November 24

Black Friday


You remember the nightmare of a previous Black Friday.

A special “door buster” sale offered incredible deals at a nearby department store warehouse/outlet.  The newspaper advertisement promised a videocassette recorder for only $50 dollars (20 units available).  Your roomate broke your old machine, and you hadn’t been able to afford a replacement — so you’d gone without movie rentals the past few months, and missed episodes of ER since you weren’t able to tape them.  But you could manage $50, just barely.

The door buster items were on sale from 8 to 10 am on Black Friday.  You and your roommate arrived at 7:20, thinking you’d have a good shot at the deal.

There were definitely more than 20 people ahead of you.  The line stretched away from the closed front doors, along the sidewalk then curving into the perimeter of the nearly-full parking lot.

“Looks like about 200 people.”

“They’re probably not all getting VCRs.”

Your roommate was fullfilling his role as moral support, but you shushed him.  He wasn’t supposed to mention the item you wanted, to avoid giving other shoppers the same idea.

“Not everybody’s getting electronics,” he corrected.  “Most people probably already have electronics in their home.”

“Yeah, unless somebody broke it.”

The early morning was surprisingly chilly, even for late November.  You were underdressed and bored, shifting your weight from one foot to the other, rubbing ungloved hands over your thinly jacketed arms.  Your roommate wandered off, scouting the line — now stretching behind you, too, weaving its own chaotic pattern around the parked cars.

“A few people have the newspaper with them,” he said when he returned from his mission.  “Saw a few you-know-whats circled in ink.”

It was going to be close.  Maybe there’d be a rush forward when the doors opened.  Maybe you’d find the right section quickly, go directly to the relevant shelf while others wandered aimlessly.

Trouble was, you’d never been to this warehouse before.  Would they have the “door buster” items stacked out front, or scattered in clearly-designated areas?

You again tried to hug some warmth into your body.  A gust of wind blew through the air, and in addition to the biting cold you noticed the ominous whistle of it, as if the wind put everyone on alert.  You realized people in the crowd had stopped talking:  they were all focused on their shopping goals, planning their attack once the doors opened.

7:55 finally arrived.  5 more minutes.

Then a sudden murmur spread through the crowd.  The doors were opening early.

In that moment, the vague integrity of the line exploded.   People ran for the front, regardless of their position.  Folks at the end of the line, where it had wrapped completely around the perimeter of the parking lot, took a more direct route to the open doors.

And you ran, too, forgetting the cold as you merged with the warm mush of the stampede.  Any other day, you would have been courteous enough to wave a few people ahead.  An elderly gentleman, or a family with an infant in a stroller.  Not on Black Friday.  You turned sideways, wedged a shoulder between two other shoppers, and pushed.

Wedge and repeat.  Wedge and repeat.

People surrounded you on all sides.  You’d lost track of your roomate, and couldn’t even tell if you were pointed in the right direction.  All you saw were wool overcoats or puffy down-filled jackets.   A sickly odor of nervous sweat filled your nostrils.

You broke through the crowd, emerged into fluorescent light and gray-tiled floors.  And merchandise.

Aisles and aisles of merchandise.  Above them, billboard-sized letters announced different sections:  HOME APPLIANCES, FURNITURE, AUTOMOTIVE.

Masses of people swarmed in different directions.  The largest mass swarmed towards the aisles in the ELECTRONICS section.

Televisions, you told yourself.  They all want big-screen televisions.

You rushed into that section, passing the TVs and Stereo Systems and Cameras looking for flat rectangluar boxes stacked on a shelf.

Many of the shelves you passed were already empty.  You finally found the section of video recorders.  All of the items were bait-and-switch specials:  reduced, yes, but still way out of your price range.

Dejected, you pushed at a few of the boxes on the shelf.  As you slid aside a dual-deck priced at $238, you noticed a modest box behind it that didn’t match its neighbors.  Plain brown cardboard with generic black lettering.

Could it be…?

You started to reach for it.

Two large arms lurched into view, grabbing the item and pulling it from the shelf.  “The fifty dollar special” a deep voice said.  “Thanks, buddy.”

There’s an ettiquette to shopping, usually.  You let people ahead of you if they’ve got a single item.  You help a fellow shopper reach an item from the top shelf.   And you respect the person who “got there first,” never dreaming of swooping in to snatch their intended purchases.

But if it’s Black Friday, all bets are off.  This guy, who looks like he should be buying more free-weights in the SPORTING GOODS section, who could lift a refrigerator out of KITCHENWARE without needing a handcart…he took the deal right from under your nose.

By Black Friday rules, it was rightfully his.

Unless, by the alternate, unwritten Black Friday rules, you snatched it back from him.

If you followed him in the store, distracted him, then took the VCR from his shopping cart.

If you stopped by the TOOLS aisle along the way, borrowed a free-swinging axe, or lifted a floor-model chainsaw and flipped a switch to set the toothy chain in rapid motion.

He couldn’t enjoy a video player without a head.  If other shoppers got in your way they’d end up collateral damage, bodies falling, heads rolling down aisles, and by the end of your spree, you’d have 2 or 3 door-buster VCRs to choose from.

You were overcome with shopping mania.  You raced out of the store, empty-handed, before you did anything crazy.

In the parking lot outside, you waited in the cold for your roommate to emerge.  You imagined him walking aimlessly in the store, hands in front grasping at air, searching for his severed head.

Ever since, you vowed to stay at home on Black Friday.  You did most of your holiday shopping from the computer.

Probably Black Friday is even worse after the apocalypse…even though the crowds will have died down.  No need for the stores to offer door-buster discounts, since the doors are already busted open.   The shelves are all empty, if they’re still standing.   There might be a few traces of police chalk on the ground, with an aura of bloodstains helping to outline the sprawled or exploded shapes.

All the more reason to stay home this year.