And today I would like to speak to you of a place called Costco, whose full name is Costco Wholesale Corporation. The wikipedia entry on Costco says it operates a chain of membership-only big-box retail stores and that it is the fifth largest retailer in the world. Also according to wikipedia, Costco has 804 warehouses worldwide — including 27 in Japan, 16 in South Korea, and 1 in Iceland. I do not know if wikipedia is telling the truth about any of this, so if you are particular about facts, please do your own investigations. I want to believe that even though Costco is very big, it is also benign. More brontosaurus than T-Rex. But this might be wishful thinking. I do know, that even though Costco requires membership, like a club, unlike a club you do not have to wear fancy clothes to enter. Footwear, however, is mandatory. Also, you must be able to flash a membership card at the disinterested staff person stationed at the entrance. I believe this would be more entertaining for everyone involved if the cards were designed to look like FBI badges. But they are not. If you do not have a membership card, you must walk closely to someone who does (preferably someone you know and who knows you). Before you enter Costco you must take possession of a big red shopping cart. It is so big that you do not think you can fill it even with a year’s worth of shopping. This is because you do not know or do not remember what it means to shop at Costco. Once you enter Costco it is like you have died and gone to warehouse heaven– or hell (depending on your perspective.) The ceilings are very high, everything is packed in ginormous boxes and mostly comes in multiples of fifteen, fifty, or five hundred Every shopping trip to Costco feels a little bit like you are stocking up for Y2K even though Y2K was twenty-two years ago and very anticlimactic for those of us who believed that it would involve computer meltdowns and biblical floods. The first time my husband and I bought toilet paper at Costco we ended up having to leave it in the trunk of our car for the better part of a year because there was no room in our little studio for a package of 64 rolls of individually wrapped TP (it happens to be one of their best-selling items.) At Costco there are many people in plastic shower caps and red aprons standing behind little tables, and handing out exotic food samples — for example, granola bars packed with goji berries, chia seeds and cacao nibs, that have been cut up into little bits and placed in thimble-sized pleated paper cups. For the most part these people do not look very excited about the products they are selling. I think this might be because they are remembering a time when life was simpler and full of more poetic possibility. In any case they do not come at you with an aggressive sales pitch. They do not have to. Costco is full of weary warehouse travelers like me, whose energy has been vastly depleted by wandering up and down endless aisles of things one does not strictly need, but possibly wants (like a box the size of a carry-on suitcase, full of Belgian chocolates). Fatigued explorers that we are, we stumble upon these food-sample-stands with the delirious enthusiasm of souls lost in the desert who have miraculously chanced upon a verdant oasis. Soon we will be stacking our carts with cases of goji berry-chia seed-cacao nib granola bars that come 136 to the box. My fellow countrymen and countrywomen are known to frequent Costco in large numbers. You can see the mesmerizing array of dark mustaches on the men. You can hear the jingle of the mangalsutras on the women — we make every step sound like Christmas. We walk through this barcoded wonderland where you can buy frozen chappatis in a pack of 50, and a burlap sack of aged basmati rice so big you think you’ll need an elephant to lift it. We stroll through the store as if it were but a crowded city park. We point, we murmur, we move on, as our big red carts slowly fill. At no juncture do we give any indication that we are intimately familiar with another time and place. A time when taps were opened slowly and closed tightly, and leftovers distributed by nightfall. A time when shoppers could carry everything they bought in a medium-sized jute bag recycled from a sari shop. A time when drawstring coin purses were tucked into sari blouses, when plastic wrap was rarely removed and packaging never thrown away. A place where abundance isn’t the measure of how much you can heap in a big red shopping cart, but an unspoken awareness of how little it truly takes– to fill one small red heart.
May 31, 2022