None more black

Thousands of people converge, scratching and clawing their way through just opened doorways, scrambling to put their master plan to work. The singular focus is finding a deal; on a conscience-easing gluttony, whereby expensive items are justified by their lowered price tag, an inordinate amount of cash dropped when penny pinching might have otherwise been exhibited.

Everyone is in the same line. You turn around and it seems as if everyone has moved into your scope of vision. Everywhere you look: red faces, fingers grasping for their credit cards, exhausted eyelids slowly closing over bloodshot eyes.

Some had mapped out a campaign the day before, spending more time being resourceful than thankful. Others camped out – two days ahead of time! – to bring home an item to which little emotion will be connected in a month or two.

Need! Want! Have! It’s not consumerism or a product-driven kickoff to the holiday season that’s so horrible – it’s the sense of entitlement, that these people deserve the best deal and no one else can possibly stop them.

I’ve been in the business before. I’ve stood on the other side of a teeming mass of shoppers, staring at them through the glass doors as a Best Buy opened, my blue shirt and khaki pants prepared for the worse. My eyelids were equally heavy, my eyes equally bloodshot. And in watching from the other side, I discovered how truly despicable humanity can be when you step between the entitled and their prey. I’ve seen pushing. Shoving. Items stolen behind another shopper’s back.

For me, the end of the magic came in 1996. At 6:00 AM – the typical opening time before this 4 AM ridiculousness came to pass – I watched people rush for a free scanner. The numbers were not equal – there was one fewer scanner than there was people. A middle-aged man, beginning to gray, seemingly middle-class, with a tucked-in golf shirt and a wife elsewhere in the store.

The man turned to the older woman next to him – a woman who couldn’t be any younger than 70. He sensed opportunity, grabbed the scanner from her hands, turned and walked away.

My faith in humanity – during this, the beginning of this country’s most intimate time, a holiday that causes each person to give a little more and dig a little deeper – was soiled.

So to me, Black Friday is more than a day to brave the throes of consumerism, ducking your head and barging into the mix with little regard for anything but your needs and your safety. To me, it’s the worst of our culture. It’s over the top, mob-like hooliganism, sponsored by Target and underwritten by Best Buy. Everything is uphill once the day has passed; it’s the season’s lowest point.

And yet, I find myself in that mix. Every year. Muttering to myself, wondering what the hell I’m doing, participating in the hooliganism, as if I was tipping over rubbish bins in order not to be outed. This year, a broken television was to be replaced. And replaced it was.

Black Friday is necessary. It kick starts our economy every holiday season. It’s as much a part of Thanksgiving as turkey and the Detroit Lions. Really, as much as I hate to say it, it’s a crucial part of being an American. It’s a train wreck, a bloody, gory mess on the side of the Interstate, a horrible sight that you’re both repulsed by and driven to. I hate it. I love it. Most of all, I’m frightened by it – by what it means, by what it exposes in each of us, by the different people we become. Some are strong enough to resist it. They’re smart. But they’re also missing all the fun.

Really, when you stand back and take a look at it – peer at it through a magnifying glass and examine each pore and follicle, it’s a phenomenon that can never be contained.

In other words – it’s a horrible day to have your television go out on you.

This was lovingly handwritten on November 23rd, 2007