Backstory: An ode to Wal-Mart

The Drake University student who spent 41 straight hours over spring break in a Wal-Mart isn't the only one wanting to live at the discount behemoth. My husband and I discovered this wonderland the moment we moved from New York City to America, in this case Las Vegas.

What an event. Where else could I be reunited with Frankenberry - my first breakfast in America as a 3-year-old whose Russian parents wanted her to eat "part of a nutritious breakfast." I'd thought General Mills discontinued the cereal 20 years ago.

And where else could you find employees who don't run the other direction when they see you approaching? Or employees who are pleasant even at 2 a.m. - plus immigrant employees who speak better English than the customers. What a country! I mean - store.

Now my husband and I are there every week. It's quite a scene - about 300 trailer-park residents, 200 blacks, 100 Hispanics, and two poor Jews. Speaking of which, it was on one of the store's "Wal-Mart TV Network" monitors that I first heard of Matisyahu, the Lubavitch reggae sensation.

I recently drove by some union protesters who were calling people's attention to Wal-Mart's new grocery chain, "Neighborhood Wal-Mart," with placards reading "Don't Shop Wal-Mart: Below Area Standards." So I pulled in.

The protesters were right: the $12 watermelon at the union grocer across the street was only $4 at Wal-Mart.

The retail giant's grocery competition isn't the only one shaking in its boots. Now the banking world is balking as Wal-Mart makes plans to become its own bank. But Wal-Mart has already been my bank: Since I started shopping there, I've never had so much money in my account.

Ah, we benighted masses who shop at Wal-Mart - the "bad neighbor," the antiworker, the female-discriminator, the Main-Street-mom-and-pop-store-killer with its "Wal-ocaust" policies and "Everyday Low-Price Guns." But Wal-Mart just made up for it all by stocking "Brokeback Mountain."

Worried about who'll get hurt by a gun purchased at Wal-Mart? Just think how many lives Wal-Mart saves by not stocking the morning-after pill.

Indignant that Wal-Mart employees can't afford Cadillacs? With their profit sharing and stock-purchase plans they'll be driving Rolls Royces when they retire.

Not long before leaving Manhattan, I saw a girl wearing a T-shirt reading, "Wal-Mart: Not in this city!"

And she was right: There's no room for a Wal-Mart with the UN taking up 17 acres. The crumbling international body is looking for a $1 billion renovation. Here's a renovation idea: "Mr. Annan, tear down this building! And put up a Wal-Mart."

Julia Gorin is a stand-up comic in Las Vegas.

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