Monday, November 29, 2010

When Black Friday Comes

Have you ever had something happen to you -- something so dramatic and disturbing -- that you needed several days to overcome the trauma before you were ready to talk about it openly?

I have.

I call it "Last Friday." Others might know it by its common name, "Black Friday, 2010."

Six days have passed since I experienced what no man should. Six days since I lost a chunk of my soul.

My story begins like most stories, at the beginning. It was Thanksgiving Day. Our family celebrated at my parent's house. My mother decided to attempt a traditional turkey dinner.

Though I give her credit, it's been hard to wash away the memories of the last time she hosted this remembrance of that crazy feast between pilgrims and indians about four hundred years ago. As I recall, my mother decided to cook a large turkey breast in the oven. Seems harmless enough. But, when she decided to cook all of the other dinner items in the same oven, things got a little crowded, slowing the actual cooking to a crawl. The wait was painful that day. We were supposed to eat at around three. It wasn't until sometime after seven that the breast was finally finished in the microwave.

So, kudos to her for getting back on the horse. And extra-large kudos to me for allowing her a second chance. Though I'm sure she was hell-bent on redemption, something other than that actually happened.

This time my mother would not make us wait for our Thanksgiving meal. In fact, so efficient was the cooking of the turkey, she called us at home two hours before we were supposed to arrive, to tell us the little meat button thermometer thingy had popped up from the skin of the roasting poultry.

Now, when the button pops, in theory the cooking should cease. I made this point abundtantly clear while I had my mother on the phone. "Take it out of the oven NOW!" Abundant enough, don't you think?

Unfortunately, my mother ignored my command and the cooking continued. In fact, the cooking continued...until our family arrived. As we entered my parent's home, I quickly shed my jacket and shoes and made my way to the oven. But, like a paramedic arriving at the scene of a major auto accident after stopping for ice cream along the way, I was unable to help the poor, dried up bird, looking more like the winner of "Survivor Great Lakes" than a Thanksgiving meal.

"I told you to take it out! Why didn't you take it out?" I shouted.

Maybe if I was allergic to moist and tasty meat this all would be considered acceptable. But I have no such affliction.

After dinner my wife and I discussed the fact that we had yet to do any of our Christmas shopping. She had reviewed a number of "Black Friday" circulars that came inside our morning paper. A few items on our kids' wish list were available as "doorbuster" specials at places like Toys R Us, Target, Walmart and Best Buy.

Seeing that this may be our only opportunity to get such items at such a low cost, I asked my wife if she wanted to accept the challenge and be a part of the shopping mayhem early the next morning. She agreed and plans were set. To Target at 4 a.m., then Walmart at 5 a.m. Then, home by six with a trunk-full of doorbuster loot.


The next morning we woke at 3:30. Second thoughts crept into my head, but only for a moment. We were doing this -- no turning back. Turning back was for pussies. I would later find out turning back was for pussies and smart people.

There was no time to shower. We dressed, climbed into the minivan and headed to our neighborhood Target. On the way, my wife reviewed the circulars -- one last opportunity to check the game plan. All systems were go.

Then, we turned into the main parking lot.

Holy crap. Target was about ten minutes from opening. The other stores in the plaza were many hours from opening, yet we took one of the last spaces in the lot. It was cold and the walk to the storefront was long. As we approached the main entrance we noticed people were already on their way in. A line had formed. A long line. No, a really long line. We made our way to the back of the now crazy-long line that wrapped all the way to the back of the building. Forget second thoughts, doubt now reared it's ugly headed and started to laugh in my general direction.

All along the perimeter of the building were remnants of people who decided that showing up at 4 a.m. for a 4 a.m. opening just might be just a little too late. Tents, chairs and litter decorated the outside of the building. Like the Mayans, these mysterious people were now long gone -- inside and most likely buying one of the four doorbuster 82" Plasma TVs that were selling for 15 bucks a piece.

By the time we got inside, there were no carts left. My wife hijacked a cart left alone near the bras -- apparantly there were no doorbusters in female underwear.

We followed a swarm of people back to electronics. Everyone with the same agenda -- televisions, game systems, computers. About fifty feet from paydirt we hit gridlock. I told my wife to hold onto the cart in case she suddenly found herself swept into the undertow of a mad rush of cartless people. The cartless have their own rules. They sweep impatiently around those using carts, like motorcyclist on the highway, passing without any care for rules and etiquette.

The crush of people was more intense as we neared the electronics desk. This is most assuredly how a worker bee feels as he approaches the queen in the hive.

So close, yet so far.

Something came over me. I knew our cart was holding us back. In a moment of selflessness, I asked me wife to let go of the cart so that she could get closer to the electronics aisle. There, someone would be able to help her, to answer her questions and perhaps guide her to the XBox 360 our son had on his list. It was a doorbuster afterall. She let go and looked back at me, but only for a moment, then she was gone into a sea of shoppers. I prayed the gods of retail would keep her safe.

From there I took my cart and turned down another less busy aisle -- baby furniture. I circled back and waited. After about ten minutes went by. I decided I needed to find my wife. I left the cart near the lightbulbs, another safe zone, and threw myself into the growing hoard in electronics. I pushed through the mass of bodies, up and down each packed aisle. Then, as I was about to give up, I saw her. I caught a break, found an opening in the throng and slid in to save her. I pulled her by the arm back through the opening before it closed on us for good.

"Are you alright?"

"Yes, I think. Are you?"

"Of course. Any luck?"

"No. We should go."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes. Is that okay?"

"It's fine with me. You don't need any bras, light bulbs or baby furniture, do you?"



We left the store as quickly as we came. Actually quicker because we didn't have to wait in line to get out.

Once outside my wife started to cry, to breakdown.

"What? What happened back there?" I begged.

No response.

I knew that my wife needed time to heal. I needed time to heal.

So, it's been six days. Six long, hard days.

I still feel disappointment and regret.

No disappointment bigger than not seeing two 300-pound women fighting over the last doorbuster Sing-a-ma-jig. And no regret bigger than picking up a pack of clear 60-watt lightbulbs for the ceiling fan in the master bedroom that we actually needed. Now I have to go out again for the lightbulbs. Dammit.

Next year, on Black Friday 2011, I'm sleeping in. And, if I want to see 300-pound women throwing down over some useless piece of crap, I'll watch me some Jerry Springer.

As for this year. I could blame myself, but we all know the turkey made me do it.

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