About a month ago, I left a terrible living situation in Lancaster and moved into a mobile home in the Mojave Desert. But I didn’t feel grateful to have left the clutches of a weird roommate who reminded me of Victor Van Dort in The Corpse Bride. And I desperately wanted to feel a sense of gratitude.
Taking a page from Rod Tidwell’s “Show me the money” chant in Jerry Maguire, I substituted the word money for gratitude.
It became my personal mantra.
Show me the gratitude! Show me the gratitude!
I jogged with my pit bull Zeus on the Mojave trails, huffing and puffing away, mumbling under my breath, “Show me the gratitude, God!”
But I was not filled with a sense of appreciation for the Mojave and its natural wonders. This is instead where my head went:
“Damn it, I have to quit smoking. I better go get that chest X-ray that I keep putting off. Why can’t I quit smoking? What is wrong with me? Tomorrow I will call 1-800-NO-BUTTS. Wait, where is Zeus going? Why did I let him run off leash? Oh, no there he is. He is fine. I worry too much. Jeez, I can’t even listen to Pandora. There is no cell phone signal out here. At least, I have an iPod. But how many times can I listen to Gloria Gaynor’s ‘I Will Survive’?”
Show me the gratitude!
When Zeus and I got home, I took a good look at my 1990 Toyota Corolla. I remembered that from December to February, I didn’t have a car. My little Corolla wasn’t exactly top of the line, but it got me from point A to point B.
Show me the gratitude!
But instead of a sense of thankfulness for my crappy little car, I thought, “If I were still with my ex-husband, I would have a brand new Jaguar by now—and a Rolex!” Then: “Oh, come on girl. Get over it. You haven’t been with your husband since August 10, 2000. Stop living in the past. Stop being so superficial.”
It was when I stopped chanting, “Show me the gratitude” that things started to change.
It started with Walmart.
When I moved to the Mojave, I was so grateful to leave Walmart behind. I’d hated that store even though I was a regular customer. Maybe I loathed Walmart because I associated it with my drinking. During my life as a wino, I haunted the Palmdale Walmart during the wee hours. There I was, along with other Walmartians—weirdos like myself—hobbling up and down the aisles like inmate extras from the asylum that’s the focal point of American Horror: Season Two.
Some were there to buy diapers. Others were there to purchase grocery items or beer. My mission? I had to secure a bottle of Oak Leaf chardonnay. Even though I would already be toasted, I was never done for the night.
Since the wine was only $1.97 per bottle, I’d sometimes have money left over to buy food or better yet pick up an old movie like Robocop from the $5 DVD movie bin.
A few days after I moved to the Mojave, I realized that I had to get groceries and dog food.
“Ha,” I thought. “No more Walmart. Thank God, I never have to go into that low-class store again!”
Approximately six miles north of the main road leading to my house is the heart of the Mojave. I drove to town in search of a grocery store.
Guess what? Except for two gas stations, a dollar store and a couple of fast food places, there is zilch! Oh, wait, I did find a rundown liquor store that had a sign on the window: LIQUOR. AMMO. SOLD HERE.
I opted to buy cigarettes from the gas station after pumping gas and then drove to the dollar store. That little market depressed me beyond belief. The customers there made the Walmart ones look like high-class patrons at an art opening at the Hammer Museum. But the dog food here was cheap, so I bought a bag of Purina Dog chow. Did I want to buy some boiled oysters for myself?
Ugh. No thanks. Then I had a thought: “I should just go to Walmart.”
Then another thought: “No, let me go to Albertson’s.”
And so I drove roughly 12 miles south to Albertson’s. I was blown away by the prices. $1.99 for a can of Pedigree chopped chicken dog food? Thank God I had purchased dog food from the Mojave dollar store! $5.99 for a pound of tuna salad from the deli? $3.99 for a loaf of cocktail sourdough bread? I’d already adjusted to dollar store pricing so was outraged.
After buying half a pound of tuna salad and cocktail bread and pumping more gas into my car, I had a painful realization.
If I have to drive to the dollar store in Mojave for doggy food and then come to this overpriced grocery market for human food, I am spending double the amount of gas that it would take for one round trip from my house to Walmart.
The next day I drove to the Walmart on Valley Central Way in Lancaster where I planned to meet my friend Amelia. As I parked my car, I felt like a Muslim who had finally made it to Mecca after years of planning a haji.
The Walmart sign glowed ahead, welcoming me. Like Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz, I skipped through the automated shopping doors. Customers stared at me because my eyes were as wide open as one of those weird Teletubby dolls.
I saw Amelia up ahead, waiting for me by the aisle that sold plastic bins. I was mesmerized like a flower child on acid.
“Wow,” I said. “Walmart is beautiful.”
“Are you okay?” Amelia asked.
“You know, after living in the Mojave, I feel so thankful to be here.”
“Sev, you just moved to the Mojave.”
I broke down and cried. “I miss people! I am not a country bumpkin! I belong in the city!”
“The desert isn’t exactly the country,” she responded.
“To me, it’s the same thing!” I said. “I have to get out of there, Amelia! Help me!”
“You have a month-to-month lease.”
Of course, she was right. I stared at her, and then broke out into maniacal laughter. A few customers coming our way decided to push their carts down another aisle to avoid me.
“Month-to-month! I can move after I get my shit together!” I said.
And then we went shopping. I felt like a kid at an amusement park. For the first time in my life, I loved shopping at Walmart. I had fun. I didn’t buy a $5 movie because, I remembered, I have Direct TV at my new house!
When I got home, it was dark. After I brought my Walmart purchases inside and greeted my dogs, I lit a cigarette and sat outside on the porch, staring at a series of windmills that were lit up with red lights in the landscape ahead.
I felt a sense of peace.
For that, I was grateful.
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