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

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The Thing I Found In the Woods

“She lives for the written word and people come second or possibly third.”-“Girl Least Likely To.” Morrissey

“I’ve always found I could commit more to a chord progression than I could to any thing of flesh and blood.”-Anna RK

I’m sure if I was blessed/cursed with a nosey mother-figure, at this point they’d be asking, “Why don’t you demand that that boy of yours woo you a little more?” Well, I’m glad you asked faux-ma because this is a chance for another one of my feminism-isms to come to light. As a strong and fully capable young woman, I think that I have an equal right to woo my choice specimen as well as to be “wooed.” Why should guys have all the fun of coming up with the perfect subtle yet wowing display of affection that doesn’t tip the scales into the gross PDA spectacle that I’m witnessing at this very moment? There’s a couple here who are making out with such ferocity that I’m not sure if I would be out of line in offering the dude a condom. Yet, on the other hand, they are a middle-aged couple so I’m tempted to give them a round of applause for the “we aren’t teenagers and we don’t care” mentality they have going on there. At any rate, they also have a very hip art scene presence too with the Warhol haircut and glasses on the woman and the fake Buddy Holly, mismatched lenses and ruthless uncombed mop of her male counterpoint. Only downtown do you see things like this folks. 

Back to my point. I like to show MY male counterpoint that he is valued and worth the witticisms he shares. I can’t exactly share that jerky, semi-painful clutching movement my heart makes when I see an unexpected text on my screen from him (or at least I have no way of knowing if I can). But I can buy my man coffee, and send him small encouragements, and buy lotion of his favorite scent to wear. I’m sure, biologically speaking, we all do this in our attempt to sway a potential mate. So it’s nothing new, but I think women are much less vocal about how they pursue the object of their affections. The expectation is that males are the ones that have to buy flowers and make the plans and pay for the dinner and drive the car. I hope I’m not overwhelming and scaring off my guy by turning the tables on this notion, but so far he seems very content to be petted and pampered.

I finished my sci-fi short story reading last night, and the last story in the book was by Lovecraft and was called “The Colour Out of Space.” Well-written, detailed, and thought-provoking, it made me do a slight run that night as I conquered the darkness between shutting off the light and reaching the bed. I was fully expecting a nightmare of grey and drained corpses to surface in my psyche, but fortunately I instead had the reoccuring car crash dream. Usually, my version of this is that I’m drunk and don’t realize this until I’m behind the wheel. Things quickly spin out of control and I can’t stop the car from crashing, sending me into a coma or death. It’s a bit of an irrational dream because I absolutely do not drive drunk and am very hesitant to drive when I am even slightly fatigued to a degree I feel is unsafe. Last night’s dream was a  bit of a different take on this. I was not addled in any way, but I did have my legs crossed while driving in a way that did not allow me to reach the brake pedal with my foot. I could keep careening down the highway, and could increase my speed and steer, but I couldn’t stop the vehicle, trapped and bound in the tight confines of my own body being too big for the space of the driver’s seat. I struggled to separate my legs and get to the brake pedal but the effort was useless. I crashed, and this time it was a meciful coma I succumbed too that erased all my panic.  

If you are one for dream interpretation, maybe you can tell me what’s going on in this big brain. Please psychoanalyze me. I’m pretty sure I need it. While you are at it, maybe you can speak to the fact that I have these spans of time where I go for months and months without remembrance of a single dream I have had, and then I remember one and it goes back to my dreamless state. This week alone I have dreamed every night and have been able to remember a dream or even two from each night. I think it means something good, but I’m not sure what. Could it be the minimum 1,500 words I am forcing myself to churn out every day this month? If so, this is a habit I could get behind. Because I think I draw so much inspiration from dreams and get a certain perspective on the thoughts I must be thinking that supress themselves until I’m unable to fight them off, locked inside my sleep cycle. 

Now that the preliminary gib-gab is over, I’ll get to my lead material that I have purposely buried far inside this blog for purposes of my own understanding. I’m not a huge exercise person, but I decided to get up early and go for a walk today. I decided to wear my navy capri yoga pants and my black Joy Division tee. I pulled my hair, quite long these days although I’ve promised it a haircut for several weeks now, into a bun. I set out my door, and down the stairs that lead behind my apartment complex to a small wooded area between where I live and the Wal-Mart. 

As I pushed through the branches and left the gravel path of the apartment complex trail, I disappeared into the winter-browned grass and thick presence of trees. Walking along, I heard the cars on the highway, distant and infrequent in the early morning air, and I watched my breath rise up like I was puffing on a cigarette. I can remember that fascination as a child when the weather would turn cold enough to transform my invisible life force that I’d created somewhere deep down within me into something real that I could see for just a moment, before it disappeared into the rest of the invisible world of air and sound. It’s rare that I give that kind of thing a thought these days. I don’t know if it’s because the novelty has worn off, I’m harder to impress with small wonderous things, or I’ve got too much adult thoughts swimming around to do me any good. 

The wood between my home and  the commercial retail giant functions as primarily a place for discarded things. Weaving in between the trees, I came across a road weary and chewed rubber tire, filled with murky water and pine needles. The usual rubbish was there too: discarded PBR cans from teenagers that had taken to the transition wood to accelerate their maturity; cigarette butts crowded into a pile under an impressive Oak where they had been used up and tossed away; and wrappers from fast food products, still shining with lingering spots of grease. But amongst all these things, I looked and studied for something valuable, unrecognized or unappreciated for what it truly was and what potential was in a cast aside thing. 

There is a tiny stream that you have to cross before reaching the Wal-Mart on the other side of the wood, and I decided to cross it today because I kept feeling a tug of sorts upon me as I walked, to just walk a little further with my eyes on the ground. I was searching for something, but I wasn’t sure what it looked like. As I took my shoes off and plunged my feet into the icy November water of the trickling stream, I knew immediately I had found my prize. I didn’t even have to take a step before I felt my toe connect with something hard that only slightly gave as my foot pressed against it. I bent and scooped up a handful of mud and silt from the water. Rolling this in my palm, the muddy residue fell from a tiny plastic ring. I returned to my side of the water’s edge, sat down in the grass there, and began to turn my find over in my fingers. 

The ring is no great prize on the surface. It probably came from a machine they keep in the grocery store, where two quarters can buy a child this “jewelry”. Scraping the mud from it and rinsing it again in the water its colors came out as striped black and white on this plastic trinket. I put my shoes and socks back on and put this newly reborn object on my ring finger, snug but a strange type of fitting. I find myself quite attached to this thing I’ve discovered. Even though it holds no value to anyone, I imagine it has worth to me because of the route I had to take to find it and its mysterious past that brought it to me against (or with?) all the trappings of fate.

In laymen’s terms, I found a plastic ring and I like it a lot. In metaphorical terms, I found a very cool human being who has been overlooked by life and in the hustle and bustle from living and shopping/surviving and I like him a lot because he’s got a mystery and a finding that is against all odds. Once I discoered him, I couldn’t imagine how I had overlooked such a unique object, black and white, plain and fantastic, all in one. And I’m ok with just sharing my dreams with him and waiting to see what happens as the world turns and we bump into each other again and again.

Apologies if the prose got a little too purple for your vision, but I think it was a neccessity today. It’s hard for me to really commit to a human or thing that is real and has the feels that I feel. Concepts and stirring music is easy to get behind, but playing for a team that has the unpredictable element of human nature is one I’m still struggling with. At least on this one, I’ve got a good story of the discovery, and we all know how much I like to tell a good story.

-Anna R. Kotopple