Tales From Black Friday

                If you’re like me, then you’re probably sick to death of reading “What I’m Thankful For” posts over the course of this week. It’s a beautiful sentiment, but even it can be played out when it becomes a week long monologue, especially when it overrides sources I usually turn to for entertainment. So today’s post will not be about what I’m thankful for; at least, not entirely. See, there is one thing I’m very thankful for that I’d like to talk about. It’s the first thing that comes to mind every year when Thanksgiving rolls around, regardless of my current career, relationship, or health. This always takes first place for me. What is my marvelous, magical thing that makes you so thankful, you ask? It’s simple really.

                I’m thankful that I Never have to deal with another Black Friday again.

                Now I’m sure you hate Black Friday, but trust me that unless you have a very specific history, you don’t, you physically can’t, hate it as much as I do. Because I’ve been in the Black Friday trenches. I’ve seen it from the retail side, and all the ugliness that people unleash at four in the morning when all they want is a single item that 200 other people also want and we only have twenty of. Certainly some of you have been here, to this point with me, but this is where I step out onto the ledge and tell you why my Black Friday’s were particular maelstroms of madness and hate. You see… I worked in toy store.

                It might not surprise many of you to know that I’ve always been a bit of an odd duck. When the time for finding a high school job came, most of my friends went for CD stores or trendy shops like Gadzooks and Hot Topic. If you can’t tell, this was veeeeery much a pre-internet-as-we-know-it-time. Anyway, since I didn’t want to deal with other teenagers being dicks and trying to shoplift, I decided to apply at the only shop in the mall where I assumed things would be both fun and free of assholes: the toy store. Laugh all you want at how inept I was, lord knows I have over the years, but damn if that place wasn’t pretty cool a lot of the time. My coworkers were good people, we had fun demoing the new fun shit (also often breaking our demos), and we were even in a prank war with the employees from The Gap. Most of the year it was a pretty sweet gig, even if parents did try to use it as a free daycare while they went shopping.

                But, once Christmas time rolled around, a dark fog descended upon us. The moment Halloween ended, smiles began to fade, and my coworkers gained thousand yard stares, like they could feel war brewing on the horizon and were trying to remember where they’d stashed the rations and ammo. The first year, I didn’t really get it, as my family was never one for Black Friday shopping, mostly because they had jobs that needed them back at work after Thanksgiving was over. This was also before the media made such a sensationalist story out of it every year. So, when they said it was really busy, I believed them, but I didn’t have any kind of scope by which to understand what they were saying.

                Two weeks before Black Friday, my manager huddled us together to lay out the game plan. Everyone was working that day. No excuses short of hospitalization, which would be looked at on a case by case basis. There would be two shifts, each ten hours long. The door would open at 4 in the morning, at which point everyone on the early shift was to be there, ready and at their register. No other duties would be required. We were to stand there, and keep the line moving. My manager laid this out for us like she was telling us how to deal with a live bomb. No matter what people say, no matter what you see, keep the goddamned line moving. As both a young employee and someone low on the food chain, I was of course thrust onto the early shift. One might see it as a dick move on their part, but I to this day interpret the act as one of survival. I was youthful, and had hope. I might be able to bounce back in a way the more brittle employees couldn’t.

                When the day came, I got up and drove into the mall parking lot, and instantly knew shit was about to go down. We were the only store opening at 4, everyone else was waiting until 6, which meant the fucking lake of people I saw swarming outside the mall’s front entrance had to be for us. Steering my car to the back lot, I parked, gave my name and showed my ID to fucking security guard posted at the rear entrance, and was let inside to sell toys.

                By virtue of our store’s position in the mall, I could see what happened when they finally threw open those front doors, and until the day I die I doubt the memory will ever leave me. I don’t remember what the hot toy was on sale that year. I don’t remember the names of all but one of my coworkers. I can’t even recall who ultimately won our prank war with The Gap. But that herd of people busting through the thin glass veneer of the doors, galloping down the tiled walkways as they slammed and jostled each other for better positions, naked hunger on their face and all sense of humanity abandoned as they stampeded toward my store; that moment will never leave me, no matter how much I try to drink it away.

                I won’t go into specifics of the day itself, both because the whole thing was a blur and because the parts that do stand out get quickly reparative. As literally anyone with math skills could anticipate, we ran out of all the really good shit within the first half hour. After that, it was a tirade of people cursing us out, calling us all manner of shit sucker and accusing us of hoarding the toys to sell for ourselves. Bear in mind, we put up a sign as soon as we were out of the good stuff. They literally waited in a line that was over an hour long to get to the register, all so they could scream at us and make wild accusations. When I first arrived, I thought having a security guard by the store was overkill. After an hour, I wished we had two, and that I’d brought that poor man a bottle of whiskey. As well as one for my sixteen year old self.

                So remember, fair shoppers, as you journey into the battle known as Black Friday, that the people behind those counters are still people, and most of them want to be there less than you. You’re at least getting a TV out of the deal; they don’t even get time and a half. Maybe bring them some cookies, or just don’t wildly curse them out when they give you bad news. You might be the only bright spot they get in a day of wall to wall shit, and that’s a gift all in itself.