Ever since we moved we’ve been gradually getting our bearings. Weâ€™ve figured out where we are in relation to the various supermarkets and chain drugstores in the areaâ€”the Jewels (Jewels as in multiple Jewel stores, not the so-called ersatz possessive-form slang vernacular â€œJewelâ€™sâ€), the Walgreenâ€™s (or are they Walgreenses?) and Dominickâ€™s (Dominiquorum?). We know where nearest stores are, and as far as we can tell, none of them are Bad Times stores.
Every store chain has at least one Bad Times location. The Walgreens closest to Chris’s old apartment, the one at Lawrence and Western, is a Bad Times Walgreen’s. I grew up near a Bad Times Jewel on Madison near Ridgeland. There is a Bad Times Dominick’s on Lincoln Avenue at Bryn Mawr, just a quarter mile or so north from the old Bad Times Osco, and together with the Walgreens they formed a Bad Time Triangle, a veritable vortex of shitty store-going experience.
What constitutes Bad Times? Itâ€™s not just bad service or poor merchandise selection. Itâ€™s almost never a single thing that can be isolated and remedied. No, itâ€™s an elaborate matrix of factors that make you miserable practically every single fucking time you shop there.
Bad Times conditions produce varying results within a consistent pattern of badness. Your shopping cart gets swiped. You wait in line and then the line closes. Theyâ€™re inexplicably all out of water, or candy, or something amazing like that. Everything you need is available only in some horrifyingly wrong form, size and/or quantity, i.e., tampons which come in boxes of two hundred and are the super-ultra-maximum kind with scented musical applicators. The ATM is down, always. You’re lost in the aisles and the song “We Didn’t Start the Fire” is playing. So many things around you suck to distraction that you forget half the things you meant to get, and you stumble home defeated and with the distinct sense that none of this bullshit would have happened if only you’d gone to the other Jewel or Walgreens or Osco or Dominck’s. Bad Times stores are the ones you find yourself going out of the way to avoid for one reason or another. Sometimes you can articulate why, sometimes you can’t.
Nothing ever gets cold in the beverage coolers at the Bad Times Walgreen’s. Shopping at the Bad Times Jewel-Osco in Andersonville is weirdly tedious, and it always feels like you’re pushing your cart through sand. One time, at the bad times Dominick’s, there was this cashier who wore makeup in such a way to as to make her entire head look like a fleshy Lucha Libre mask, and she barked orders at every one of us in line. “Have your Fresh Values card READY! In your HAND and READY! Take OUT your Fresh Values Card and HAVE IT READY!” At the Bad Times Osco a few years ago I smiled at an old man standing near the doorway on my way out and he followed me to my car and tapped on my window and said “DONâ€™T I KNOW YOU?” He was holding down a button on his neck as he spoke. “I SEEN YOU BEFORE,” he said, in a voice that I think meant to be friendly but instead sounded like a tiny demon calling long-distance. I knew I hadnâ€™t seen him before, because if Iâ€™d had I probably wouldâ€™ve tried a little harder to resist the sudden visceral impulse to clutch my own throat. But as it happened, I was doing it right then, right in front of him. â€œIâ€™m sorry!â€ I said. It was deeply awkward and not in the least bit a good time.
Bad Times knows no boundaries, lest you think Bad Times equals “ghetto.” My recent experiences have all been urban, but store can be in the middle of a manicured suburban Strippe Mall Named For An Olde Tree and still be infested with a bad case of Bad Times. Many places carry a certain variant strain of Bad Times in which nothing about the store itself is objectionable but bad things happen to youâ€”you forget your wallet, or you leave your car headlights on, or you drop a case of canned soda and it starts hissing and you have to leave it in the aisle and scurry away like a water rat. And you can’t go back; you won’t go back, and you don’t for a very long time until one day it seems sort of silly and inconvenient to not go there, so you go, and you have Bad Times AGAIN, and you curse yourself the whole unhappy drive home. That’s what I mean by Bad Times.
Bad Times tend to make themselves known as soon as you visit the store for the first time, but do they ever go away. I’m curious about this, since the Bad Times Osco on Lincoln and Foster has now become a CVSâ€”a chain I haven’t visited enough to know where its Bad Times locations are. Will the Osco Bad Times transfer seamlessly to CVS, just like its prescription records? Or will the change in management cause a butterfly effect disrupting the unique circumstances under which Bad Times flourished? Or what? I’ll have to go there again sometime and let you know. But I’m in no hurry.