Friday, November 23, 2007

The Black Friday Blues

Today is Black Friday, the day that American retailers offer deep cuts on their “come-on” items in an effort to pack their stores with rabid shoppers. It’s a day that I refuse to shop, preferring instead to view the mayhem on television in the comfort of my apartment.

I have friends who act normally the other three-hundred-and-sixty-four days of the year, but happily throw sensibility to the winds on Black Friday. They map out strategies much as a football coach diagrams plays, to identify the order of the stores that they will attack along with the priorities for goods-grabbing inside of each store. Many arrive at their primary target well before daylight, and stand in cold lines thinking of the money they are destined to save if they can just get to their items first. Once the doors are open, the melee hardly even qualifies as shopping; it is more like a competition to see who can capture what while suffering the least personal injury. If shoppers can enrage others as they grapple for goods, well, that’s just gravy!

Two ladies I know work in a tag-team armed with cell phones and a list of what both are seeking. One might hit the mega toy store and shop for all of their children, while the other does the same at a sports store. When questions arise, they call each other for clarification. Later in the evening they meet to divvy up the booty and settle accounts.

I could never wade into the Black Friday madness, even if I had a partner-in-crime and a foolproof plan. It’s a question of the value of sanity, and I place the preservation of mine well above any possible savings on a flat-screen television or a steam powered chainsaw.

Years ago I had to stop at the Fayetteville, AR, mall for some urgent item. It wasn’t Black Friday, but it was a Saturday afternoon during the holiday shopping season. I managed to pry into the crowd, only to realize that I was totally at its mercy. Like a longhorn on a cattle drive, I could only go where the herd went. When I did manage to get into the store that I sought, it was so crowded that I couldn’t get to the counter, much less get served. I managed to pry my way back into the herd and move along mindlessly until it veered close enough to an exit for me to make an escape. All along the way I kept thinking, “What if I fall down? Will anyone even notice? When they clean up tonight will I be nothing more that an unexplained stain on the floor?” The answer to all of those questions was a probable “yes.”

I don’t like noise, or being jostled, pushed, or cursed by idiots. I won’t do Black Fridays, and I won’t shop at Wal-Mart.

Shopping for bargains, however, does not have to involve the loss of one’s dignity or sanity. Retailers have reached into cyberspace and now offer “unbeatable” deals over the internet. This Monday will be “Cyber Monday”, the on-line equivalent of Black Friday. On Cyber Monday consumers can visit any on-line store, carefully read the product specifications over a lazy cup of coffee, compare similar items from any number of other stores, and make intelligent purchases without the threat of bodily harm. Most on-line stores offer free shipping, and many will even gift wrap. Cyber Monday may lack the excitement of Black Friday, but it offers an easier, smarter, and safer way to shop.

If I wanted to risk being trampled, I'd rather fly to Pamplona and take my chances with the bulls!

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