Not So Black Friday

November 29, 2008

I went to the bookstore late this afternoon, hoping for a miracle of human kindness. I bought a copy of my favorite magazine, PRINT. I roamed around the aisles looking for gifts. Perused the science, history and art sections. But nothing struck me as out of the ordinary.  To kill some time I people watched in the cafe while sipping a latte, tagging random customers with health statistics I read earlier in Time Magazine:

Girl in the cookbook section: one of the 67% of Americans that are either fat or obese.

Fortysomething scruffy man with white beard perusing art books; drawing his wife’s attention to erotic art: one of the 27% of Americans whose blood pressure is too high.

Hipster lurking around the self-help section: one of 96% of the population that can’t recall the last time they had a salad…

There were no crowds. I was disappointed. I expected to wait in line. To suffer. I wanted a small taste of suffering. I wanted to struggle through a crowd so that I could say to someone, “Why are we here? This is insane.” I wanted to make that connection with people. Like what happens during a natural disaster. The way everyone pulls together when the floods ruin homes and uproot trees. But that didn’t happen. I was the first in line and the check-out girl rang me up fast and pleasant. I was gone in minutes. Thanks for shopping at Borders. No high-strung, beaten-down nastiness.  In fact, she gave me a coupon. And said, “come back soon.” That pissed me off. So I went to Cosi to struggle over there but the place was empty. I bought a greasy flat bread sandwich, chips, a soda and left. 

Even the roads were wide open. 

I went home and built a fire. Cleaned. And put on the soundtrack to the Darjeeling Limited.

I sat in front of the fire eating my sandwich, flipping through PRINT, thinking.

I thought about how important Black Friday is for the purpose of well-being; how necessary the insanity of shopping for Christmas gifts one day out of the year, pushing and shoving obnoxious people out of the way to get the sale items, and fighting to be the first in line  is to the core of human nature. Days like this that only come once a year are supposed to awaken in us that sense of primitive, collective struggle. That feeling that “we’re all in this together.” No matter how lame or ridiculous the reason is for coming together (shopping) it’s still an important event that our psyche requires. The struggle, no matter how trivial, answers a primitive need to war with people and to make peace in difficult times. With that gone– with everyone home on their laptops, or ordering through catalogues– we become sadly isolated. Further disconnected.

I thought that maybe after forty years of specious commercialism people wizened up, staying home, saving money and not falling victim to some primordial, reptilian brain calling. But that didn’t make much sense. I myself consciously went and sought out the drama. 

My final thought was a simple assumption: because we’ve been dealing with such national tragedy anyway (global warming, the economy) people don’t need Black Friday anymore. Black Friday served a great purpose for inciting extremism when nothing else in the country was going on. I mean, this year, only one “Wal-Mart worker dies after shoppers knock him down.” Only one! That’s huge progress. Usually a dozen or so die from being trampled by shoppers.

But Black Friday serves little purpose now. Who needs to be trampled at Wal-Mart when you’ve already been beaten down by the stock market? Who needs to stand in line and make friends over bargain books when people’s sons and daughters are overseas at war? Now that I think about it, I don’t know what I was thinking. 

When I finished reading my $20 copy of PRINT, I threw it in the fire.

Who needs commercialism and advertising when you’ve got a head full of free ideas and a warm home?

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