The “wrong” Wal-Mart

by mssinglemama on February 24, 2009

“Waste some money on this honey,” a man said as I whisked through the automatic doors on a mission to find Benjamin plane toys and a new car seat.

His buddy laughed.

“Were they just talking to me?” I asked myself silently. Then I looked up and around and I realized I’d just walked into the wrong Wal-Mart.

A few years ago, a girl about my age had been followed home from a store very near this one and then stuffed into the trunk of her car before her assailants set it on fire. My gut instinct was to turn around immediately but I didn’t.

“No. I am going to stay. I have to face this,” I thought.

I took off my new leather gloves and hid them in my purse, hoping it would help me blend in. But I couldn’t hide everything else. My nice hair cut. My fresh smell. My make up. My warm coat.

In the snack aisle a pregnant woman was scowling into her cell phone while her friend was shouting something to whoever was on the other end. Her son sat in the cart watching. An old woman walked by but I couldn’t find a smile in her eyes, only a rigid stare, one I imagined she’d fortified over years of shopping in stores like this one.

Suddenly it occurred to me that no one – none of my friends or family – knew where I was. Benjamin was with his father and I hadn’t told any of my co-workers about my trip. I thought about the girl in the trunk and texted my little sister, “I’m in the wrong Wal-Mart. It’s on ____ Road. Just in case something happens.”

I looked at my words as my iPhone took them away.

“Wrong.” Why wrong?

Why wasn’t I wrong? Why was I right?

I had entered a world I couldn’t even pretend to understand, a foreign culture in my own back yard and I was calling it wrong? The only thing I had in common with these people, it seemed, was the fact that we spoke the same language but that doesn’t make me right and them wrong. It makes me lucky perhaps, lucky to have been born with privileges. Lucky to have been taught how to work hard, how to never give up, how to believe in every one – no matter who they are or where they came from – to believe that most of us are inherently good.

While I waited to pay I saw three mothers, all of whom had bare left fingers like mine.  And then as I watched them entertaining their little ones with laughs, tickles and sweet whispers I saw something that is universal in every neighborhood and on every street in every nation – the unconditional purity of a mother’s love.

It’s exactly what will get me through our cross country adventure on Thursday. That and the realization that taking a flight to California is nothing compared to what those mothers must have to endure every single day.

My life is small potatoes in comparison.

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Vacation with M: Day One « I Used To Have Hair
March 6, 2009 at 7:24 pm

{ 45 comments… read them below or add one }

Justine in Seattle February 25, 2009 at 6:26 am

Just found your blog via Matt and Madeline and can't believe I didn't find it sooner! Great post….we have a 'wrong' Walmart here and I think I'll look at things a little different next time I'm there.

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mssinglemama February 26, 2009 at 2:00 am

So glad you found me! Come back often.

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syminetworks February 25, 2009 at 9:43 am

I'm not sure there is a "right" Wal-mart. Check out the New York times memo on how they want "thin, young" employees. My mother-in-law worked for them. When she came down with neuroendocrine cancer and my husband was paying her premiums, they told her chemotherapy was an accepted treatment for cancer. Chemo. Hmmmm. She died shortly thereafter.

The biggest shame about Wal-mart is that they are not really cheaper. Their prices are pretty equal to other markets and they buy older food. Once I almost got parsley there, but it was so limp, it needed Viagra. It was the same price at the union supermarket across the street, yet it had no impotency disorder.

The people who shop at Wal-mart and similar places are target because of their poverty or lack of access to education and opportunity. This needs to end. There's no reason for it. Yes, you were in the wrong Wal-Mart and you did the right thing in telling someone where you were.

It is helpful however, to consider the roots of how it became the "wrong" place to be. It's not the shoppers….

BTW, I found you via Seth Simond's "The Dating Paper's." He recommended your site to one of his readers.

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mssinglemama February 25, 2009 at 3:28 pm

Thank you so much for adding this.

You are absolutely right. We all need to face the root of what has caused poverty like this… and don't even get me started on Wal-Mart. I actually refuse to shop there for many reasons (typically) but last night I desperately needed a car seat, and fast.

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Heather February 25, 2009 at 10:14 am

Insightful post!! I have a "wrong" Walmart in my town as well, and ironically enough, it's the closest one to my house. But I won't go there purely because of safety concerns…several years ago a woman was dragged into a van and abducted in broad daylight, as well as more recent shootings, knifings, etc. I don't think there's anything wrong with protecting one's personal safety (especially when the risk has been "proven"), but I loved your observations on right versus "wrong" in this post. Food for thought, for sure. :)

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NewSingleMama February 25, 2009 at 1:39 pm

LOL. My aunt gets mad at me because I tell her I refuse to go to the "Ghetto" Wal-Mart. It's not because of the people really, but because the store is a mess. A big, filthy mess. It's not kept up as nice as the ones I'm used to (the people do trash it) and the quality of product doesn't seem so good, so it's like a last result WalMart stop. I would never go there alone or late at night like I do "my" WalMarts but really anything can happen at any of them if someone wants it to.

Same as you though, I find it to be filled with screaming (some times not) children and exasperated looking single mothers in tow. It never occurred to me until recently how that is universal and they stand out more to me now. I don't know how much our lifestyles differ in comparison to one another, but I do know that is one thing for some second I can immediately connect with them on.

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mssinglemama February 26, 2009 at 2:02 am

Yep. The universal truth about motherhood. Thankfully most mothers have it… most, not all, but most. I believe anyway. Or maybe I hope…

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Jaynasmom February 25, 2009 at 2:16 pm

I have a Wal-Mart I don't like to go to. This particular one has a history of violence as well. Ironically enough, I'm comfortable going into the Sams Club that is right next door, but not the Wal-Mart store. Usually, though, I choose to go to Target, which is less than a 1/2 mile away and has a completely different environment.

I wonder how it is that chain stores seem to develop (and maintain) separate cultures such as nice vs. not nice Wal-Marts…you know that employee turnover is high in retail, and managers change too….I really wonder…. At any rate, its awesome how you saw the underlying common human thread in it all.

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mssinglemama February 26, 2009 at 2:04 am

I'm not sure. I should go out on a date with a sociologist or something to find out! Or would it have to be an anthropologist? I think it also has to do with bus lines – at least in our city – and proximity to certain neighborhoods and of course, price points in the stores. But every Wal Mart has the same prices – right?

Good question Jayna. Really interesting.

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Lesli February 25, 2009 at 3:21 pm

As a single mom living in a new (larger) city, I try to be aware of my surroundings all the time–whether I'm at Target, Trader Joe's, Wal-Mart, wherever. I don't think it's the "type" of store that makes it one more dangerous than another–it's the people that live near or shop there. I've been to some very "nice" Wal-Mart stores–but as a rule, I find them to be overwhelming and yes, I guess I can admit a little bit of snobbery here, just low-rent. I am mostly saddened by the types of people I see there–and of course I am making assumptions. Just recently I was at one in a suburb of ATL where I live–it's one of the "nicer" ones–and there was a couple in front of me that was either buying groceries for a family of 15 or they had not bought groceries in 2 months–and at the end of the transaction, she paid with her food stamps (which is actually on a card). I couldn't help but judge, even though it felt wrong to do so.

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Lesli February 25, 2009 at 3:21 pm

But I think, Alaina, you have hit the nail on the head–no matter what income level we all are, what our education level is, whether we go to a spendy salon or let a friend cut our hair, we are all mothers and hopefully love our children without reservation. Are our kids going to have a "better" upbringing because we can afford more "stuff"–does our bigger paycheck make their lives more comfortable? Maybe. But I'm sure there are lots of single moms (and married ones, too) that have very little and still manage to raise great kids.

And just remember to trust your gut instinct….if you feel unsafe for some reason, you SHOULD turn around and look–give that man (or men) a hard stare and let them know that you are NOT afraid and that you WILL scream or run or whatever it takes. Don't let your fear lead to getting stuffed in a trunk….keep your head about you and you will be safe. : )

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mssinglemama February 26, 2009 at 2:05 am

Oh. I definitely stared at them, but I didn't make a big deal out of it. I just kept walking confidently and quickly. The woman was actually followed home and then stuffed in her trunk. Horrible. There were two men and she was small. No chance to fight them.

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Jillian February 25, 2009 at 4:25 pm

Found your blog a little while ago and have been kind of going back, reading old entries and just generally lurking about. But I had to come out of the woodwork for this one. I don't shop at Wal-Mart. Not because I don't agree with their hiring practices, or employee relations or what-have-you but because over 10 years ago my mother went to return a pair of shoes she bought for me and against policy they told her no, no way, can't even exchange them. She told them she'd never shop there again and so she hasn't and I just kind of followed in her footsteps. The few times I've been in there it was so depressing and (almost) frightening to me that I got what I needed and got out ASAP. Babies with no clothes except a shirt and dirty diaper on, kids running barefoot through the aisles. Employees sneaking a smoke break in the hunting section (?!?), managers telling inappropriate jokes while watching a near 80 year old employee trying to get a heavy item down from a top shelf. There have been a few people who are just making ends meet and who are fantastic parents but they are few and far between and really, the depressed feeling I get just can't be gotten rid of by one or two great moms.

Enough with my rant, just wanted to de-lurk and say hi and I hope your trip to Cali goes well, I know you'll have tons of fun and I hope you can make it through the plane ride without any breakdown on your or Ben's part!

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mssinglemama February 26, 2009 at 2:06 am

I am with you. My family and I are very anti-Wal-Mart for all of the reasons you listed. But I needed a car seat and fast. Sometimes I have to go.

Thanks for your rant and for de-lurking! I'm so glad you did.

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TsQuest February 25, 2009 at 4:42 pm

I love how you changed your mind about where you were and suddenly it looked different to you.

Thoughts are very powerful indeed.

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mssinglemama February 26, 2009 at 2:06 am

Thanks T!

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TheQueen February 25, 2009 at 4:58 pm

There is actually a "wrong" Target very close to my home, where there have been reported abductions of woman. Essentially your concern for your own safety in regards to the news reports of the woman in the trunk was completely valid. I am very proud of you for thinking to inform someone of your whereabouts. In the end I appreciate your observation about a mothers love. I am disturbed by the poverty and lower conditions/expectations for these people. I am also grateful I was raised to expect more from life and myself than these poor people. But, is it a good thing for these poor people on poverty level to continue to have children? I am not denying that these mothers love their children but shouldn't they love themselves enough to rise above the cycle they were most likely raised in themselves and put an end to its continuation? I promise I am not trying to be an elitist snob, but I do feel there is enough opportunity in America for anyone who chooses to rise above and seek it out, it is all about choices and personal responsibility.

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mssinglemama February 25, 2009 at 5:26 pm

I used to believe that… until I moved to a rural high school. And me, the daughter of a physician, was born into much better circumstances than the kids up the road who had nothing and two parents who were addicted to meth or heroin.

Anyone can rise up from wherever … but some of us have much harder battles to win in order to get there. Early childhood education, for example, is so incredibly important. If a human being misses out on that basic foundation they're set back for life.

Thanks for chiming in you! I've missed you!

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PhenomenalMama February 25, 2009 at 5:08 pm

I think it's important, as a society, to try and eliminate the "us" vs. "them" mentality as much as possible. We are all just human after all, aren't we? Born into different circumstances, but underneath it all, we are all the same. It's good that you're able to see that.

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gisette27 February 25, 2009 at 6:21 pm

Thanks PhenomenalMama for mentioning the "us" vs. "them". It has to be "WE" for us to make a better society. As the black single mom that I am, I can drift in between what some classify between the 'right' and the 'wrong'. Don't misunderstand me, I am glad mssinglemama had an enlightening experience in the "wrong" Wal-mart, but bad things happen everywhere and we should not go anywhere we don't feel safe….especially not Wal-mart, b/c they suck. ;)

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Michael February 25, 2009 at 8:34 pm

I hate getting all dressed up for Walmart too. They keep it real at the Dollar stores though.

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ModernSingleMomma February 25, 2009 at 8:36 pm

I'm living on the 'wrong' side of town here in Kentucky, and I get that instinctual fear…I also feel relieved when I see the moms in the neighborhood. That bond and that love IS universal.

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DesperatelySeekingMe February 25, 2009 at 9:15 pm

It's one of the secrets to happiness in life, is to realize that we are all one. Yes we all have different socioeconomic circumstances and different life experience, but when you strip that all away we are all in this together.

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Sheila February 25, 2009 at 10:15 pm

Your dad was a doctor, too? Wow, we do have a lot in common. I didn't have anything to add, but that — everyone gave great replies!

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mssinglemama February 26, 2009 at 2:07 am

Hey – I'll be seeing you in a few days!!!

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newsinglemama February 26, 2009 at 1:05 am

what a nice post!
about the universality of our existence. about oneness.
and how we can choose to live in our heads, or choose to live in the real world, where the human existence is the same no matter where you live.
everyone has a few basic needs: love, shelter, food.
and you tapped into the reality of maternal love. beautiful!

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mssinglemama February 26, 2009 at 2:07 am

Thank you.

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movin down the road February 26, 2009 at 1:54 am

oh gosh, I am all teary and scared and want to go lie down next to my sleeping kids!

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mssinglemama February 26, 2009 at 2:08 am

Oh, don't be scared. I do not want you to be scared… but go kiss those kids anyway.

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mssinglemama February 26, 2009 at 2:02 am

I understand. I won't be going to this one again… as enlightening as that was, it was just dangerous. But I think I'll be donating or volunteering somewhere this spring. I feel like I just can't ignore this stuff anymore.

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mama_crazy February 26, 2009 at 2:26 am

Alaina – there's so much I want to say on this topic – I just don't know how or where to begin. I live in one of those "wrong" areas of my city, but only because my finances force me to. Don't get me wrong, I do all I can to make sure that I can eventually get Monkey and I out of the situation. I just wish that more people had the sense that you do to realize that not every one was born into the same circumstances and occasionally one truly can not help their circumstances

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thewarriorpoets February 26, 2009 at 4:39 am

As someone who spends a lot of time in the "wrong" neighborhoods protecting the "wrong" people, I found this post beautifully insightful. I have met some amazing people and have seen incredible grace and and beauty in the "wrong" places. No, I have even begun to feel at home in those places.

At the same time, which I know you already understand, we can't lose rational thought in our pursuit of expanding our view of this world to a more complete and pure place. And a woman, in matters of personal safety, is generally at greater risk.

If there is one thing I cannot stress enough to women- it is always, always trust your instincts. The human is the only creature that will ignore their insticts out of fear of offending someone, even a stranger. If that voice inside tells you to leave… leave. If it says drive around the block one more time before parking, do it. If it says "I don't feel safe being alone in the elevator with this man", forget about offending him. Leave. Let him be offended. He may be a saint. It's not your job to find out.

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musicamom February 26, 2009 at 5:14 am

I totally agree —

as "rational" human beings, we seem to all be taught to ignore instincts that are biologically meant for protection. We should be teaching the opposite — especially in this day and age.

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PT-LawMom February 26, 2009 at 4:53 am

I agree that it is important to try to find the common elements among us. I worked for a national crime victims rights organization. I would share two important facts. 1) most crime against individuals is committed by someone we know and 2) Trust your gut. Gavin de Becker, author of The Gift of Fear<img src="http://www.assoc-amazon.com/e/ir?t=ptla-20&l=as2&o=1&a=0440508835&quot; width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" /> says victims of violent behavior usually feel a sense of fear before any threat or violence takes place.

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Julie February 26, 2009 at 12:00 pm

Sounds like you were in the exact right Walmart!! Enjoy the trip and the new perspective.

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mssinglemama February 26, 2009 at 2:42 pm

You're absolutely right. And it should be noted – I will not be going in there ever again. I probably should have turned right around but I thought that would scream “fear”. So I kept going straight in. What do you think? Should I have turned around or would that have been very obvious?

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thewarriorpoets February 26, 2009 at 6:01 pm

Since women tend to be the best actors I know ((devious grin)), I don't think in that situation it would have been hard to pretend like you suddenly forgot something in your car if you wanted to just leave, or pretend like you suddenly got an important text and then reversed course.

That said, it's important to distinguish between irrational fear based on our own prejudices and listening to that valid little insinctual voice based on an actual situation. Since you were the one there, and only you really know yourself in that way, only you can decide. That said, would I want my loved one in that situation? No.

Either way, my advice to women is when you find yourself in that situation, project confidence.

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Joy February 26, 2009 at 11:29 pm

Since nobody else pointed this out, what happend to that women who left that store could happen ANYWHERE, be it Walmart or some fancy Shop in the nicest possible area.

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Marge February 27, 2009 at 3:51 am

I'm glad you said this Joy. I think we need to examine what's really going on here. We're afraid of poor people. Poor people are viewed as inherently "dangerous", people who live in the "ghetto" are somehow immoral. They don't "work hard" and they don't share our values.

I'm not saying that I am free from all of these prejudices; it's a prevalent issue in our American society that those with less are marginalized.

I don't think that it makes us any safer to hold onto those prejudices or deny that they exist, so I think MSM is brave to own up to this somewhat. Let's not stop with mothers though, as they are not the only of these "other" people with good in them. We need to value the integrity of all people, whether they happen to be lucky or not.

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thewarriorpoets February 27, 2009 at 8:16 am

I didn't get that from MSM's post.

1) She recognized that her use of the word "wrong" was a reflection of her own judgement, and called herself on it. And she regonized that, in her case, motherhood created a bond with people she probably doesn't share much in common with from a socio-economic standpoint.

2) She also reconized that some locations tend to be more unsafe than others for a myriad of reasons, but in this case reasons that include her conspicuously standing out, no one knowing her location, and it being a location that probably had a higher propensity for crime. It's not being judgemental to undestand that some places have an increased risk for crime. It would be judgemental to think an individual had a higher propensity to commit crime based on how they look. She was assessing the location.

Had she come to the latter conclusion but not the former, she would have missed a great lesson in self-analyzation. Had she come to the former conclusion but not the latter, she would be naive. As it stands, she reached the right balance.

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thewarriorpoets February 27, 2009 at 8:12 am

I didn't get that from MSM's post.

1) She recognized that her use of the word "wrong" was a reflection of her own judgement, and called herself on it. And she regonized that, in her case, motherhood created a bond with people she probably doesn't share much in common with from a socio-economic standpoint.

2) She also reconized that some locations tend to be more unsafe than others for a myriad of reasons, but in this case reasons that include her conspicuously standing out, no one knowing her location, and it being a location that probably had a higher propensity for crime. It's not being judgemental to undestand that some places have an increased risk for crime. It would be judgemental to think an individual had a higher propensity to commit crime based on how they look.

Had she come to the latter conclusion but not the former, she would have missed a great lesson in self-analyzation. Had she come to the former conclusion but not thte latter, she would be naive. As it stands, she reached the right balance.

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Cat February 27, 2009 at 2:48 pm

In my opinion every Walmart is the wrong Walmart.

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dang1 February 28, 2009 at 11:50 am

We are all just people- we all love, care, hurt, laugh, cry. It is a tragedy that here, in the wealthiest country on earth, many people go hungry. Economic inequality has widened, and insecurity increased, in this country, and to reverse that, begins with those who have more to empathize with those who have less. Funny about the wrong Walmart, there are those on the coasts that consider the interior as..well..kinda like the bridge and tunnel crowd.

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Amy March 4, 2009 at 6:24 am

Very insightful. I would like to think, being one of those people who grew up along side those in the "wrong" wal-mart, that most people are taught to work hard. Maybe some are faced with the choice to work 50 hours a week to afford a shitty apt, leave the children with someone else for 60 hours a week, endure the frustrated stares while buying regular groceries seperate from WIC groceries and holding up the line… or the same person could go on full state assistance, still endure the shitty apartment and judgemental stares, but get to stay home with the children. Nothing will ever change if it continues to be an us and them game. So good job at taking that first step towards we. And don't forget, being poor and rough around the edges doesn't have to mean unhappy as well.

And this was in no way intended to devalue your fear regarding the woman who was attacked. Always let people know where you are going and be aware of your surroundings.

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James April 2, 2009 at 9:30 pm

Well your fear of shopping at Wal-mart is justified. Today was the last time I will willingly set foot inside again. I've been to all the Wal-marts in my area and they all have given me bad experiences. So there is no wrong Wal-mart – they all are wrong! Not for any reason than the people who shop there. Yes I said it. The people who shop there are the ones that scared me away. Today I was with my wife looking at jewelry and 2 guys walked by and one said to me "you bastard". Last week at another wal-mart, a dark skin black guy creep up and stopped for us to cross the road. Then he starred drove by turned his head again and starred some more. Very scary. Before that other guys in the parking lot starting honking and screaming at me. These are just some of the warning signs and it happens everytime. I've made my wife promise never to return to wal-mart for any reason because it is unsafe and I fear for our safety.

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