Music Walmart made me Hate Part 1: T.G.I.F.

Different people like different music. That’s an understatement.

There are various reasons for this phenomenon. One of the main ones: Music has associations. People hear music during parties, concerts, movies, traffic jams, house cleaning, and even sex. You don’t just hear the song. You hear your own subtext.

I could go on and on about associations that I have with certain songs and how those associations have changed. Instead, I’ll talk about two songs that I heard during my year working nights at Walmart (Yes, it’s one word these days). I probably wouldn’t have loved either song very much regardless. They’re not really my style. Still, it was my year at Walmart that made me hate them. I actually have enough to say about this first one to take up a long post. The next one will be shorter, I promise. And it will be a Christmas song.

1. Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)”

Sorry for subjecting you to it. Like I said, I hate it.

I drove a long distance to get to work. Sometimes I switched between radio stations. My favorite station was 90.3 The Rock, mostly because I could never tell what they would play next. I got curious though about what more mainstream top 40-type stations were playing.

Now unlike many people I know, I don’t hate current pop songs just because they’re pop songs. It’s not the kind of music I buy or download much, but it’s not the worst thing on Earth either. Some of it has fond memories attached to it.

But hearing this song time after time made me ready to hate humanity for liking it. Sometimes I’d go back to the mainstream pop station to see if they’d quit playing it. They hadn’t.

There I was, listening to this song while driving to work on Friday night. I was willing to work any hours they wanted because I was desperate to get a job and have people there like me.

Often on Friday nights they’d have me working as a greeter. Sometimes I stocked shelves or alternated between the two jobs. It’s a weird place to be on Friday. Walmart is one of the few stores that’s open all night. You’d see laughing friends coming in from a night of partying or couples passing through on date nights.  The couples were at various levels of hand-holding, sometimes up in each other in more awkward ways. Sometimes people ran, ready to get through and start the night.

And there I was. I was single, alone, and had a whole night of work ahead of me. I got used to it and even learned to enjoy the variety of customers. I learned to relate to them. Some of them were as broke as I was, and Walmart was their idea of a crazy night out. In the first few nights though, it sucked. I was jealous. And my jealousy had to have a mock-panicked  cheery pop song as its soundtrack. Rub it in why don’t you? Gloat about your expensive debauchery.

Even once I got over that, there was still the more subtly annoying fact that it was expensive debauchery. There she is, singing about how she maxed out her credit card but will do it all again. She owns a pool. Also, she has servants to give her ginger ale. Why don’t you pour it for yourself?

It made me like country music more. Many of my fellow associates listened to country and nothing else. In modern country music people go partying all the time. The difference? They often emphasize that they’re drinking cheaper domestic beers, or that they’re just taking a break from life’s trouble.That’s better because it’s relatable. Country stars don’t talk about expensive things except when planning funerals.

Honestly, I preferred Rebecca Black when she was  singing about carpooling rather than appearing here. It’s worth noting that the Great Depression gave us “Oh Brother Can You Spare A Dime” while the Great Recession gave us “T.G.I.F.”

Now a bit more about Miss Perry (or Miss Hudson) herself.  Her parents were traveling ministers. Then, as she put it, she sold her soul to the devil.

For Katy, selling her soul meant gloating about everything she could do that her parents might not like. If she had been Orthodox Jewish, her first song would have been “I Ate a Shrimp and I Liked It.”

Granted, I didn’t mind that song. So you’ve only made it to first base with a girl? Nothing to feel jealous about there.

But on T.G.I.F. the smug clouds get thicker for me. It was not because I objected morally to anything she said. It was because she talking about doing expensive things as if they were nothing. And it’s based on a true story. In the words of a Mexican-American girl I knew from California, “Katy Perry is a white California girl.” She’s also a rich one.

So why did I subject myself to this song? I could have avoided it after hearing it once, right? Well, after hating it so much, I wanted to make a parody of it about working at Walmart:

“Last friday night/stocked the creamers and the butters/ worked one box and then another/stabbed my hand with a box cutter…”

You get the idea. I’d go on, but I’m not sure if you want the radio edit version or the one with swearing.

Signing out (with NOFX no less),

Ben Pounds

P.S. The skinny-dipping part didn’t bother me. I went to Warren Wilson College where skinny-dipping was practically an official pastime. It’s cheap too.


Fast and Slow

Originally published on “Into the Fields,” a blog about my time as an intern through Student Action with Farmworkers. For the full version of this post with a video that shows the pace of industrial corn picking, click here

Some people call the country life slow. In some ways it may be slow. People do talk slower, and nothing is a block away. Evenings and time off from work can be slow too. Too slow. If you can’t drive anywhere, you are stuck sitting around in the evening, watching TV, listening to music, or trying to strike up conversations. I sat with the workers in one camp, on a plastic bucket like them, as the light died down. As far as work goes, though it’s as fast as any factory or holiday-season checkout line, only with heat thrown in to make it worse. They do get breaks for water, but there’s nothing slow about the work itself.

Nothing and Everything

I stayed at the house of a former SAF intern’s mother. The road leaving our neighborhood crossed with another road. That road means more to me every time I think about it. In one direction: The interstate, the city of Columbia, and the new offices of South Carolina Primary Health Care, where I volunteered for the Migrant Health Project. People sat at their desks there in suits, dresses, and ties. Bars, fitness clubs, restaurants, and music clubs were all in that direction.

Columbia was a place of power. The State House stood there, with long sets of steps and tall columns.

Along its sides stood monuments which told an official version of state history. There were monuments to the confederate dead, and to Strom Thurmond. Other monuments  showed African-Americans’ long history from slaves in the fields of indigo, to achievements in the present day. Our landlady, Jennet, told us that in the other direction was “nothing.” For her, as for most people in Columbia it was nothing. It was more suburbs.Then it was sprawling fields of peaches, corn, cucumbers, tomatoes, and plants city people couldn’t tell apart from each other.

The change was nowhere near as sudden as it sounds. The countryside was not a wasteland. Big farms had offices and receptionists. Farmers and ran their fields like factories, only with hotter and tougher work.

The country was more random than the city. Downtown for one town was an old-fashioned-looking block of brick buildings that happened to include a Mexican popsicle store. In another town, the “center” of town seemed to be a white Victorian-style house serving as the office for an IGA store.

It could rain one minute out there, the next minute dust could be blowing around. The workers lived just in just about every arrangement one could think of: trailers, cinder houses, even log cabins in one place.The land was flat, but by the end of that summer, I could not see it as “nothing.” For many of the people I met there, it was everything, or at least everything that they saw of South Carolina.

People who had come from far away to work the land often had no way to drive anywhere else and no reason to do so. To them, the lights of Columbia and the steps of the capital were a faint rumor, if they were anything.