Thursday, December 1, 2011

Black Fridays and Blue Laws

“So this is Christmas, and what have you done,”
— John Lennon.


Indeed.

Black Friday recently passed with multiple violent incidents, including a woman pepper-spraying people in order to forge ahead in line to buy a heavily discounted Xbox gaming device. A West Virginia man died after collapsing in a Target. Frenzied shoppers stampeded past the man as he lay on the floor. Elsewhere, folks got in a tussle over $2 waffle makers. Across the country, people began lining up on Monday for openings of big-box retailers with limited offers of big bargains. Spending several days in the elements in order to save a few hundred bucks on a big-screen television is a catalyst for bad behavior, I’m thinking.

Thanksgiving used to be a shopping-free zone. Sure, restaurants opened to serve those unwilling or unable to cook. Convenience stores sporadically opened their doors, usually by late afternoon, to sell beer, Tums and cigarettes. But for the most part, the merchant class took a break. That seems to be rapidly becoming a quaint, unobserved tradition.

Black Friday was named because the cash registers ringing — or more accurately these days, beeping —put merchants into the black, profit-wise. Now Black Friday is sliding backward into — I don’t know — Gray Thursday Night?

What a terrible name to start the holiday shopping season: Black Friday. Yeech. It conjures images of evil acts, sorcery, even vampires, which seem to be all the rage these days. Perhaps this poor choice in capitalist marketing partially accounts for the increasing incidents of bad behavior. Or maybe there is a growing segment of the population that cares more about getting a good deal on a DVD player than making someone sure someone doesn’t get trampled to death.

So much for peace on earth and goodwill toward men. Don't be surprised to see Santa in the mall armed with pepper spray.

When I see some poor sap bundled up against the elements as the temperatures plunge into the 70s in Texas (to steal a line from KUT, the local NPR station), talking to a television reporter for the annual story on how long he has been camping out to be first in line at Best Buy, I wonder, “Do these people not have jobs? And if they are unemployed, why are they spending their money on a big-screen television?” Maybe this is how they spend their allotted vacation days. Personally, I would rather go hiking in the mountains or alongside a white-capped river. I also wonder about bathroom breaks, the need to shower more than once every four days (at least for me and everybody I hang out with), and other weighty matters.

These violent incidents breaking out across America over Christmas shopping make me grumpy and inclined to keep all the decorations in the closet. My wife and I already have pledged to keep spending modest and try to find a place to serve others on Christmas Day. Not because we are wonderful people — at least I’m not — but because all this spending and hoopla just don’t seem right anymore. There is a reason for this season, and it sure isn’t standing in a mob outside a Walmart at 3 a.m. waiting for the doors to open, standing along with several hundred other testy shoppers, hoping not to get trampled.

The trend this year is for stores to open on Thanksgiving evening, after the Detroit Lions have been clobbered in another Turkey Day tradition: The Lions lose while a nation snoozes after overdosing on tryptophan from all that turkey. Then we’re all supposed to wake up and head to the stores.

Not me. I am old enough to recall when many stores in Texas had to stay closed on Sunday because of blue laws. (I had hoped to provide the etymology of blue laws, but Snopes.com said to fuggedaboutit. Nobody really knows.) Somehow we managed to survive no-shopping Sundays unscathed and rarely felt deprived that we could not shop ‘til we dropped after church. Sure, sometimes it was inconvenient, like when one had to buy Pampers at triple-price at Circle K because we didn’t make it to the grocery store on Saturday. But I don’t think we’re any better off as a society, now that stores are opening on Thanksgiving, before the turkey and dressing have cooled enough to put the leftovers in the fridge.

As for me, I’ll just stay home Thanksgiving night and watch UT play Texas A&M. Whoops. Forgot that isn’t going to happen anymore, at least for a while.

Another tradition crumbles. What’s next to tumble? One shudders in nervous anticipation.

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