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Monday, November 28, 2005

Black Friday: The Funniest Shopping Day of the Year

Do you know why the Friday after Thanksgiving is called "Black" Friday?

No. Unlike "Black Monday," so-named because it brought the loss of great amounts of wealth in October of 1929 and 1987, Black Friday is supposed to carry with it a positive connotation. It is the first day of the year most retailers begin to see a profit-- they are no longer running in the red, but are now running in the black.

Positive, you say? Black Friday is positive??

What about the traffic, the long-lines, the impossible lack of parking, the angry shoppers, and the good deals gone bad?

True. True.

But if you could just step back from the melee of the moment and watch what is going on around you, the day would take on a whole new meaning.

Especially if you revel in the misery of others.

For three years I was the one behind the register when you brave souls left the safety of your couches to score a few Doorbuster items.

Last year I took a break on Black Friday and stayed home.

This past Friday I was up, bright and early, ready to conquer all retail. "I'll be a pro," I thought to myself. After my retail experience, I know what to expect. Piece of cake.

But now I know the truth: there is safety behind the register; if you aren't wearing a nametag, you are fair game.

I wanted one of the $20 1:10 scale RC Hummers Wal-Mart had advertised for sale Friday morning. (The past 2 Christmases I have reverted to asking for toys I never got as a child).

Knowing how stores are likely to purchase a limited supply of an item and sale it for ridiculously low prices in order to lure you in the door, I wanted to make sure I grabbed mine early. The sale started at 5:00 a.m. So I was up and ready at 4:15 a.m.

A couple days before I'd gone by this Wal-Mart to buy a couple items and I scouted out the toy/electronics department. They were right next to each other. Not a good sign.

When I arrived at 4:30, the parking lot was already half-full. Upon entering, however, the front of the store was eerily calm. I beat a hasty path in the direction of the toys. Half-way to the back of the store my nightmare began.

I was ducking and weaving in and out of aisles and pallets full of cheap crap left as obstacles to speedy shoppers. When I arrived in my desired department, I was stopped cold. The line of people clogging the aisles extended beyond my line-of-sight. And it was only 4:40.

After 5 minutes of skillful approach, I found myself in the toys. But there were no $20 RC cars to be found. Fortunately, there were plenty of employees and I was able to ask for directions. "The $20 Hummers?" (Only in Wal-Mart.) "They are in the main aisle of the grocery department."

Twenty-five minutes. That is how long it took to get about 250 feet. That would be about 60 seconds for each 10 feet I had to go. I am sure the length of the path I took was, in fact, much longer.

In a store that crowded, it would be understandable for a person to accidentally bang their shopping cart into the back of your heels once.

To do so twice is excusable.

To do so three times brings you to the verge of using a few choice words.

But to do so four times--over the course of 45 seconds--can make your eyes glow red, your teeth begin to clench, and your hands tense into fists as you look over your shoulder at the completely oblivious woman behind you and ask:

"What the HELL is your problem, woman?!"

Sometimes, doesn't it just feel as if "sorry" is not enough, not nearly enough. But you can't--you mustn't--get too agressive with the Oblivions existing around you, and risk losing the opportunity to leave the store with such great bargains as exist in the form of a $20 1:10 Scale RC Hummer.

I later drove the short distance to the city where my wife was staying with her parents, and we went to the Mall, and Target, and I stayed in the car while she shopped in Linens n Things.

I found her in the middle of the Mall on a wooden bench with her head in her hands, sobbing.

Why? You ask.

Because she found that Wilson's Leather had soft leather jackets on sale, regularly $149.99 . . . for $69.99. And I have always wanted a soft leather button-down jacket. All they had were the zip-up jackets. When she asked the store clerk if there were anymore button-downs in my size, the clerk pointed to a customer just leaving the store and blithely reported, "I just sold the last one to that woman."

Damn Black Friday. I am not upset over not getting my jacket. I just couldn't believe she'd get so upset over missing the chance to buy it.

It broke my heart.

Two years ago I opened on Black Friday at 5:00 a.m. The shoppers steadily wandered in until about 8:00, when by then I don't believe a single one had left but were all milling around making the place very very warm.

The lines at each of the four registers in my quad extended back a good 30 feet, when a woman finally made it to me carrying about $1,000 worth of name-brand bedding products. After I rang them all up, she decided she wanted to apply for a credit card to save an extra 10%.

So I voided the transaction and quickly went through the terms of the card (which should always happen) and we were completing the application on the register when a customer about 3 back began to complain.

About me.

"F-----g incompetent people they hire around here! What is his g-----n problem? As much time as its taking him up there, he can't get anything right."

Of course she said this loud enough for myself and many of the customers around to hear. I believe she must have thought she could start a revolt--the one lone voice speaking up for those around her. Rally, fellow shoppers! Viva la revolucion! The store is ours!!

But it didn't work.

Instead, the lady behind her spoke over her shoulder--again, as much to me as anyone else-- "Shut the f--- up. He's doing his job. And watch your mouth."

Fat Pseudo-Revolutionary: "Are you talking to me?"

My Hero: "Of course, who else around is acting like an ass but you?"

Fat Pseudo-Revolutionary: "You need to keep your g-----n mouth shut."

My Hero: "You want to shut it for me? Hmm? How about we set our stuff down and take this outside?"

It was about that time, as the first woman became silent at the threat of violence, that a manager approached and asked if there was a problem. Both women were in agreement, there was not.

I think I gave my hero an extra 10% off her purchase. After all, she was willing to go to jail for my honor.

And she gave me a great story to chuckle about the rest of the day.

The moral of all this, if there is one, is this: It is the Christmas season. Enjoy it.


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