I sold ammo for Walmart, all along thinking “Bonnie, it’s just a paycheck.” I’m such a pathetic liar. But I needed that piece of paper to survive past due to paster due. As a forty something divorced mother with a college education and a thin resume of working in schools and on political campaigns, there wasn’t much out there in the way of employment for a baby boomer current American history expert. So I took a job at an upstate New York Wally’s World mega store location for just about minimum wage, and a camera watching my every movement. I kept telling myself, “Bonnie, you always did like working with the public, even when you hated people.” While I was earning that paycheck for last month’s bills, I sometimes told myself the truth.
One Saturday afternoon, the first time I saw them I stared, stared down at a box of bullets while ringing up sales at a register. There they were, across from a computer display, screaming, “Here we are.” They were in a rectangular white box. You could’ve put a bow on them. And yes, it did say bullets on it. I stopped, and gawked for what seemed far too many moments. Although it was probably only a few seconds. I picked up the box, and shook it to hear something. So nervous, I dropped it on the counter. I was flipping out internally thinking “they’ll explode like fireworks in Beirut.” This was the first time for me. I was a weapons virgin. I learned that day bullets are really, really shaped like little penis’ when I peaked inside, underneath, looking for a target.
When I took the job at Walmart, I knew they sold weapons and hunting equipment. I just never thought I would be handling anything from the sporting goods department that was next to the legos and baby dolls that was next to electronics, where I was. In the back of the store, where all the toys were. I thought I’d be with the video games, movies and televisions. All would be safe with a “Call of Duty.” And I accepted that from time to time I’d be pulled to work in the front of the store on the registers where there would be a bevy of happy, cheery customers waiting to get the heck out of there. But I never thought…
When Walmart called me in for an interview that I would jump at the opportunity to daily don beige pants and a blue shirt with a lacey cami underneath it. That I would parade around as some sort of expert knowing what plug would be good for what wire. Or that it wouldn’t matter. Cause when I got out there I just spoke with an air of authority, “Oh this thingy here has that thingy go in it.” Many of the male customers came back to see me. All my years of reading Magna something and Constitutional whatever came in handy with the boys who wanted to buy whatever it was they were spending money on.
And one afternoon I found my chewed up fingernails running through a box of could it possibly be death? I tried to make light of it, “It’s just bullets, it can’t do anything without a gun, without someone to pull a trigger.” That I could handle something that makes real trouble. Do real damage, if in the wrong hands. Through the fingers of someone either not knowledgable about how to use these bullets or why to use these bullets. And I confess I was excited by the danger. At no point was I instructed on what to do when faced with a box of bullets.
That one crazed afternoon, while I was ringing up overflowing shopping carts filled with food, screwdrivers, pillows and too many cd’s to count, the sporting goods manager came to see me. I’d never seen him before. He just said he was the manager. He, also, said, “My department’s register is broken. I need you to ring this sale up for me.” After I looked at him and the customer, I looked down to see that small white box of bullets. I was like “huh.” But I learned through the years to hide my emotions, show poker face, and it was busy. The manager said, “I’ll show you how to do the sale.” After I bagged enough beer and milk for seemed an eternity, I scanned the box of bullets. The register asked for ID. The manager said, “Don’t worry about that. Just tap this and touch that, and you’ll bypass the need for ID.” And I did. My weapons hymen was broken that day.
The scene repeated itself again minutes later. The sporting goods manager, the customer, the bullets, no need to do anything about ID, how to bypass the whole thing through the register. I was so busy ringing up sales, unlocking glass cabinets to show customers video games and watching that no one stole televisions or laptops that the bullets seemed as part of my day. While driving home, it suddenly dawned on me, “What did I just do today?” I might’ve sold bullets, something that kills to a mass murderer. I never went through any training on procedures concerning what to do, and the manager showed me how to get around what was it, Walmart or federal regulations?
That night at the bar, while nursing a Heineken, everyone around me either told me not to worry or that you’ll find out by tomorrow if some people are dead. They were laughing. I wanted to puke up the dinner I couldn’t eat. I went home to sit nervously by the radio hoping that there would be no trouble. When a friend tried to drag me away from the AM stations, I would reach for a newspaper praying no one splayed bullets all over the place. I was worried that these weapons would somehow be traced back to Walmart and me. I was scared that I would be responsible for someone’s death because I sold bullets for Walmart while bypassing a register’s requirements.