It is a text message from my spouse, who left two hours ago for the annual Black Friday feeding frenzy at Walmart. Black Friday is now on Thursday, but is still called Black Friday for some reason, possibly because Black Thursday doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.
Every Black Friday for the past couple of decades, ordinary Americans are suddenly transformed into vicious sharks, gliding up and down the aisles of big box stores gobbling up merchandise, their soulless black eyes rolling back in their heads every time they see a “50 percent off” sign posted on a pyramid of laptops, toaster ovens or this year’s popular dolls. They circle quickly, then tear the pyramid to pieces, leaving nothing but scraps of paper and a tattered sign.
This ritual is not for the squeamish, and certainly not for me. The whole thing reminds me of our children’s favorite road game, “Would You Rather?” Would you rather be dipped in a bucket of spit, or be transported to Walmart on Black Friday? I’ll take the bucket of spit any old day.
That my wife — who exceeds me in level-headedness on just about every front imaginable — willingly, even gleefully, participates in this grotesque display is one of life’s great mysteries. I don’t get it, will never get it.
Her text message says: “The good news is I got tons of stuff. The bad news is that I spent lots of money.”
Of course, this is a rhetorical trick that desperate people use in an effort to minimize the impact of what is, in fact, terrible news, and lots of it. A careful reader will note that everything in this message qualifies as bad news. There is no good news to be found in it anywhere. What we actually have here is bad news, followed by worse news.
Admittedly, part of the issue is that my wife and I have different approaches to Christmas shopping — different “paradigms,” if you will. My approach — which has served me well for many years — is to wait until the last minute, and then get everyone gift cards. I think this is pretty sound and certainly efficient, but Tammy thinks that this is lazy and unimaginative, which I have neither the logic nor the energy to dispute.
Worst of all, if you buy people gift cards, you are not getting “a deal.” A $50 gift card is worth exactly $50, no more and no less. There is no “deal” in that, and for my spouse, that’s a deal-breaker.
If my approach is “card-centered,” hers is “deal-centered.”
We also have different strategies for choosing gifts for people. I tend to make a list of people I want to buy for, and then shop for gift cards to match their particular needs and personalities (“Owen: Lowes,” “Sarah: Pet Smart,” “Tammy: Victoria’s Secret,” and so on). List first, then gifts.
Tammy makes no such list. She prefers a more intuitive, “organic” approach to Christmas shopping. She finds the best deals on all kinds of things, assembles these things in a makeshift warehouse in her closet or the guest-room downstairs, and then spends weeks, months or years figuring out who should get what, and why. We still have merchandise in her closet from three years ago waiting patiently to find its perfect mate. She is running an eHarmony of Christmas gifts out of her closet. Gifts first, then list. Surely there is a Latin phrase that covers this?
When she gets home with a car stuffed with stuff and a receipt as long as our driveway, all I can do is help her pile it all on and around our kitchen table: scooters, food savers, pressure washers, packs of this and that, all of it marked down, down, down.
“What is a food saver?”
“We may keep that one,” she says. “You know all the food we end up throwing away because it goes bad before we cook it? Now we can SAVE it by wrapping it with the food saver and freezing it!”
“Save it where?” I say. “We don’t have room in our freezer for a popsicle, much less a roast or whatever.”
“I guess we would need to throw out some of what’s in there now.”
I’m sure this all makes sense to some of you. You know who you are. The deal seekers. The Black Friday banshees. The Walmart land sharks. For you, this is pure sport, the thrill of the chase. So happy hunting, I guess. And I hope you enjoy your gift cards. Try to act surprised.