Paris at Wal-Mart 

Photo by Devin Asch

No one, not even management, anticipated the giddy, trembling, human cord that began to form outside a Santa Clarita Wal-Mart late Monday night, in anticipation of a Paris Hilton appearance. By 6 p.m. the next day, more than a thousand anxious star-gazers were lined up from Boy’s Clothes to Sporting Goods, almost all of them clutching copies of Hilton’s ghostwritten memoir, Confessions of an Heiress: A Tongue-in-Chic Peek Beyond the Pose — the most recent addition to Wal-Mart’s extensive catalog of Hilton fan literature. (See also Paris Hilton: The Naked Truth and The Tinkerbell Hilton Diaries: My Life Trailing Paris Hilton, e.g.)

First in line were friends Elizabeth Lopez and Larry Ullrich. Lopez is an Oxnard Wal-Mart worker, volunteer election poll worker, and self-described star-chaser. Ullrich is a 50-year-old, chin-pierced, bleached-blond Republican and Corona nudist-camp resident who often comes into Lopez’s store. (“He’s an everyday low-price customer,” said Lopez.) Even after spending the night on air mattresses outside the store the night before, redigesting the best parts of the book, both were hard-pressed to explain their attraction.

“It’s hilarious, because of the Wal-Mart joke,” offered Lopez, referring to Hilton’s infamous remark on The Simple Life: “What’s a Wal-Mart? It’s like they sell wall stuff?” In fact, the comment only increased Lopez’s affection. “She didn’t want to let on, cuz she’s holding onto her image,” said Lopez. “She shops at anything above Macy’s.”

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“She’s kind, sweet, flirtatious. Just because you don’t have money doesn’t mean she treats you like dirt,” said Ullrich, looking on as a female Wal-Mart employee hoarsely shouted for the crowd to tidy up the line.

“Wow,” said Lopez.

“That reminds me of when Paris was yelling at the cows on the show,” said Ullrich, smiling.

A half hour of rubbernecking passed with no sign of the guest of honor. A minor mob of security, Wal-Mart employees and publicists occluded the entrance to her dressing room, improvised out of stacked Coca-Cola cases and pink sheets. A bin was brought for Hilton to receive the crowd’s gifts. A video camera was summoned from the store’s Home Electronics section and turned on the crowd, so that Hilton could receive a preview of her admirers. An assistant manager named Pam relayed Hilton’s response to the turnout.

“She’s shocked,” said Pam.

With people climbing over clothing racks, discount tables and themselves to see beyond a half-dozen bodyguards in sunglasses, the store management enforced a Tian An Men Square–style lockdown. Reporters were forbidden to talk to customers. Photographers were warned they would have only two minutes to take their photos, then had to leave. The store’s management watched nervously for camera phones and shoplifters, strategizing about how to announce that there were no more tickets.

As the crowd seemed on the verge of trampling every low-price piece of inventory in Boy’s Clothing to storm Hilton’s soda-case dressing room, a cheer erupted.

The author, at last, appeared. She waved her frail limbs; she smiled in astonishment. She curtsied, clutching her dress’s hem. Then she sat in a large, not-very-elegant office chair, behind a thick wall of reporters and security, and took out her signing pen.

Over the next half hour, the room vented itself of its impossible pressure, one autograph at a time. For most, the meeting with a genuine star was all too brief.

“Paris is my idol!” said Lindsey Tillisek, 15, on her way out of the signing line.

“I think she should be queen!” said her friend Katie Quinn, also 15. “If Paris told me to jump off a bridge, I would.”

“I’d do 18 operations just to look like her,” said Tillisek.

“But that could never happen because she’s god.”

“Give us a Paris look,” said a photographer standing nearby.

“That’s impossible,” said Tillisek.

Not everyone was as impressed, including Matt Randall, a punked-out 20-year-old who came with a group of friends. “I came here to buy wife beaters, and because some chick sucked a knob on the Internet, I can’t get them,” said Randall, when asked if he was interested in shelling out $16 for the memoir. “I’m not planning to buy the book. But I’ll get the video.”

“VIDEO!” Randall’s friends chanted, quickly attracting the attention of the overwhelmed Wal-Mart workers, who asked them to leave.

“If she’s a slut, why are you here?” demanded Dawn Cox, whose two sons were still waiting in line. “See, those are Canyon Country boys for sure.”

Ten minutes later, outside the store, three County Sheriff’s squad cars pulled up. “It’s a juvenile disturbance call,” one officer said.

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