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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Costco — Your one-stop shopping center for truly everything

OMG, and I thought it was an urban legend. This is too awesome. I remember the first time I stepped into Costco: 5-gallon tubs of soy sauce, mayonnaise; OJ comes in 8 liters; milk in 4 gallons; sausages in 10 lbs. It is a Mormon temple to consumption and excess. Beautiful.

This is how they get you, as you leave the Costco, your senses numbed from the huge banks of fluorescent lights and the enormous boxes of batteries and lard and meat stacked three stories high, a weird and detached state that, somehow, lets you easily see death as a commodity and not the slightest bit profound or transitive or interesting. Ain't that America.

Oh yes. Pink roses, giant glossy mauve caskets, shiny metal handles, crepe lining, the works. Because why have your last gesture on the planet resemble something tasteful and humble?

A nice gray casket with lion's head handles and maybe a built-in iPod adapter (just in case you can take it with you), and then, a new set of 205 PR13s for the Lexus. Why the hell not?

While shopping at Costco, they and the Universal Casket Company work in careful tandem to happily remove your need -- and even your ability -- to emote. Hey, it's right there on the sign.

Your Shiny Happy Discount Death
Amongst the bulk cheese and the plasma TVs, a slew of coffins, now at Costco. Bargain!

By Mark Morford, San Francisco Chronicle
April 11, 2007

Walk the massive air-conditioned aisles and ogle the giant slabs of meat and the enormous bins of imported Guatemalan fruit and the economy packs of adult diapers and the two-gallon bottles of vodka, much of it generally aimed at the happy retirement crowd that lives here six months out of the year.

And then notice, as you leave, your cart crammed with drums of olive oil and 10-foot plasma TVs and 80-packs of frozen cream puffs, that strange display you apparently didn't notice when you came in, the one right by the front door next to the tires and the lawn furniture and the hot-dog stand, the one you seem to have blocked out because it was just too weird and your mind couldn't really get around it.

Yes, they are coffins. They are enormous, shiny caskets for sale, at Costco. Would that I were making this up.

This is what you see: A seemingly innocuous, nondescript display featuring corner sample pieces of giant kitschy caskets (alas, there are no full-sized models to climb into to test for comfort/fit/sex/morbid humor), all made by something called the Universal Casket Company, and they apparently come in all manner of glossy finish and silky crepe linings and fake gothic handles and pink rose filigree and all available for immediate overnight delivery because, well, you just never know.

Yes, you can now buy a coffin at Costco. Six, actually, different styles and qualities and color schemes to match your lifestyle and your sofa and your love of mauve and fake lion's-head handles and it is, all at once, funny and disturbing and creepy and yet, somehow, entirely appropriate. You want shameless target marketing? You want life and death and commerce and capitalism and convenience all rolled into a little ball of gloomy consumer joy? Here is your nirvana.

Look a little closer. Around the display are a number of modest signs featuring handsome black-and-white stock photos of healthy-looking, middle-age people apparently discussing why the hell they'd want to buy a huge shiny $1,000 casket at Costco, why you'd want to consider such a thing right after you just spent two hours on a sunny Saturday dumping 300 bucks on bulk cheese and massive platters of frozen chicken wings and maybe a 29-person camping tent.

Each sign has its own simple sales-pitch phrase above the photo, such as "Affordable" or "Non-Threatening" or (my personal favorite) "Non-Emotional," which I take to mean that Costco believes it's much gentler on your nerves and easier on your deepest fears to consider casket acquisition on a benign, shopping-crammed weekend than to wait until, say, you're sitting in a bleak funeral home and you can't choose a shade of taupe for the deceased's pillow through all the teary, soul-crushing Muzak. After all, why feel death? Why not let Costco help you send grandma off with ease, without those pesky feelings? Mmm, numbness.



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