Black Friday: The dark side

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The rush is on and the fix is in. It is the time of year when companies wrangle for the almighty dollar and slyly insinuate, particularly in television ads, that you are not exactly up to par if you are not gifting those you love with a car, an expensive leather coat, or the latest in culinary machinery. Don’t listen! Do the holidays your way, whatever that way is.

This year, Halloween has become fertile ground for the beginning of the Christmas shopping season, along with the added pressure of the emergence of Halloween decorating (Really? Purple lights in the shrubs and Halloween villages on the living room table? I forget to buy candy half the time!) And Thanksgiving? It is the red-headed stepchild of Christmas, mainly because being thankful is an intangible – there is no gift to go with it, except the spiritual gifts of remembrance, gratefulness, and peace. How do you sell that?

I have friends who love Black Friday shopping, and believe it or not, I have friends who are already finished with their shopping. I admire both and have to chuckle, as each method so suits their personalities, and the qualities of perseverance and planning that I just don’t possess. I have a friend who is always relaxed in December, and truly enjoys the season, as her presents are neatly stacked away somewhere (and purchased with coupons or at rock-bottom sale price, no less. She is a circular queen). I have another close friend who calls Black Friday her High Holy Holiday — she lifts weights and guzzles Gatorade on Thanksgiving night, as she peruses the online deals. Me — I am a last-minute shopper. It’s just the way I roll (or don’t roll, or roll at the very last minute).

I went out shopping on Black Friday in 2010, and I will never forget it. I still have a scar from a particularly brutal carriage bump to the elbow. I jumped in my friend’s mini-van at 4:30 am, and was shocked to see that she was cutely dressed, with make-up on and hair styled. I was in pajama bottoms and a big sweatshirt; I thought Black Friday was kind of like a huge sleepover. We were all in it together! She handed me a mug of coffee prepared just the way I like it. Next to her was a folder of print-outs claiming drastic mark-downs on big-ticket items.

“I am coming home with a TV,” my friend announced, and threw the minivan into gear. And off we went, over the river and through the woods in search not of Grandma’s house, but instead a Best Buy, a Target, and a Macy’s.

The crowd outside of a Best Buy at 12.01, November 25, 2011. (YouTube)
The crowd outside of a Best Buy at 12.01, November 25, 2011.

Fifteen minutes later we were in a very long line in the dark, reminiscent of back in my teens when we waited for Fleetwood Mac tickets in pre-dawn hours. The folks around us were pleasant, and we all agreed how crazy it was that we were even out in the dark waiting for the doors to open, but I noticed that our line-mates’ eyes were narrowed, their feet shuffling restlessly. “These people would kill me and step over my dead body to get a bargain,” I whispered to my friend.

“And they’d enjoy it,” she whispered back, taking a slurp of her coffee. I thought back to my bed longingly. I love my bed, what with its pillows and blankets and its lack of ruthless strangers surrounding me. I was flyer-less; I had no clear plan of attack. Why was I even here?

Soon, a store manager appeared on the other side of the glass doors, yielding the power of a king or a president or a nursery school admissions officer. The line reacted, standing up straighter and coming to attention in the dark. The manager opened the doors and then leapt out of the way like a Russian gymnast, as we streamed through the doors. “Go, go, go!” my friend shrieked, pushing on my back. And we were in, and loose in the aisles.

Let’s just say that I have seen the dark side of humanity in the aisles of Target and Best Buy. Shelves were decimated, discarded stock lay in the aisles, and shoppers raced with deadly accuracy to the item they were intent on grabbing. I decided to look for my friend; I would help her tote her television to the counter and think about what I needed to purchase. All gift ideas had flown from my brain, and I couldn’t even remember the names and ages of my loved ones, let alone their wish lists. I needed either sleep or a lot more coffee.

My friend had somehow attained the super-human strength one hears about when a child is trapped under a car. She was carrying an entire flat-screen television by herself. “Go get in line!” she shouted, and I turned and fled to check-out, which was already looking like the floor of the New York Stock Exchange — circulars and print-outs all over the floor, people running to and fro with panic etched on their faces, sound system shouting out deals and steals. “I’m scared,” I mumbled to no one in particular.

So, I eventually returned home — exhausted, gift-less, and frightened of my fellow man. There are some things one just shouldn’t see, and a superstore at dawn on Black Friday is one of them. I am going to go out on Christmas Eve and buy the bulk of my gifts, like every decent American should. So those of you going out on Black Friday, be kind to one another. Try to not punch your fellow man too hard as you reach for the last coffee maker, television, or “Elsa from Frozen” bath towel. This is America; there is always another way to get what you want.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! It really is a legitimate holiday, so I hope you relaxed and enjoyed it!