Last Sunday, my friends dropped me off at a Wal-Mart in Saline and said, “See you in 12 hours,” which is a strange thing to say, but in this case, it was exactly the right thing to say — I was going to be at Wal-Mart for 12 hours.

I was going to be at Wal-Mart for such an absurd amount of time for three main reasons. The first: I am a man of my word. The second: I came in last place in my fantasy football league, and the punishment for the person who came in last was to spend 12 hours in a Wal-Mart. The third and maybe the most important (also definitely the most misguided): Some part of me thought it would be good for me.

As I walked through the extra-large revolving doors at approximately 12:34 p.m., I started thinking about a set of different books. This organic recollection of literature made me feel pretty good about myself because any time I think about a book — rather than force myself to think about a book — I feel intelligent and cultured. Five minutes into Wal-Mart and I’m already thinking about books. My hypothesis about the positive side-effects of extended Wal-Mart exposure were playing out just as I imagined.

The two books I thought of were “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” by David Foster Wallace and “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” by Hunter S. Thompson. After realizing these two books are about as stereotypical-pseudo-intellectual-college-student-starter-pack as it could get, I felt less good about myself — but still a little good about myself.

Fear and Clothing, at Wal-Mart … get it?

As I began to stroll through the kitchen appliances, I imagined myself walking with Dr. Thompson, taking mescaline and dancing from department to department, extracting truths about Wal-Mart, our broken political system and the human condition. I imagined the dystopian adventure I’d chronicle, going from aisle to aisle, in search of coffee filters and the American dream.

As I turned down the chilled aisle lined with sodas, I imagined myself with Wallace, scribbling a mixture of observations and my own idiosyncrasies into some witty transcendent truth. What does a 30-rack of Mountain Dew do? How does a 30-rack of Mountain Dew make me feel, say, about my own latent elitism?

I had more humble visions too, as I walked through consumer electronics. Somewhere in this Wal-Mart, I felt, was an essay that could strike through partisan politics and hate and baggage and the 24-hour news cycle that makes people really really, really actually think.

1:35 p.m. Alas, reality sets in.

There are two Wal-Marts within a six-mile radius of my house in Ann Arbor. One of them, the one in Saline, is a Wal-Mart Supercenter, whereas the Wal-Mart in Ypsilanti is a regular non-super Wal-Mart. I decided to go with the supercenter because I figured that would marginally increase the number of potential things I could do to occupy time.

I should have done more research because, while supercenters might be better than regular Wal-Marts when it comes to shopping, they are far worse for maintaining sanity. The sensory overload you might expect to set in at hour five is scaled up in a supercenter. Each aisle of Wal-Mart smells, looks and feels distinctly different. The quilted fragrance palate bounces from Yankee candles to burnt plastic to lavender Febreeze and bleach, to slightly stale Subway, to WD-40 and on and on and on as you walk from aisle to aisle. The more “super” the Wal-Mart, the more smells, the more florescent lights, the more man-made microclimates.

There was no cafe attached to this Wal-Mart, only a Subway. So I left Wal-Mart and walked across the parking lot to a Bruegger’s Bagels. I ordered a coffee and some gross, bite-sized donuts and sat down to play Candy Crush on my phone. I thought about which was worse for my development as a human: an hour of binge drinking, or an hour of playing Candy Crush. Certainly the conventional answer is Candy Crush, but Hunter S. Thompson was an alcoholic and David Foster Wallace would have hated Candy Crush.

1:55 p.m. I returned to Wal-Mart, again in search of profundity and inspiration. No luck. I spent about an hour walking around aimlessly, listening to political podcasts.

The only thing I discovered was how many variations of some food types there are. There were like 11 different kinds of Oreos, and overly specific snacks I’d never imagined, such as Dunkin’ Donuts Vanilla Latte Pop-Tarts or low-fat honey-infused Pillsbury biscuits.

2:35 p.m. Defeated, I set up camp in the back-left corner of Subway. Wal-Mart has complimentary free Wi-Fi, obviously, so I was able to halfheartedly do my homework. It was here where I witnessed my only Wal-Mart magic.

Excerpt from my Wal-Mart notes:

3:45 to 4:05. Nobody is running the Subway attached to Wal-Mart. Long line of polite Midwesterners confused but unperturbed by the lack of employees at a Subway. One guy investigating. Unsuccessful. Employee comes out, line starts moving. No audible complaints. Might have just seen a unicorn.

Unfortunately, my only conclusion is that people from the Midwest, or at least the people in line at that Subway, are nicer than me.

5:00 p.m. I spend the better chunk of the rest of my time in Wal-Mart sitting on my computer in Subway. Sporadically, I remember Hunter and David and feel guilty for not taking advantage of my opportunity to explore Wal-Mart. I’d get up and go for a stroll that would last five to 10 minutes, before I remembered that exploring Wal-Mart the same way someone explores a national park makes me a really specific type of asshole.

8:30 p.m. I caved. I begged my friends to let me come home and they obliged. It was snowing a lot and nobody was on the road. We listened to Soulection and almost skidded off the road and it’s very, very quiet at night in Saline in the snow and that was profound. I typed up my notes and wrote this piece, which, for better or for worse, might make me that really specific type of asshole.

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