Teriyaki Spam. What a world; what a sick, beautiful, perverse, messy, enigmatic world. Teriyaki Spam.
I’m in a Walmart the size of Luxembourg. Well, maybe not quite. But “vast” doesn’t do this place justice. I’ve been on holiday in upstate New York for about a week. I’ve seen big red barns and pickup trucks flying the US flag; wild turkeys and lawns that crunch with cicada shells.
But this – this canned food aisle – is an experience. I never knew Spam came in different flavours, let alone Japanese ones. I want to see everything in here. I can practically feel my pupils dilating, hoovering in the rows and rows and rows of corn syrup saturated foodstuffs of my dreams and nightmares. Oh, and live ammunition. This is a place I could enter with nothing and leave with a pack of chocolate chip pancake coated sausages, a car tyre and a box of 22 calibre ballistic tip slugs. I refuse to believe that every last thing you need to know about the United States isn’t under this strip-lit roof.
As much as I love museums, I love supermarkets more. So if you’re expecting a critique of the surreal excesses of late capitalism, this isn’t quite it. Granted, Walmart is a shady behemoth with a track record of failing to pay its employees a living wage. But – as someone who fantasises about getting accidentally locked in a supermarket overnight – allow me to see it in abstract for a minute.
In this fantasy, whose origins I can trace back to when I started doing my shopping in a giant Tesco Extra, I get to roam the aisles trying everything. Limited edition Kettle Chips (horse and blackcurrant flavour – that sort of thing), anomalous jars of pickled stuff, the entirety of the Polish section – an expo of un-tasted snacks; every one of them potentially life changing. I get to sit, cross-legged on the floor scooping various chocolate spreads (there’s a Bounty one I’ve had my eye on) out of various containers, like a frenzied Winnie the Pooh. Don’t even get me started on the biscuits.
But supermarkets are even more than well-lit caves of wonders. When you suffer from anxiety, well meaning people love to suggest remedies. But from meditation to masturbation, nothing feeds my craving for a sense of normality like a systematic walk through the aisles of a Morrisons. Or a Sainsbury’s. A Waitrose or M&S if my anxiety is feeling posh. I’m not necessarily going to buy anything, I just need to take in that nicely cloying smell of baked goods, and feel the cool of the frozen section against my face. People are slow and contemplative, walking to the slow beat of checkout beeps. Stopping. Starting. Trolley wheels rasping on the shiny ground.
Bad things rarely happen in supermarkets. Sometimes I’ll be woken out of my aisle daze by the sight of a smashed Dolmio jar bleeding to death on the floor, but I’m usually pretty stoic about it. I tap my fingers to whatever inoffensive pop hit is playing, seemingly from nowhere. I take in some interesting pasta shapes. I swing by the fish counter; all those glassy eyes on ice. Death looks relaxing, in a way. Those trout don’t give a flying fuck.
Even the cleaning product aisles are strangely soothing. The artificial floral smells. The deliriously happy colours. The promises of complete stain removal. If my lock-in fantasy came true, this is probably where I’d sleep. Staff would find me first thing in the morning on a bed of kitchen rolls, crisp crumbs stuck to every part of me with chocolate. As carefree as a dead fish.