Costco and the Breakdown of Common Decency

Sometimes I shop at Costco. I don’t really know why, because it’s not like I have this giant family or am living in a dorm, but I usually find myself there at least once a month buying the standard staples for the modern family. Bread, juice, Perrier (what…I seriously like the stuff) and milk. But there isn’t a time that I come out of Costco feeling better than when I arrived. Costco is my nemesis…or actually, the other people who shop at Costco are…and I know they aren’t saying the same thing about me, because I don’t do the same things they do…I have some common decency.

The thing that always pushes me over the edge isn’t the crowded nature of the place (and I tend to not do so well in crowds), it isn’t the people who aimlessly push their carts from side to side in the aisle and no, it isn’t even the people who let their kids run all over the place like it is Costcoland “Where Kids Come to Play.” No, it’s the milk section.

The milk section at Costco looks like those images you see in the news when there is some sort of tragedy and the Red Cross is delivering food to people out of the back of an army truck. People are clawing over each other like milk is gold and there have been times where I have sworn I was going to witness a fight break out.

I almost always see at least one person with one of their giant Costco shopping carts filled with only milk, three bags across and about eight bags deep…sometimes with additional milk stacked on top of that. Then they will have their other family members pushing carts too. It really is one of the strangest things you will ever see. If an alien happened to crash his spaceship in a Costco parking lot, wandered in and saw this spectacle, he would immediately start hoarding the milk in an effort to take command of what he would consider to be Earth’s most important resource.

Every time I witness this milk frenzy, I find it astonishing, but then that feeling is replaced with a general sense of dismay. I just start thinking about how the actions of people at the milk section in Costco is a reflection of the direction our society is going. Because while this section exists in its own sort of strange cosmic vaccuum, I have also witnessed similar episodes any time there is a sale on something at a store and a limit has not been put in place by the store.

Is it really too much for us to act like decent people and only take what you really need and leave some for other people? For instance, a little over a year ago, I went to a warehouse sale for Lacoste. They had a bunch of shoes on tables at good prices and everything was relatively normal. After the salespeople noticed that one type of shoe wasn’t selling, they made an announcement on the PA that this particular style of shoe was now going to be $10. All of a sudden, you saw people just clearing all of that style of shoe into plastic bags with no regard for anyone around them. It didn’t matter what size of shoe, just grab as much as you could and shove it into your bag so nobody else could have it. I mean, seriously, what the hell are you going to do with 12 pairs of the same style of shoe in different sizes? Even if you were going to give them as gifts, then you would be known that holiday as the guy who gave everyone the same pair of shoes and if you were going to spread them out as birthday gifts, you would look pretty lame showing up with the same gift at every birthday party.

I was so disgusted by that display that I just backed out of the way and let the pigs get to their trough. As I sat there watching these people rip shoes out of each others’ hands, all I could think was that if I were on a plane with these people and we crashed and survived, surely these are the people who would be voting within the first couple of hours to kill the weak and eat them. The conversation would be something like this:

“Oh my God, I can’t believe we survived.”
“I know. I’m sooooo hungry.”
“Yeah, me too. I think we can find some food in that part of the plane over there.”
“Nah, I already cleared that out.”
“Really? You ate all of that? We just crashed 15 minutes ago.”
“No, I didn’t eat it, I just claimed it. It’s mine.”
“But all of us here need to eat.”
“Too bad, you should have gotten there earlier.”
“That doesn’t really seem fair.”
“Like I said, too bad. I think we should kill the guy who still has his lifejacket on. He’s not too smart, nobody will assume he lived and he has a lot of fat.”
“What? We JUST crashed?”
“Well, I’m going to kill him and eat him, he’s mine, you can’t claim him now. I saw him first.”

The thing that gets me is that common decency is so quickly finding its way out of our every day life that people don’t even realize it anymore. When you do something decent for somebody else, it often catches them off guard and they react like you were simultaneously stung by bees, but you gave them your epipen to use while you started to swell at the throat. For instance, I was in line at the grocery the other day and had a bunch of things. A woman came up behind me with only a bag of milk (funny how this all ties back together, eh?), so I asked her if she wanted to go ahead of me since she only had that one item. She was taken aback like I had just asked her to undress or something. She stepped ahead of me, thanking me profusely. The whole scene was ridiculous.

Anyway, that’s what wears me out about Costco…well, one of the things that wears me out about Costco. If I were to talk about all of the things that drive me nuts at that place, I LifeInParc would be LifeAtCostco…and that wouldn’t be good for anybody.

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