A true tale of Walmart, Heavy D, my Toyota Highlander, and one dishonest clown with an embarrassed wife

Walmart, the one on Columbus Boulevard, where the building and home accessory stores rub shoulders with their strip bar and Chick-fil-A associates, is no place to be—ever, I would argue. But especially on the 4th of July.

People who live rational lives cook dogs and burgers on the 4th, catch the Phils on TV, maybe take a second run at a dog-eared Dennis Lehane mystery or catch up with the last few episodes of Treme.

What they don’t do is go to Walmart to buy a ladder.

But it’s a psyciatrically proven fact that crooked and missing ceiling tiles can turn you mad in a remarkably short period of time, and since there were a number of crooked and missing ceiling tiles at the South Street location where we were scheduled to start teaching kids how to make comic books later this month, a ladder had to be acquired and the tiles had to be straightened and replaced, 4th of July be damned.

When it comes to handyman projects, I have a Jewish man’s soul: i.e. I don’t like them, and I suck at them, but I was determined to make the best of the ceiling tile project. My strategy: turn Zen-like and hydrate often. It worked, I guess, because I negotiated Walmart and was able to angle the ladder into the back of the Toyota Highlander without looking the fool or tearing up the car’s carpet, no easy trick for a guy who failed geometry twice.

Once the ladder was secure, I turned the Highlander’s air conditioner up high and inserted a CD I burned a decade or so back, the one loaded with songs by Heavy D, the overweight lover. Heavy must have had his music sprayed with some kind of happy drug, because the second his songs start you begin to smile like a kid about to walk through the gates of Dorney Park.

I backed up the Highlander easy and slow, grooving along with Heavy D’s Double Bubble beats, and feeling pretty darn copacetic, considering I was on my way to straighten ceiling tiles on the 4th of July.

It was right about then I felt something push me forward. That something was accompanied by the kind of sound that has the potential to be a major mood changer.

It sounded like this: Crunch.

I got out of the Highlander and found the man that hit me standing next to his car. I walked over and said what I think anyone would have said in the same situation, “Guess you didn’t see me there?”

I could see my left rear light was broken and my bumper had a football-sized dent. His car had no damage at all.

“Guess you didn’t see me?” the guy that hit me shot back.

Oh. This.

The guy wasn’t big or threatening, but he’d clearly decided a strong offense was his best defense. Put more directly, he decided to lie.

I let silence fill the air.

I quickly calculated the damage to the Highlander at about 500 bucks, my insurance deductible, which meant that if Happy the Clown here wasn’t going to own up and admit fault—and he clearly wasn’t—then I was out 500 bucks.

Him, finally: “I would have to say it was nobody’s fault.”

It was then I saw the guy’s wife, who had gotten out of the car and was standing a safe distance from her husband. She couldn’t look at me.

Her husband: “We have nothing to talk about. Nobody’s to blame here.”

He didn’t believe that, and his wife, who couldn’t even glance in my direction, sure didn’t believe it.

Him: “Okay? Okay? Nothing, right?”

I turned silent again and watched as he grew sadder and more ashamed. Then I got into the Highlander and drove off.

I couldn’t hang around any longer. I had ceiling tiles to straighten and replace, and with any luck I’d finish the job and be home in time to celebrate America like everyone else.

Tim Whitaker ( is the executive director of Mighty Writers, a nonprofit program that inspires city kids to write.