Big K

Authors Note: Big K is my personal non-fiction essay of growing up alongside the rise and fall of a local department store; remembering its affluence.

Big K

Picture of my Kmart published in local paper.

Picture of my Kmart published in local paper.

It’s a strange thing to have so vivid a place fixed in the space betwixt your ears, and to realize its real-life counterpart is no more. Having seceded to economic reality and a lack of consumer confidence, the department store chain “Kmart” is all but forgotten nowadays in my home town. Oh, but to the children of its time, the Kmart was the place to kill all manner of time for those who lived upon the 58 Hwy stretch.

I, as a 58’er from age 6 to 21, can remember each aisle and the contents they held in. Now, it’s an empty building, the aisles striped bare, and cold save the debris of what was left when the Kmart went out of business two years ago. And Alive, the Kmart held no magic exceptional except what a child’s eyes might preserve.

The Kmart had three long long aisles FULL of toys. These aisles were in the back corner of the store, far into the heart of the Kmart, and here the lights were dimmer. Everything else so bright. There was an aisle for girl toys AND an aisle for boy toys and still a BONUS aisle for miscellaneous toys like coloring books and board games…things parents might consider toys while we children knew better.

The girls toy aisle was superior. Obviously. The boys had to share their shelf space with the baby toys (soft dolls, bright keyed pianos), but we girls, we had an aisle unto ourselves. Who knew they made so many different Barbies before Kmart showed me the possibilities?

Strategy had to be devised to try and rescue these bright faced dolls from their home among the others and to my own home. I would casually show the newest one of the week to my mother, insinuating in the show that I was merely educating her on the doll selection. I’d wait for her side-eye glance of acknowledgement as she tried valiantly to shop with us three young terrors she called progeny taking turns running the length of the store, swinging on her shopping  cart, and presenting our problems of starvation and defecation needs to her every half hour. If her response to my new Barbie 101 presentation was cool and distant, I knew I’d face the long walk from the grocery aisle back to the toy haven, but if she gave me more (a word or even a lapse in judgement to hold the bright plastic doll box herself) I knew my walk of shame would not be for today and the doll had a chance of slipping into the basket. I would hold my breath for the Judge’s decision and if the box tipped into our buggy, still I would follow the cart the rest of the shopping trip, carefully resting my hand along the metal bars and starting and the wide-eyed doll eyes within. In this gaze, I willed Barbie to be silent and remain in the cart until we could insure her freedom beyond the register.

There was more to Kmart than the toys (and the toy vending machines beyond the register); much more. Each aisle had something to entertain. There was always something begging me to stop and consider. There were rows and rows of glistening strands of “diamond” jewelry; bath mats with smiling frogs upon them; sneakers with glitter built into their sides; bags upon bags of novelty candy; a Tetris maze of tennis rackets, baseball bats, and balls; and the very latest selection of Lisa Frank folders with Dalmatians and Polar Bears upon them. The store had everything you wanted.

Kmart was there in every season. There were purchase opportunities at my every growth milestone. Back to school in September and there would be a selection of backpacks in teal, pink, army camo, and more to choose from. We were children of the upper middle class. We did not carry the same backpack for multiple school years. Completing a year of school guaranteed us new school supplies in August. Our parents knew the contract.

Soon after school started, the garden center area vanished overnight and in its place were rows of costumery, rubber spiders and rats, and the candy we waited all year for. We would buy face paint and props from these aisles, but never costumes. We had pride. We would spin our own identity from gold string out of Mother’s sewing kit and aluminium foil shaped into swords and crowns.

We plucked valentine card boxes for classmates from these self same seasonal aisles. We bought at least four backyard pools from these aisles. But there were all just warm-up acts to the show the Kmart put on for Christmas.

The whole store was transformed. Christmas gold and shiny red and green foil covered everything. Trees were for sale, blow-up Snoopy riding his doghouse, and ornaments, of course. The things of fantasy and dreams were all on sale at Kmart. Everyone’s presents came from Kmart. Our Christmas might as well have been sponsored by the Big K.

One year, we shopped on Christmas eve as the store was overrun. I found a plastic squeeze ball with no price and chipped paint. The cashier told me just to take it home. I didn’t understand that frantic look in her eyes until my own retail years.

As we grew up, Kmart shifted its weight. The pizza parlour where my brother tried to swing upon their line bar and lost two baby teeth in the process, disappeared one day and was replaced with plus size wear. The lingerie department where I bought my first bra in the 5th grade (a B cup overnight, thanks genetics) all but ceased to be under the weight of a strong push of pajamas and sleepwear. The toy aisles grew darker and more populated with red-stickered discounted toys as the call of the CD, DVD and electronics department across the way beckoned.

The magic of finding something new, unthought of, and unknown until then, faded as well. One day I looked up and found myself in the deodorant aisle with only time, money and interest enough to ward off BO; no time to explore the mystery I’d found in those aisles once before. The frequency of this occurrence increased until I found myself hitting Kmart only in desperate need. Wal-Mart had more selection, after all, and a string of unrequited high school crushes ate up all my attentions.

I could see the glow of the big “K” from my job at the grocery store across the street. We wasted time after work by tipping grocery carts and throwing hand baskets on the roof of our workplace, and the gentle influence of Kmart watching our actions grew quiet and dim. I had a license now, and the 58 Hwy could no contain me or my purchasing needs.

The Christmas Parade started at the K Mart parking lot and went the length of 58 until breaking up at the former $1 cinema. The parade disappeared one year and no one really noticed until January. K Mart shut its doors only a few years later. They sold everything at 70% off in the last week. The shelves had been cleared in hungry animalistic ways by deal predators. I didn’t remember any of this until this year I gazed into the red, green, orange, blue, pink lights of my lit Christmas tree, and found a quarter of the lights unlit because of one dud bulb.

-Anna RK

Dookie (40 Years of Solitude)

I wrote this today in my Nostalgia journal, and it’s alternately something I’m proud of and something I’m uncomfortable with. I think it’s realist, but it may be too cynical as well. Oh well. Have at it.


“Dookie (40 Years of Solitude)”

Back in 1994, your mother was given a CD called “Dookie” and she sold it to a used records store, because a silly title like that didn’t seem worth a listen. This is the first brush with your own developing musical taste that you can remember. You wore a purple jumper then. You knew how to read chapter books. You struggled with use of scissors. Your baby sister was on the way. 

Fast forward 20 years and you are buying the “Dookie” vinyl reissue. You wear black stripes, a cardigan of obsidian, and ebony Chucks laced with irony. You’ve read David Foster Wallace, Updike, Woolf and Palahniuk, but you’re stuck on picture paneled books about the Endless these days. You still struggle sometimes with scissors. Baby Sister is on her way to meet you for coffee before her next class. 

Shall we peek ahead still 20 turns more? At 46, you’ll remember making the choice to sell your record collection when you moved cross country for love or money, but not both. You’ll wear more comfortable shoes and pants suits too, but mostly whatever is comfortable because boys are men and they don’t pay you much mind anymore. You read student’s essay and magazines on healthy trans fats. At least food packaging these days makes scissor skills obsolete. And Baby Sister will be due soon. She’s invited you to perform Aunt-ly duties and for coffee…perhaps she feels sorry for you, still writing “undiscovered,” still chasing strains of music recorded before she even existed. 

Try and Keep Up

This gaggle of moms are sitting at a table beside me, taking up half the coffee shop, and literally shrieking at one another as they plan some kind of children’s birthday party-festival of faith-carnival extravaganza. It sounds cool ladies, it really does, but if you are going to shout about it to everyone in here, then you might as well make us all part of the party planning team. Little Alex is going to have a great time…if you guys don’t plan to death his every move, STRICT TO ITENERARY, about making play-doh crafts and snacktime.

Also, these women all look the same. Is that not terrifying to anyone else besides me? I’m almost worried this gang of moms is going to band together and take over the world…oh wait, they already have. That was quick. When women age and hit that middle-aged number (especially if children are in the mix) many of them look indestinguishable from one another. Short and stocky, short unkempt hair (probably still damp), no make-up, corrective eyeglasses, sneakers, hoodie. The irony of this is that men in the same age bracket and circumstances look better than they ever have. The testosterone must have mellowed out at middle age for men and honed their features so that acne is finally at bay, their hair begins to salt and pepper pleasantly, and they look damn good in tweed. Middle aged women, in comparison, are hardly ever attractive to anyone. I’m not even trying to be a jerk when I say that. I mean, I’m heading towards that hurdle and I’m looking for any way possible to avoid cutting all my hair and perming it, donning floral print, and eating at Captain D’s, which is how I see middle age and later years women tackling the aging process. I don’t understand it AND I fear it. That’s an awful combo.

I want to go into aging as a classy and refined older lady. Not to say I don’t love the grandmotherly types that are so very endearing. It’s just a thing that seems very dependent one way or another on the presence of children in a woman’s life. And of course, it’s my mission in life to fight these arbitrary odd things that are “just because they are.” I don’t think I’m expressing myself well here, but maybe this is the point I’m trying to tackle…I think women are striving towards a very specific idea of beauty. Big boobs, full lips, make up, boots (apparently so, because EVERY woman I see is wearing them), dyed hair, thin body, etc. is the standard I imagine. But what I see is that women reach towards this idea of how they are supposed to look, they instead have just created an army of clones. Perhaps this is a straight girl perspective as well, but I look at guys and they all look so different and full of quirk and character flaws that make them quite the writing material fodder. And well…women just bore me. It’s all…blonde, brunette, red head. And I feel terrible in saying that! Because I’m the first one to say that we shouldn’t judge a woman by her looks. But, if women are all striving to look like one idealized version of beauty as opposed to looking like themselves, then I think this is what we get.

Transitioning from that, I’m going to share my idea of what I look like and who I am. Notice, I say MY IDEA as opposed to HOW I ACTUALLY look. There’s a fine difference there,but it’s worth noting because I exist mainly in my own head and my ideas of how I am percieved by myself and others could be totally different from what others get when they take me in. On good days, I percieve myself as a very casually dressed, simple and common-featured, young woman in her 20’s. I’m kind of one to blend into the background, but that’s a choice I’ve made in the way I dress and act. I don’t want to be approached by strangers for the most part, and I don’t want to be oggled for my body features. I do have more than average bust line, I’m in a shape that could qualify as fairly good, I wash my hair, and I wear very little coverup and mascara (that’s it). I’m usually wearing Converse, a band t-shirt, and a cardigan on my off days. When I work, I wear black on black.

Black on the outside. 
And black on the inside too.
Oops wrote a Haiku. 

Anyways…the point is, most days I’m not really trying too hard to look like anyone other than me and the comfortable, easy going person, I imagine myself to be. My daily focus is not on making my hair lay flat or finding the best way to accentuate my eyes. It’s about learning about the world I’m in, meeting someone who shows me something new, and understanding this person I see in the mirror everyday and who she is and where she is going. I think the college grad/girl next door look works for me for the most part. People do seem to frequently eyeball me, I do get shout outs on my “honey” status, and many times peole ask if they know me because my face seems familiar. Hopefully that last one isn’t indication of my clone-in-progress status. 

I’m behind on my NaNoWriMo word count and so I’m going to keep going…new topic, but semi-related. Sweet and Sour. It’s not just a popular Chinese dish, it’s real life. As Karen O says, “I’ve got a man that makes me want to kill.” It’s an obvious point, but it seems to bear repeating. People are rarely ever “good” or “bad” fully or plain and simple. The boy who has braided his fingers into my occipital lobe is alternatively a charmer and a fiend on any given day, and he tends to volley from one to another just for the fun of it. As much as it makes me grit my teeth sometimes, I think that this humanness of imperfection and unpredictability is what I like best about him (even when I hate it). 

Sure, you shouldn’t be in a relationship where the status quo is that the man is going to do whatever he feels like and the lady just has to forgive him for every time he pushes her to the back burner. But also, I’m saying, it’s not neccessarily a bad thing if he tells you something honest and it rubs your fur the wrong way. As long as he’s just not constantly stroking against the fur. Enough with the fur references. 

Sidenote story: The blog I wrote the other day on feminism gave me the gumption to tell another guy sorta-friend off for being a twit. This guy’s not bad looking…actually has a Patrick Stump type look going for him, but he only ever calls me when he wants to “snuggle.” And so I told him that he was only ever in contact with me when he wanted this snuggle time and I wasn’t interested in that being my role. He got offended and didn’t talk to me…for two days. Then he talked to me about rock climbing and told me to hit him up the next time I decided to go. The subtle lesson to take from this is stick up for yourself and people will treat you as you demand to be treated. Patrick’s double is no longer just talking to me when he wants a physical connection. He’s talking to me about other things with hopes for the physical still in the background. I think that’s progress. And in this dating age, we have to celebrate all the little victories. 

The words are very slow in coming today and I can’t seem to fully flush out an idea. You know what that means. It’s time for another vignette. 

Nostalgia: Holidon’t

If I open my mouth, it’s all going to stream out like confetti. A blast of fluttering multi-colored decorous paper bursting out won’t be pleasant. But perhaps the crack my face takes when you fill up a room is. You’ve got presence that presents itself subtly as you silent move in…and then you’re gone. I keep stuffing my face with decietful unfulfilling mish-mash, but I’m filled only with shuttering stock footage of you walking away.

That shirt is terrible. Paisly labels, really? Like something a lifelong ten-pin king would be buried in. Your hair style is so second grade. That patchy beard you’re growing is barbarous and lackadaisical. But I’m so attracted to how your lips move to get out of the way of your teeth. I’m in deep when I stare at how happily your eyes seem to dart all about their walled-in confines. You look your best when you’re not trying to not try. Put your headphones on and disappear into a lesser harsh white-light reality. 

Christmas is coming. Make it stop. Forgo holiday cheer for cheap wine and empty tissue paper packets. Santa’s on his way. He’s leaving me thin plastic and smelling salts. Can’t cure me. 

(two for the price of one today…here’s another)

Nostalgia: Communications at the Heart of the Battlefield

Getting through these glittery months is going to take all the rock salt I’ve stored in my gut and your unpredictable penchant for bizarre to keep my brain intact. Festive yule, bitches, because “Happy Holidays” is a copout they’ve managed to program me to via series of electrical shocks and wrist slaps. You’re right, dear. It is terrifying how much I trust you to let me down as gently as a body slam on a major organ can be. 

If my musical dog and pony show doesn’t inscrease…sales, maybe I can sing it over the cup I rattle as a street act. But nay, you won’t let me stoop to the gutters. Instead, you remind me how science covets my body and will give me bread, butter, AND cheese for their use and loan. Science is kinder than the public eye anyway. Too much to hope I’d shuffle off the mortal coil before going through the festivities of “Discovery Friday,” and “gift wrapping Kawanza.” 

I’m green, kelly green, and more beautiful than a decorated tree aflame. You are gray, and gore-gous, like cold stone I slap all my expectations upon before the knife falls upon them. Please, baby, keep disappointing me, while intoning in monotone, “Do a backflip.” Your brand of awkward, intelligent, maleficence, rubs my fur so very wrong that it almost starts to turn back the other way. 



Yeah. I do that sometimes. At least, the good part about exposing this experimental, vague, and quite possibly terrible poetry attempts is that I get closer to my word count goal. Woot woot! Happy Friday to all and to all a Happy Friday. Thought for the road…If a guy ever but the song “Something” on a mix tape for me, I think I’d just go ahead and melt right into the floor.


-Anna R. Kotopple