It's too early outside. The sky is ink, with wisps of orange sunrise thrown through it like party streamers.
I hate being up early. One of my greatest joys in life is sleeping in until my body aches from being in bed too long. And today, of all days, I have to be up even earlier than I could have imagined.
It's Black Friday.
It's Black Friday in 2004, when going to the mall is still a time-honored tradition. It's before Amazon usurped “big box” stores. It was a time when credit cards could roam, like free range livestock, meandering from Brookstone massage chairs to Sears sale racks and back to Cinnabon. It was when America had some pocket change, and by golly, did they want to spend it, especially during the holidays.
Hours before, I had eaten a reasonable turkey meal with those rolls they only sell in November and December. You know, those delicious little fists of processed white bread that taste best with heaps of butter? How could it have been such a short time ago that I was feasting on those rolls, and now I was here, at the mall, at the crack of dawn, ready to sell bras?
My slacks are taut around the waist from last night's dinner. I'm not particularly presentable. My hair is in a last-minute bun, no makeup. I am prepared for battle.
I march into Victoria's Secret, man my station at the register, and mentally psych myself up for the crowd that I know will stampede shortly.
Once they come, I barely know what time is again. I'm weak from punching numbers. Panties everywhere, in vibrant hues, scattered around me.
I go take my break. All I want is sustenance. I only have ten minutes.
The food court resembles the last fall of Saigon. There are no tables – they've vanished under mounds of shopping bags, each one occupied by a hungry shopper who just cannot believe the crowds!
I manage to eat...cookies? Who knows at this point. I glare at the mannequins on my way back in, shooting daggers at a scantily-clad Gisele Bundchen who wanted you to look sexy. Or sweet. Or maybe it was flirty. Who cares.
More numbers. More punching. More go-backs – running, quite literally running, through the store to replace discarded items, then suddenly, here ma'am, would you like a bag? Oh those are no longer in stock – I'm sorry, we ran out of the gift bags this morning – the perfumes are in the other room – a measurement? Hold on, you're a 38B, Alexis will help you – yes I'll be on register in just a sec –
My voice is hoarse from offering customers the opportunity to sign up for an Angels Victoria's Secret credit card so they can receive discounts in the mail. I have a quota of credit cards I'm supposed to push every day. We all are. To this day, any time someone asks me to sign up for a store credit card, I feel a prickle at the neck and bile on my tongue.
Working on Black Friday is quite possibly the most quintessential American experience a person can endure. More than standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon, or waving at the Statue of Liberty. Even more than football, cheeseburgers and milkshakes, and casual racism. Screw Mount Rushmore, the Mall of America is our greatest treasure. Because America looooooves shopping. That is our national pastime. Even as they were dumping tea in protest, Bostonians gathered hopefully at the prospect of being able to go buy different tea.
That urge, ingrained in every citizen as a child, is why Black Friday is so important. You MUST purchase gifts for each other! Why, it's what we do! What would the holidays be without presents?
What's so strange is that Black Friday occurs right after the warmest of holidays – Thanksgiving. It's all about giving thanks! It's in the name.
I've been to many Thanksgiving dinners over the years, but the number one thing that happens at every one is a feeling of warmth as people gather to eat and share with each other. How this warmth evaporates so quickly on Black Friday, I'm not sure. The goodness of a person I might have seen yesterday when they were happily spooning out cranberry sauce has disappeared by the time they reach the entrance to the mall parking lot.
In short, Black Friday turns ordinary people into monsters. And not fun monsters, like an annoying person talking about their movie script at Starbucks. I mean full-on monsters, the kind that trample each other to race through the doors of Walmart. It's that way everywhere, like someone flips a switch and everyone is competing for a massive cash prize to be the World's Greatest Asshole of All Time.
All throughout that Black Friday in 2004, I was exhausted. It wasn't the sheer number of people that did me in, so much as it was how rude, pushy, and unhappy all the customers were. It's as if their favorite pastime had become an awful chore, and I stood in their way of achieving it because I asked if they could not swarm the register.
Last Thanksgiving, I enjoyed one of the best meals of my life, surrounded by my wonderful friends. We drank all the wine and watched a TLC program about extreme Christmas trees. It was great. The idea of voluntarily leaving that fuzzy, happy place to go shopping is beyond me. It was a gift. I was thankful.
After all, isn't that what the holidays are about?
The moral of the story is: buy your stuff online.