.

I went to Maria, the infamous circular in my hand.

“Hi there,” I said to Maria. “I wanted to buy the $79 Kindle, but you seem to be out. Is there any way you can help me, like giving me a rain check for when you restock?”

I spoke clearly, confidently, and without any anger.

“Hmmm,” she said. “Let me see if we have any more in the back.”

A few minutes later, she came back with a Kindle.  I left Walmart with a Kindle.

I may never use it, but it will forever be a symbol of not giving up, of staying focused, and the power of Kelly Clarkson’s voice.

Next hurdle.   I want to finally move my stuff out of the house.  Tomorrow I want to find a storage center and start the process.   This will be painful.

Note to self: