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The sorry reality of “Black Friday”
No one is welcome in Tonawanda, New York. Not even residents of this shit-hole Levittown, just a stone's throw from the crumbling corpse of Buffalo, feel welcome there—not even on Thanksgiving.
Most Americans consciously overlook the years of war and havoc our European ancestors bestowed upon Native Americans, which dates back to almost a quarter of a millennium at this point. And while the celebration of Thanksgiving is a tribute to the mythical friendship our Puritan forefathers established with the Indians, the hardships we unleashed on them are generally ignored.
It's been only a few hours since the tryptophan festivities of Thanksgiving came to a close at my grandmother's house, and with the hour hand barely inching past midnight, it's hard to miss that something out of the ordinary is going on in Tonawanda this morning. The only thing that this suburb offers other than white-bread middle-class suburbanites, latchkey kids and incessant convoys of mini-vans, is shopping. Just a short trip from the declining rust-belt berg of Buffalo, Tonawanda offers a selection of just about every chain of retailer available. Today is their day.
For decades, stores across the country have been holding “Black Friday” sales the day after Thanksgiving to officially signify the start of the holiday shopping season, and this year is no different. When the post-Vietnam-era recession came to a close during the first Bush administration of the early ‘90s, what was once just a popular shopping day turned into a chaotic clusterfuck of sales and assault. Affordable home computers and technological whats-its and gadgets were highly sought after during the dawn of the internet age, and stores heard the call. Black Friday became a ritualistic celebration of consumerism. Fifteen years later and the deals are still there, and the cheapos have only gotten cheaper.
As the troops move in, the only thing these blackened souls are thankful for this year are iPods and credit cards. As my posse makes plans to congregate near Sheridan Drive, the hub of consumerism within the Northtowns of Buffalo, hostility is already widespread beneath the ominous glow of parking lot lights. Turning lanes are garbled by angry single moms,with limited understanding of the signaling functions of the modern automobile. It's a sea of brake lights, and I am drowning. If we are going to get a deal this morning, we are going to need a plan.
"We" are twenty somethings. Four of us. Males. The only ones in the group of shoppers assembling outside of Kohl's department store at 1:30 in the morning. Many are here for linens; myself, a sweater. But with the earliest opening hour of the morning (Kohl's is ahead of the game by opening it's doors at 4), we figure this is the best place to start.
Personally, I figure the best place to start is at the end of a bottle. Or five. My zombie stagger to the front of Kohl's went far from unnoticed, and the women were clearly not ready for an invaision of inebriated men with no real commitment to the Black Friday tradition to keep them from getting their Cusinarts.
Tony Bradshiff, a twenty-nine year old Buffalo native has joined our group. He has come for a Kitchen-Aid mixer for his girlfriend, discounted 60% off of its usual price. "You give a girl one of these and BAM! Seven hour blow job right there." Tony has brought a football. Tony is black and huge. His dreadlocks dwarf the suburban Kathys and Susans that are just starting to make their way out of their SUVs. Tony is threatened immediately.
Some women started at Kohl's early, mid to late evening, by marking their territory at the front gate with lawn chairs and blankets. These were quickly abandoned for shotgun spots on their heated beaded seat covers and the stereo surround sound of adult contemporary. As Tony heads to the door, confrontation is instant: Car doors swing open and a bevy of overweight middle-aged women advance. The dialogue is predictable: "You can't stand there! That is my spot! Get in line!" They came out in droves; fatties with Tweety Bird sweaters, clenching thermoses of Tim Horton's finest. The “Git-R-Done” decals on the rear windshields are anything but ironic.
And here is the crowd on Black Friday. Fat, cranky women. My outfit of half a dozen layers is topped off with a trench-coat, a ski mask, and a cheap Canadian beer. In this suburban setting, Tony and I are equally menacing, yet we pose barely a worry to those dead set on abandoning their families on Thanksgiving for cheap coffee makers. I know how the Indians felt.
Solace is found with Jackie Kuze, a 43-year-old law clerk from Tonawanda.
Waiting with us, the bark of those waiting in their cars hit her the hardest.
She is a woman, and despite my obvious intoxication, she is the only one
contemplating raising a fist to a rabid alpha female trying to dominate
the line outside Kohls. It's two a.m. and the line is almost fifty strong.
"It's fucking freezing outside," Jackie told me, more than a
few times. "What are you doing here, then?" I asked her. I breathed
stale alcohol from the wet mouth hole of my ski mask and onto her blueing
Two dozen bored, frozen women launch into the terrible Alanis Morrisette song, “Ironic,” on cue. This was going to be a long day.
When the doors opened, it was in and out. The alcohol hit me hard the moment I stood up. I stumbled into the front door and grabbed a mid-sized shopping cart. Remembering I had no real purpose there, I began doing donuts on the polyester carpet. I hopped on the rear axle and propelled myself straight into the cardigans. The warmth was well earned, and with Tony's direction, we hit the front register. We were in and out in four minutes.
Kohl's was a success: Tony got his blender, and to the best of my understanding,
life-threatening fellatio. Toys-R-Us was next on our list.
"So, what are you doing here?" I asked Sharon Starr, age 55, who appeared dumbfounded that someone would ask that, let alone a small man in a ski mask.
"Shopping. I came here to shop."
Well, all right. Unlike most of the Circuit City herd, Sharon was actually within sight of the store's massive red facade. I'll be damned if she could see it though; Sharon had been there since 10am Thanksgiving morning. "I do this every year. I wait. I do what I have to." I was the one feeling guilty for celebrating this mockery of a holiday by feasting and having fun hours earlier; Sharon was camping out for a camcorder. Or something like that.
"Well, what are you waiting for, exactly?""I'll have you know that if you intend on cutting me in line, I will have you arrested. I've had the police out here twice already."
The bitch wasn't joking. She was old, distressed, and not about to let anyone stop her from blowing all of her family's money. She seemed like the type that typically would purchase leopard print pillowcases with social security checks. Despite her early arrival, she was still more than a dozen spots back from the front of the store. A series of steel reinforcements had been called in to keep the line in order, and clearly a few metal bars were not going to do the job. Sharon felt threatened, and asked me to leave. I could not fathom talking to a fifty-year-old women who had been in line for a television for twenty hours and clearly hated the world, so I silently wondered how much force it would take to snap her neck.
MIke Bush was two meters away and laughing his ass off. He was one of the few that Sharon had called the cops on already. What was he there for? "Nothing. I don't know, it's just fucking funny. The door will open and I will run over them and find something on sale. Whatever." If I shed a few layers, I could definitely mobilize just as fast as Mike and his crew. They were half a dozen strong, and clearly intended on intervening with Starr and Company's plans. A local squad car was parked only a few feet down the no parking lane. The officer was reclined, with his eyes closed, dreaming of anything that wasn't this fiasco.
"Excuse me, yes, I'm with the press, can I just ask you a few questions about tonight?"
"I'm busy," he replied.
Every year, the news will report on the Black Friday savings extravanga. It's the same videoclip, updated annually, of a few hundred people running into a store, waving vouches and newspaper ads, and perhaps a minor trampling incident. If you're lucky, your newscaster will follow it up with a remark on a domestic dispute outside a store, or perhaps someone that passed out due to exhaustion. I intended on being there for it this year. Last year, mistakingly stumbling into a BJ's Wholesale Club during the holiday shopping rush, I witnessed a thirty-year-old man split his head open over a XBox360. If the Wii can outsell the Xbox, surely the violence was going to be a cut above this season, and I wanted to be apart of it.
When the doors opened up, Matt ran in. The cop stayed in his car. I walked to Old Navy. In my intoxicated state, I thought I looked damn good in a pea coat. The first fifty people to spend more than $25 got a free, shoddily made mp3 player. Mine came preloaded with generic pop rock that would make Johnny Rzeznick puke. I never could erase the files, and the player itself was broken by Monday.
With each store overflowing with consumo-tards, I was overlooked, even
in all my drunken, piss-stained glory. How alert are the cashiers going
to be at five a.m. anyway? You know no one outside of high school has
any interest in working retail. People came, they waited, they got their
shit and they went home. Tired people don't ask questions; they just fucking
go with it. The retailers wave the bait and we take the bite. It's only
a matter of time before the pea coat tests positive for smallpox and we're
starting this shit all over again. Some progress.
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