Could the biggest, most successful discount store in the world really meet your every need? Twenty-four hours a day? That's what the TV spots are saying. Really living there. Eating, sleeping, checking out the DVDs, never leaving.
Skyler Bartels walked into the big box wearing jeans and a white T-shirt. He had his cell phone in case of emergency, his heart medicine, his bank card, two forms of identification, and nothing else. He spent the first afternoon watching "Chicken Little," the animated Disney film. He watched it all. Deleted scenes, interviews, outtakes. Everything.
"They had it on a continuous loop the whole time I was there," he said. "I'd pass through the department and say, 'Oh, it's about halfway through' or, 'I like this part. I think I'll watch it again.' "
He decided not to buy anything he couldn't carry around the store. He ended up with a jacket (for storage space), a note pad, some pencils, an electronic voice recorder, a three-pack of underwear, a comb, a toothbrush and some toothpaste. He lived off energy drinks, doughnuts, yogurt and Subway sandwiches. He figures he slept four hours out of the 41 in captivity. He'd catch a few minutes whenever he could - in a Subway booth or a restroom stall.
The best place for dozing was lawn and garden, where the lights weren't so bright. Nobody worked there between 2 and 4 a.m. Bartels found a lawn chair, kicked back and wondered how life could be better.
By Tuesday morning, not even halfway through the great experiment, the store was on to him. His debit account was frozen. He was exhausted and paranoid. Game over. His med-student brother picked him up and took him away.
"We weren't aware of this," said corporate spokeswoman Sharon Weber, "but it's not something we condone. We're a retailer, not a hotel."
Like real life, you can't get everything at Wal-Mart (new slogan: Not a Hotel). Bartels couldn't get a shower or a bed. He couldn't find one of those miniature bottles of shampoo.