The one Black Friday item that Anne and I wanted more than any other this year was cheap pillows. We’re that old now.
I don’t know if your local strip malls have Bath & Body Works stores, but ’round these parts they’re the uncontested champions of creating and marketing soaps, shampoo, shower gels, lotions, sprays, and other assorted cleansing liquids in imaginative flavors, scents, or made-up poetic themes. You can’t buy just one B&BW item in a given kind such as Juniper Breeze, Country Apple, Twilight Woods, Midnight Pomegranate, Dancing Waters, or Warm Vanilla Sugar. You have to collect the entire set or else your bathroom cabinet contents won’t match and all your showers and baths will go horribly wrong. Other customers can just tell, and their concerned glares will heap shame upon you and your failure to treat hygiene as pretty-smelling Serious Business.
The women in my wife’s family love, love, love their B&BW products. Every one of them has a favorite flavor or scent from the vast catalog of personal cleansing products. Amazingly, my wife has memorized the favorites of every single relative so she’ll know exactly which stocking stuffers to buy. I’ve never once seen her swap their gels by accident, nor vice versa. Somehow they all have a system and it works for them. This sort of thing doesn’t have to be divided among gender lines, but my son, my brothers-in-law, my nephews, and I are united in our befuddlement while this part of the annual gift exchange goes on. We figure as long as we’re clean, or at least clean-ish, we’re good to go.
It was that time of year again! Black Friday has become that highly anticipated, deeply dreaded, beneficial, violent, invigorating, intimidating, fulfilling, decaying, economically necessary, ethically questionable, joyous holiday and/or time of mourning for everyone’s souls. Depending on who’s asking, it’s shopping as a competitive sport, or shopping as the closest American society comes to legalizing The Purge. It’s a great time for rock-bottom bargains, or it’s a time for suckers to get stuck with retailers’ unwanted, defective leftovers. It’s when the Christmas season begins for real, or it’s the ultimate defamation to the name of Christ.
Reporters spend the day prowling for cautionary tales of merchandise hoarding gone wrong, of consumer entitlement run amuck, of retailer manipulation backfiring, of fisticuffs and gunfights, of hair-pulling and cheek-slapping. Somewhere out there, shoppers will be boxing for the privilege to take home a ten-dollar panini maker that the manufacturer discontinued due to exploding wiring, and any number of news crews mean to catch it on tape before some lucky amateurs capture and post it on YouTube first. Everyone tells themselves it’s all part of the Game and complains about the system while continuing to do their part.
Black Friday used to be my thing. In recent years I’ve scaled back my expectations and participation. No more arising at 4 a.m. or earlier like a shopping zombie that thinks “doorbusters” is a synonym for “brains”. No more scheming for the largest tech items that’ll be stocked at a maximum of two per store. No more long shopping lists requiring fifteen or twenty stops’ worth of hunting and gathering.
This year I implemented more modifications to my approach. This is how my Black Friday 2014 turned out:
Last Christmas season on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
Black Friday is my annual one-man road trip. I pick one side of Indianapolis; I hit the open road in that direction, leaving family and friends behind; and I enjoy some time alone. Sure, to the average human, rushing headlong into frenzied crowds may sound like the stupidest strategy to achieve solitude. For an introvert like me who draws very little attention and rarely inspires conversation from strangers, it works surprisingly well.
Frankly, I wasn’t sure what to expect this year. I kept my expectations near zero and remained open to the possibility that I might come home empty-handed and down in the dumps. I worried that so many stores opening the evening before would serve to put the “lack” in “Black Friday”. Would all the suspiciously priced sale items be sold out? Would all the store shelves and displays be barren, their wares looted by the Blackest Thursday stampedes? Would the stores themselves still be standing, or collapsed from the wear and tear of consumer shootouts larger and grander than the Battle of Helm’s Deep?
A few stores failed me, but I’m pleased that a few locations catered to my modest whims. Per my personal standards, my trip only lasted from 8 a.m. to noon., at which point I promptly pulled the plug and went straight home. Firm boundaries are a key component of effective self-restraint.
Last year’s new fad was for stores to reopen at midnight Friday instead of waiting until Friday’s been up and running for a few hours first. This year, many stores think midnight is too long to wait for shoppers to come fork over all the monies, and are reopening Thanksgiving evening, around the same time that some families are accustomed to holding their Thanksgiving. On the bolder end of the spectrum, Old Navy plans to open on Thanksgiving at 9 a.m. I’m sure they’re not alone in rejecting the holiday’s existence altogether.
Clearly if one wants to win at two-day Black Friday, the old single-day Black Friday playbook needs to be shredded and competitive shoppers need to rethink their strategies. Because, like Black Friday, this new tradition of Black Thursday isn’t just about Christmas survival. It’s about Christmas victory.
(I’m sure my wife’s to-do list is twice as long as mine, but she’ll be fine because she’s more magical than Santa.)
I’m shockingly ahead of schedule this year. My scorecard so far:
* Put up Christmas tree and indoor decorations. I refuse to retrieve our Christmas decorations from our attic until after Thanksgiving is over. That’s partly because I believe in celebrating a maximum of one (1) holiday at a time. That’s also partly because I hate going up in the attic. It’s cramped and uncomfortable and the door is hard to access and there are harmful pointy nails everywhere. I call it “the Danger Room”. But it has to be done within a week of Thanksgiving or else I suffer my wife’s adorable Christmas-loving wrath. The enclosed photo evidence confirms Christmas tree is go; we have themed wreaths and other Christmas knickknacks in place; and Christmas dinnerware is now in effect for extra credit.
The following photo was taken outside an Indianapolis store on Black Friday around 9 a.m. At far left in the background is a strip mall; at far right, a Best Buy.
What’s wrong with this picture?
If your answer was, “There are empty parking spaces,” you win! Congrats on spotting the unoccupied tarmac in the upper-right corner. I owe you one imaginary cookie with your choice of pretend toppings.