It felt like I was attending a rock concert.
I looked for a parking space. The lot reserved for the event was full. There were cars everywhere, from McDonalds to Payless, Radio Shack to the Firestone tire shop. Even the abandoned Hollywood Video store had been taken hostage by Walmart patrons.
These were people out for Thanksgiving night sales and Walmart – the place where everyone in town bought everything anyway – was the only retailer in Greenwood open at this time.
I finally found parking space about a dozen stores down in the 20-shop plaza. As I got out of my car and braced myself for the quarter-mile walk, music, chatter, cars honking, various backup and brake lights caught my attention. I began to anticipate a few bonfires and keg stands but had to settle for only cigarette smoke.
I made the trudge inside behind a man giving a play-by-play to someone on his cell phone. I marked him in my mind as a guy to avoid once we were both on the battle field.
“Aw-man, y’should see this place,” he told whoever it was at the other end of the call, likely a person uninterested. “They’ve got riot police and them barricades here.”
We began walking through his barricades, which were actually temporary fences added to the smoking area in front of Walmart arranged to keep the awaiting cattle herded in an orderly fashion away from the parking lot prior to the 10 p.m. opening of the gates. I glanced at one of his riot cops. The nervous-looking 22-or-so-year-old guy’s uniform had the emblem of a private security company.
Once we zig-zagged through the Great Wall of Greenwood, I turned the corner to see the lobby-type area of the store eerily empty. I’d expected looting and general ruckus. Was this the calm before the storm?
My first indication of such was the absence of shopping carts and the poodle-haired female greeter who seems to work 168 hours a week. The woman’s poodle-haired services must have been needed elsewhere, perhaps in cosmetics, due to the magnitude of customers.
I looked at the 3-by-5-inch notepad in which I’d written my list on one side of a sheet. The bulkiest of the 15 items would have to be axed immediately, as they wouldn’t fit in my shopping cartless possession. Gone were the Bissel 3-in-1 vaccuum I’d planned to get Kalista for her room, the Pyrex 20-piece bake and store dish set for Mom and Cool Fusion bed pillow.
A dozen or so steps into the store I realized how I would carry items was least of my worries. I wouldn’t be able to escape this cesspool of estrogen and armpit sweat in case of a fire, let alone find what I’m looking for, I thought with panic. There were people everywhere – and I hadn’t even escaped the grocery side of the store yet.
I began sifting through the crowd. I felt like a dog lost in the cat section of an animal shelter. The people who weren’t pouncing on end-of-the-aisle displays were prepared to pounce on me, it seemed, as I was the injured hyena amid a pack of lions. I didn’t know what I was doing.
“Jeans,” I thought. “The store flyer had a solid sale on jeans and pajamas for Kalista and I’m near that section. After that, I’ll take advantage of the $3.88-per-four-pack of underwear for her.”
Pah. I never came close to the jeans or pajamas that were on sale. I was bombarded, cut off and possibly sodomized by hustling wildebeasts far more aggressive once I found the girls’ clothing section. Walmart had decided to put each item in its Black Friday flyer in one display apiece, meaning each person who wanted the item would have to fight over the display like vultures jousting for the best parts of a dead deer. The system evoked county residents’ most animalistic tendencies.
So I gave up on the jeans and twisted to the shelf of girls’ socks and underwear, which would have likely been a desolate area had it not been located adjacent to a main highway for folks looking to get in the practically-free television line.
A woman whose cellulite could be seen through her stretch pants checked me like a hockey player as I looked for Kalista’s size. I know she looked this way because when I recovered and turned to see what the heck had just happened, she didn’t so much as turn around. I looked for Neil Armstrong’s footprint near the back of her knee.
Nearby was the home section. I planned to pick up a crock pot for Mom, some slippers and a Ninja Frozen Treat Maker in this area. However, I was cut off by yellow tape blocking access and a store employee mumbling something to me about a ticket.
“What?” I asked.
“You in line for a TV?”
“No. I’m trying to get to the home section.”
“Oh. You can’t be here. This is for people who are trying to get a TV.”
Of course. Silly me. How could I have been so stupid as to not know the candle/photo frame area actually doubles as the start of a line for televisions?
“You’re going to have to go around,” she told me, lifting her pen from her clipboard to use it as a wand sparkling the direction I should have been heading.
I gave a Jim Halburt nod and complied. It’d be a terrifying journey through this artery of animalistic tendencies near the dreaded toy section, but I had no choice. I needed to carry around something besides children’s underwear to not look like a creep in front of all of these people.
Trouble was, this route recommended by the Walmart employee went right by the toy section. I needed some board games, dolls, an artist easel and Leapster games, which were all right there. Fearing the toy section may be reduced to rubble by night’s end, I opted to focus on the items I needed from it before concerning myself with the other stuff.
And I came away with nothing. I could not find the board games that were on sale, or the dolls, or the Leapster games. I only felt good in this section one time, when I found a board game another terrified guy said his wife sent him to find.
I left the toys section still carrying only three packs of children’s underwear.
I came to notice, eventually, a line of women, couples and shopping carts had formed within this main artery of the store’s transportation grid, lining both sides of displays of all the crap listed in the flyers. There was the vacuum I’d wanted to buy Kalista for her room. There were the Rubbermaid leftover containers and Ninja treat maker, but no crock pot. Encouraged by the Ninja’s presence, I decided to make a break from the pack and look for what I needed. The aisles between the main arteries – the capillaries, I suppose – were far less crowded and possibly navigable.
In the kitchen appliance section, I came across two 80-year-olds who looked 100. They were visibly shaken and possibly disoriented.
“Would you like this cart?” the woman said while her husband smiled at me. By then, I was juggling the underwear, a crock pot and box of leftover containers
“Absolutely,” I smiled, relieved. They were making their getaway. Clearly, this was not the setting for an elderly couple. I put my stuff inside, feeling as if I’d been given a lifeline.
I had not. While my carrying capacity had quadrupled with the gift of a cart, my maneuverability was severely hindered by its cumbersome presence. Gone was my ability to snake through the crowd and around determined women. Before, I was a dirt bike in city traffic. Now I was a semi truck with flat tires.
As I neared the front of the store, I fell into the line traveling through the main artery. Steps forward became miracles. Between these steps, I’d wait, looking around to see if any of the stuff on my list was nearby. Then I’d sense someone trying to squeeze behind me and move forward to make room, ramming my cart conspicuously into the leg or thigh of two heavy black women in front. After the second ram, one of these women, whose hair looked like a greased toupee that’d fallen horribly out of place, felt it necessary to let me know there would not be a third.
“You got a problem or sumthin’?”
“I’m sorry. I was moving forward for someone trying to get behind me.”
“Well, you got sum-won in frunna you.”
Her voice was shrill enough to rip through a garbage bag of spaghetti sauce. Whatever sweetness she had seemed to be reserved for brief periods of time between high blood sugar reactions.
Motivated to see my daughter through childhood, I kept my mouth shut. I could tell by the way this woman and her cohort looked at me then back to one another they were the kind of individuals who took more condiments from restaurants than they’d ever use because they were free. Free to them – not the restaurant, its management employees or families – but free to them nonetheless. They probably shot angry looks at restaurant staff and even patrons who dared look cross at them as they loaded paper fast food sacks, tray surfaces and pocket books with ketchup packets.
They’d probably witnessed a felony – perhaps a murder or two – in their 38-or-so years of panting, laughing thunderously, yelling and eating fried foods.
They would have made mincemeat out of me.
“Excuse me, sir,” I heard from behind. It was a nurse-looking woman who appeared to have been home schooled. She was trying to get me to move forward, into the abyss of Mrs. Butterworth’s buttocks. I thought about staying put but decided it’d be more fun to get the two ladies who had smaller fat woman working controls inside their body cavities riled up again.
“What’s wrawng witch-you?” the other woman thundered, taking a break from whatever she was doing on her cell phone. Her hair also looked like an experiment in cosmetology.
“I don’t know what to tell you,” I said, sick of their crap. “There are a lot of people in here. I keep getting hit by carts, too.”
“What’d you say?”
It seemed like the prelude to a very dreary act of suicide.
“Never mind.” I backed up a bit, turned my cart and shot back through the kitchen appliance section. There was another main aisle on the other side and I was prepared to bypass whatever good deals were in the vicinity of the two heart attacks waiting to happen. My physical safety and peace of mind were at stake; I had to leave. I weaseled my into the line at the other end of the kitchen appliance section, which I was told led to the registers.
But wait – I have so much more stuff to get, I thought. I can’t leave!
But I did. I’d tried to hang for 30 minutes with the seasoned veterans of competitive shopping and failed. Miserably. I’d ignored folks’ requests for minor assistance, refused to move for old women who needed by and nearly been pummeled by Jerry Springer show recruits. I could no longer tolerate my conduct for the sake of getting a $38 set of Pyrex baking dishes for $20. It was time to take what I got and get out of there.
Even that proved easier thought than done, though. Minutes passed and the line hadn’t moved. I found myself caught in the same predicament as I had been previously: stuck in a line only rumored to lead to the registers, behind a pair of black women of epic proportion and gravitational pull. I again bumped into their thighs with my cart whenever someone needed by. I was apparently “that guy” who’d move so people could make their way to whatever deals they smelled. No one else in the line seemed to mark such a gateway.
Finally, my cell phone began beeping that its battery needed charged. How would I call for help if it died? How would I check the Ravens-49ers score? How would life go on if midnight came and I was standing in line with a dead cell phone and only little girls’ underwear, a Ninja frozen treat maker, Rubbermaid leftover containers and a crock pot in my possession?
A girl in her early 20s squeezed behind me, sending my cart into the tall pygmies in front, who shot me another disgusted look. They’d put up with me to this point, but seemed ready to attack. The girl in her early 20s, meanwhile, was wearing sweat pants and a spaghetti string top that looked like an undershirt, which did little to conceal her brassiere. That shirt might have looked all right on a slender 18-year-old, but on her it looked like a tragedy.
This is ridiculous, I thought. I began doing the math: I was saving roughly $5 on the underwear, $13 on the leftover containers, knew for a fact the crock pot would still be $9 the next day and could get my mom something other than the treat maker. The biggest savings came with the leftover containers – and I didn’t really need those due to the abundance of Cool Whip and margarine tubs already in my kitchen cupboards.
The Sam Adams Winter Lager in my fridge at home was calling my name. Was standing in this line for probably another hour truly worth the $5 I was saving? Ideally, I would have the board games, DS cartridges, Barbie fashion doll, artist easel, stand mixer, baking dishes, treat maker, pajamas, vacuum, pillow, jeans and bath mat in my cart and spend less than $100 to make them mine. But I’d thrown in the towel on the vast majority of that stuff, knowing none of it was something specifically requested by their intended recipients.
Milliseconds later, I found a small sliver in the men’s clothing section that hadn’t seen much traffic. It would be the resting place for my cart. I backed up slightly, leaned forward to swing the front end of the cart in the sliver’s direction and pushed. I pushed for liberation, reconciliation and justification. I pushed for my identity, my freedom. I pushed for escape from the madness.
I walked with a sense of pride for the exit. It was 11:10 p.m. Sure, I’d spent an hour shopping for items with which I wasn’t leaving, but not all was lost. I’d learned something about myself.
Turns out I was correct all along when it comes to man’s infatuation with money. A good deal – especially 50 to 80 percent savings, which were throughout the store on this night – can make anyone act uncivilized. You know that Yule Tide stuff that’s supposed to remind people what Christmas is all about? It doesn’t conjure nearly the determination, aggression and frenzy as old fashioned capitalism.
This is not, however, a conviction of my fellow humans alone. I, too, am prone to the lure of a good deal, as I found out Thursday night.
But is this entirely bad? Hippies are often quick to point out and criticize the ultra-materialism triggered by shopping deals at Christmas. Even some conservatives agree, but for a different reason, clinging to the “Jesus is the reason for the season” phrase.
But people, for the most part, shopping for Black Friday deals are doing so to find gifts for others. It’s not selfishness but selflessness that’s at the core of a Black Friday frenzy. Shouldn’t that go for something, hippies?
(I do not bother making a similar appeal to conservatives. They leave little to no room for discussion. Ever.)
Folks are competitive and aggressive and downright ornery in places such as Walmart when the quantity of loved ones they can make happy is at stake. I guess not all hope for humanity is lost when news is broke that a woman was pepper sprayed by authorities while trying to find a good deal.
Personally, I am satisfied with my growth as a person when I ponder my Thursday night venture into Walmart. Six years ago, when I was childless and childish, it was easy to pass judgment on people who scrapped over Black Friday deals. I referenced Edward Abbey and David Thoreau in my assault on capitalism, materialism and any other -ism that reminded people I’d gone to college. It wasn’t until I had a child I realized, essentially, life is about sharing – not offering judgment . And when you give gifts, you provoke joy by sharing the bounties of your success in life.
And Jesus has always been about that.