Black Friday. Did you know that the term comes from the fact that in the old days retailers went “into the black” for the year on the day after Thanksgiving? So basically something that sounds dark and foreboding actually means stores are turning a profit. But to me “Black Friday” is dark. It brings out the greed and selfishness and aggression in people that you don’t see during the other 364 days of the year. Black Friday is just as it sounds. Like a black hole, Black Friday is such a strong force that not even light can escape.
Think about it…excluding the few whose fanaticism for fiction rules them to the point of camping out for a week for tickets to Harry Potter, Star Wars, Twilight or Rent, what other phenomenon in our society makes sane people do something as bizarre as lining up on a freezing cold, wet sidewalk at 3:00 am so they can save $82 on a TV they don’t need?
My experience with Black Friday has, fortunately, been somewhat limited. I married into a family that has long made a tradition of attending the Fred Meyer 6-Hour Sale…which most natives refer to as “The Sock Sale”. Let me give you a little rundown on the sock sale. For the sock sale Fred Meyer lines the aisles of their store with cardboard bins and fills them with socks. Socks of all different sizes and colors. Socks for men, socks for women, socks for trannies, socks for kids, socks for babies, socks for dogs and cats and robots and things that don’t even have feet. They’re everywhere. Then, for 6 hours only!, Freddies sells you these socks for 50% off. ½ off socks, you say? That’s like only paying for one foot! Sure it is, but when’s the last time you paid $15 for a 3-pack of socks anyway? And what’s wrong with the socks you bought last year? I hope I’m not about to sound ignorant here, but I don’t think many socks go out of style.
So now you’re thinking “oh, so a handful of people wander into the store before 11:00am to get some cheap foot warmers”. Poor poor you. Before you started reading my blog you also probably thought everyone just simply flushed the toilet when they pooped too. No…people don’t just wander in at 10:00 to get inexpensive socks. The doors open at 5:00am which means people are lined up for an hour (or more, I don’t know because I’ve never been there THAT early) to get in line for this thing. It's dark as night outside which is a more fitting reason to call it Black Friday. Most of these people are women. Many are dressed in sweat pants and silly hats that shouldn’t be worn outside the ski slopes. But listen, it’s cold and people need to bundle. Now Freddies knows all this so they have a mountain of donut holes as well as tubs and tubs of coffee to warm you up once those magic doors allow you entry.
I have never been at the front of the line when the doors open, but I would imagine it’s chaos. I’m nearly certain that the lunatics who arrived early enough to be at the front of the line start chanting something rhythmically, then when the doors open they throw their hands up over their heads, start screaming wildly and break into a dead sprint toward the sock bins. Multiple entrances are opened simultaneously so I also have to imagine that two or three hoards converge on the socks at full speed and they come together like two battling armies from Braveheart. Soon socks are flying in the air like the Muppet Chef making food. Women are crying. Children are missing and left for dead. As I said, it’s chaos.
You’re probably also thinking (rationally) that people probably buy a 3-pack of socks or maybe two and then browse the rest of the store, then head out and go home with warm feet. No. Those who are crazy enough to try shoving a shopping cart through this crowd begin filling their baskets FULL. They use their carts as battering rams to force their way through the sea of people in an attempt to turn it into a river of people. No one…NO ONE…makes eye contact. There is one focus and one focus only…THE SOCKS. To look someone in the face is to humanize them and these people around you are standing between you and your prize. These are people you may have to trample later. There is no room for mercy. There is no room for friendliness. There is no courtesy. There is you and there is socks.
Once you have your fill you push your way toward the register. It’s like fighting a strong undertow. You’re pressing forward but moving backward. You’re struggling to see, struggling to breathe. You sense that you’re pointed in the right direction. You’ve given up on seeing your friends/family again. They are lost somewhere else in this disaster and it’s every man for himself. The Titanic has sunk and the life boats are gone. You’re just thrashing around and trying not to drown. Then, by dumb luck, you find it. It’s the line! But where are the registers? “Is this the line?” you ask. “Grunt” says the lady in front of you. Someone farts, but nobody reacts because you don’t interact here. You stand on your toes…nothing. You jump. You think you see something. You jump again. There it is! It’s a cashier…why is she so small? Oh, because she’s a quarter mile from you. How are you going to carry all these socks for the time and distance it’s going to take to get THERE? You feel like you just took all the laundry out of the dryer and you’re carrying it to the spot you like to fold it, but you have to wait 40 minutes before you can set it down. Socks occasionally tumble off the pile and you have to decide if it’s worth it to try to bend over and pick them up.
Eventually you get to the register and you’re exhausted. It’s 7:40 am, you’ve been here (including standing in line) for nearly 3 hours now and the cashier starts ringing up your purchases. Beep. Beep. Beep. Socks are being swiped over the barcode scanner. Beep beep beep beep. What the hell? Oh my God. $44, $62, $84…I just spent $92 on SOCKS? What the hell is going on? WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON? WHERE IS CHRISTMAS!?!!??!?!?!?!?!
Now that you know the damage, you have instant buyers’ remorse. You’re sad. You know you’ve done something wrong but you can’t fix it. Why did you just buy all these socks? Your sock drawer is already stuffed full at home. You start to despair when the answer stares you right in the face. There they are…the remnants of the donut hole mountain! If you’re going to spend the better part of $100 on socks you’re going to make damn sure you get your money’s worth. You grab a napkin and you start to make a structurally sound stack of donut balls on your hand. You make a base of 4 but it looks too small. You add two more and you have a 6 ball base. Now you stack two more on top and throw two in your mouth and you’re at 10. You grab a cup of juice and you just start eating away your sorrows. Later, when you wake up from your morning nap you feel like you were hit by a car. Hit by a car? Oh, right…the rest of the story…
One year my mom came to pick me to go to the sock sale. I answered the door 90% asleep and said I just couldn’t do it. She and my cousin went to the sale and I went back to bed…for 5 minutes…and then realized I needed to do this for my family. I threw on some clothes and drove the 45 second drive to Freddies from my house at that time. It was snowing that morning and there was about an inch on the roads. I parked at Freddies, no small feat. I saw an enormous line outside the store and started walking up and down looking for my mom and cousin. I couldn’t find them. It was so crowded that I had to walk on the outside of the cars, somewhat in the parking lot itself. All of a sudden BANG! Something hit me on the elbow. It spun me around. I turned and threw a half punch with my other hand and found my hand sliding across the passing window of a Suburban SUV. You probably think I'm making this up, but it's 100% true. I was hit by a car (granted, there was no injury) in the Fred Meyer parking lot by a crazed sock shopper...technically a hit and run.
The point is, be safe out there. Black Friday can kill you.