Sam’s Club: A magical land where you can buy 36 Pop-Tarts, and a nice couch

Abandon all hope, ye who enter here

Island Packet – I am like 20 years behind the curve in writing this column, because prior to last weekend I had never spent much time in a Sam’s Club store, for the very simple reason that I have never found myself in need of a 16-gallon barrel of raspberry vinaigrette anything. And see, I’m even far enough behind that curve that I think that large-items-at-Sam’s-Club jokes are reasonably novel, but I beg the reader to bear with me, because I have recently returned from what I am counting as my inaugural visit to the Holy Land of Bulk Fruity Pebbles and frankly my mind is kind of sausage right now.

It should be noted here that I visited Sam’s Club with two friends, a couple, both of whom are longtime pros at this sort of thing and in fact seemed to know the precise coordinates of some of their preferred items, such as a refrigerator-sized box of Fiber One bars and what the male portion of the couple exuberantly referred to as “incredibly cheap dress pants.” They could walk in this fluorescent, yawning shelfscape and zero in on targets like they were playing some first-person shooter in which the goal was to obtain absolutely hilarious amounts of laundry detergent; I just sort of resolved myself to walk in with an open mind and maybe, if I was lucky, score some affordable beer.

Of course you can’t just walk into a Sam’s Club; they have security to patrol bargain-sniffing wannabes like myself, so in order to gain access to this sprawling Empire of Savings, I had to travel under the wing of this couple, who assured my entrance would be undetected. Which it was, although I think I was a little profiled on my way in because I did not look INSANE.

I don’t mean that as a knock. But people in the Sam’s Club, they get this look about them, like they can’t believe they’re buying this item for that price in that farcical size. They walk around, not unfriendly exactly, but driven, fierce, compelled to ensure themselves and their families that all parties will be well stocked with paper towels and ketchup until the end of days. It is populated almost entirely with people who look as though they are in the midst of a forced hurricane evacuation, except people in a forced hurricane evacuation probably would not be in need of a 50-quart jug of vegetable oil, the need for which I could not possibly surmise, unless they need to, I don’t know, lightly grease the entire bottom of their swimming pool.

It’s not so much the vast volume in this place, item sizes that — this is true — compelled my 4-year-old son to regard a Hyundai-sized bucket of mustard and ask, “Is that for pretend or is it real?” No, son, it’s real. So very, terribly real

No, it’s more the bizarre, senseless roster of items collected in a Sam’s Club, a place where consumerism runs rampant without pride or prejudice, a place where on one side of the aisle sits a margarita maker and on the other sits a couch. A COUCH. Have you ever seen a couch on the second level of a retail shelf? You kind of just stare at it like it’s a crystal skull, like, I know what I’m looking at is a couch on the second level of a retail shelf, but don’t think I can properly process that information. Then you rub your eyes and go four feet down and obtain 30,000 Oreos for $9.50.

Yet after wandering the aisles for a while — staring with wide-eyed dumbness like someone who just landed on the planet, or Amy Winehouse — I felt like I needed to get something, like when in Rome, you know? So I grabbed some apple juice for the little man, the afore-mentioned affordable beer for myself and a box of 36 Pop-Tarts for just under $8, the latter of which, I confess, caused me no small degree of a primal, irrational thrill, like that of a successful hunt or kill, like I imagine our collective Neanderthal ancestors felt when they purchased really cheap Pop-Tarts.

Still, I can’t help but feel like I didn’t leave it all on the court, like I could have done something better, faster, stronger. I mean, yeah, I got some drinks and enough breakfast pastries to last me until the hour of my death and possibly beyond, but that seems a relatively paltry showing in a place where you can, in one transaction, purchase 12,000 plastic forks and a bed.

So next time I am giving myself over entirely to garish, vulgar consumption. I will be ready for you, Sam’s Club, and your subtle yet overwhelming ability to tell people they need not only a bunch of bulk stuff but absurd amounts of that very same mostly bulk stuff. And I will come prepared, with a really huge cart, in need of a river of mustard and probably wearing incredibly cheap dress pants.


About Jeff Vrabel

My writing has appeared in GQ, Men’s Health, Success, the Washington Post, the official, Indianapolis Monthly, Billboard, Modern Bride and more. View all posts by Jeff Vrabel

2 responses to “Sam’s Club: A magical land where you can buy 36 Pop-Tarts, and a nice couch

  • Seddel Cougar

    I actually read this from a bed bought at Sam’s Club, how fitting!

    Serta Eurotop Full mattress and box springs, bought for $532, and it’s amazing.

    Yes I so love shopping at Sam’s and the cafe has amazing Ice Cream, soft serve, that is like the Walmart of my youth would serve before they let McDonalds in.

    Thanks for your essay!


  • Jeff Vrabel

    Nice! I wrote it at a Sam’s Club, so, you know, circle of life. Except I was only there to buy waffles and a 350-pack of Juicy Fruit. WAIT YOURS HAS ICE CREAM? Thanks so much for reading – J.


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