A well-meaning girlfriend asked me last week if I wanted to do a little Black Friday shopping with her. I smiled and fumbled for a plausible excuse to take a pass; I figured telling her, "I'd rather have holes drilled in my teeth" might sound a little over-the-top.
Honesty is always the best policy, so I simply told her the truth about my one and only Black Friday shopping experience. It still makes me break out in a cold sweat, just thinking about it.
A few years ago, my son asked me why Black Friday is called "Black Friday." Sounds kind of ominous, doesn't it? I explained that businesses operate either in the red or in the black, red meaning they're sucking wind and black meaning they're operating at a profit. Therefore to a retailer, Black Friday is that one special day that can determine whether a business closes the books at the end of the year in the black or in the red. Sounds harmless, even kind of boring, doesn't it?
That conversation piqued my daughter's interest, and before I knew it, all four of us were piling into the car to go see for ourselves just what this Black Friday thing was all about. I admit that I was a bit nervous, but I reminded myself that this would be a good parent/child teaching opportunity. With a lump in my throat and fear beginning to nibble in the pit of my stomach, I agreed to do it. There was no backing out. My son was curious. My daughter at the time was 18 and fearless. My husband, the equivalent of a protective bodyguard on steroids, accompanied us to the mall. I detest crowds. I am appalled by the behavior of Black Friday shoppers I've seen in various videos that make the rounds on social media every November. Still, I agreed to take one for the team.The events of that day have taken on a dreamlike quality, the kind of "out-of-body" experience a person recalls following a traumatic or near-death experience. Even years later, I have flashes, little snippets of that black Friday, that surface at random throughout the year, but mostly just before and after Thanksgiving.
After that day, I changed my definition of what "Black Friday" really means.
The mall parking lot was an experience unto itself. It had taken us about an hour to get there, and we only live about 2 miles from it. Cars and SUVs cruised aimlessly up one aisle and down the next, circling like sharks waiting for an unsuspecting shopper to pop her head out of the store and head to her car. An elderly couple walked out of the mall and across a few rows of cars, walking the slow and measured pace of people whose hips and knees were objecting to the rainy, damp weather. As they walked, they gathered a following of cars, parking spot groupies who watched their every step, bumpers biting at their ankles, lights blaring and drivers watchful and on edge. The two, apparently oblivious to their newfound fame, continued on toward their car. A feisty woman in an Escalade rolled her window down and delivered the one-fingered salute to another driver who was approaching from the west – an obvious sneak attack. She was waving her arms and shouting frantic Spanish into her cell phone, and all I could think was, "How is she steering that thing?" While the Escalade and the other car stared each other down and jockeyed for position, a VW bug swerved in between both of them and nabbed the parking spot that the elderly couple had just vacated. This all happened in just a few brief seconds, but it was fascinating nonetheless.
Still, we were without a parking space, so we continued to cruise with the other sharks until sheer luck or brute force was on our side. Now all this sparring and gauntlet-throwing got my husband revved up, as testosterone-producers are known to get from time to time. As we were cruising the parking aisles in the rain, I could see him getting tensed up. His pupils were dilated. He was in the truck by himself for all practical purposes, ready to spring at the first opportunity to park, fight, challenge, spit, whatever presented itself first. He slammed his monstrous pickup truck into reverse as he spotted a car's reverse lights pop on right beside us, very nearly backing right over a man in a Ford Taurus who was right on our tail. Taurus honked angrily, and my husband continued to back up. Honk, back, honk, back. I braced myself for that oh-so-familiar crunching sound of a fender bender but thankfully, it never came; the Taurus was no match for hubby's four-wheel-drive behemoth.
We finally parked (with a good 2" on either side of the truck to spare) and squeezed out of the truck into the rain. My daughter and I scurried inside the mall, anxious to experience shopping nirvana. My husband and son lingered, strolling slowly to the entrance, just in case Mr. Taurus wanted to continue the conversation about my husband's driving skills.
Inside, the mall was suffocatingly hot and stuffy. Shoppers pushed and shoved. Mothers with strollers used their little babies like snow plows, clearing a path before them with their little bundles of joy leading the way. One overzealous woman had actually hauled a bright yellow shopping cart inside the mall. She was especially dangerous, as merchandise was piled so high in it that she couldn't see where she was going. Kids cried and screamed, husbands walked along in wife-induced shopping trances, obediently pushing, carrying and paying when they were told to do so. Some people wore cheery Christmas attire: reindeer antlers with blinking Christmas lights entwined in them, Santa sweaters, blinking earrings and more. One woman was wearing an elf costume and some elf shoes. And over the whole shebang, Christmas music jangled and blared in bone-jarring surround-sound. Ah Christmas. No Silent Night here, not today anyway.
"Going shopping on Black Friday" - Check. That item was forever removed from my bucket list that day.
Next item on the list: skydiving over shark-infested waters off the coast of Australia. Should be a breeze. I survived Black Friday with only minor injuries. Incidentally, the "black" in Black Friday has nothing to do with economics. It has to do with evil, with the darker side of human nature, and the black souls of crazed bargain shoppers.
Did you go shopping on Black Friday?
Carole Townsend is a Gwinnett author and freelance writer. Her fourth book, BLOOD IN THE SOIL, was named Finalist for 2017 Georgia Author of the Year in the Detective/Mystery genre. Her previous three books are written with loving humor about the South. Carole often appears on network television talk and news shows, as well as on national radio shows. Her books can be found in bookstores, on Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble.com, and at www.caroletownsend.com. When she's not writing, Carole travels throughout the southeast, talking to groups about women, writing, family, and life in her beloved South. www.caroletownsend.com. Follow Carole on Facebook (Carole Townsend-Author), Twitter @caroletownsend, or Instagram @carole.w.riter.