Like a lot of men my age (46), I hate going shopping. I hate the crowds, the lines, the pushiness and the unrestrained greed of people blindly salivating as they wander around a mall. Where I live there are two particularly huge malls within twenty minutes, one over the state line, the other deeper in the wealthy suburbs. Both of these malls are filled with high end stores–beyond Macy’s there is Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus; there are Gucci stores, Fendi, Louis Vuitton, Henig Furs, and a Tiffany and Co. that we sometimes go into and laugh at the fact that there is literally nothing in the store we can afford without having to miss a mortgage payment.
These places are nightmares, snobs, the fussy, persnickety jerks who are impatient and, like most of us, just want to get out of there as quickly as possible. All of us rush around gaping, dreaming of a better life, imagining that expensive things will make us feel better about the numerous missteps we have taken in our lives. We can buy a hundred dollar steak at Morton’s, or spend a thousand dollars on a fantasy at Intimissimi, the Italian lingerie store. Usually, if we dare to go to these malls at all, we settle for the Gap, Aeropostle or another store such as that for my daughter; to some expensive sneaker store for my son, then Aunt Annie’s and the food court, with whatever slop we order inside of a bread bowl.
But there is one day I actually love going to these places. I do not particularly shop, and force the rest of my family to endure this crowded, pushy nightmare. I sit on a bench and occasionally walk around. I have a notebook with me. I scribble down character sketches about human nature and the cascading crawl of greed racing around before me.
People are excited–they are buying presents on this first day of pretend sales, where new items are marked up 200%, then slashed by 40 or 50% What a deal! And we rush around, sometimes getting into fights with other frantic families when there is only one left of whichever hot item for our children. People push and pull and scream at one another. No one is happy. We all spend way too much money, and then we realize that the prize item bought originally for a sister or brother or mother is something you want far more than they ever could. And so you keep it. This item is too precious to give away. The best gift is the one you buy for yourself, and it will only be after the new year, when you look at your bills, that you start thinking about returning things.
‘Black Friday’ is, and always has been, a scam. But it is the day after Thanksgiving, a day of pure excess, a celebration of everything we have, and how wonderful this makes us feel. Thanksgiving, while full of wonderful sentiment, has a dark underbelly displaying America also at its worst–shoving food inside of other food in defiance of those starving elsewhere in the world; making and baking things you would never otherwise eat at any time throughout the year. For myself and my own family, when else do we have a roasted turkey? When do we eat fancy homemade pies, or any of those other numerous peculiarities that remind so many of us of being at home as children over the holidays? Some random mush topped with marshmallows? Hideous things like pickled eggs, and that appetizer some guest always brings that remains untouched on the table. A fruitcake. Nonpareils where the white sprinkles wind up everywhere, still discovered months later. And all that other crap we otherwise never think about, and do not even look forward to until we walk into the kitchen and smell the savor.
I will admit that I honestly love Thanksgiving, less for the family unity and football, and more for the food. Despite your best intentions to think otherwise, I bet it is the same thing with you.
The point is that come Black Friday, we are stuffed and satisfied and, perhaps, feeling a little lazy. Nearly everyone has the day off work (anecdotally, among the best Thanksgivings I personally ever spent were when I was working as a bartender. I was very drunk at work. It was a hotel restaurant. It was me, a waiter, and one cook. Our customers were mostly people from other nations visiting town on either business or some shadier concern. One of our regulars, a very wealthy British alcoholic, spent two years in a row with me on Thanksgiving, mumbling blather about soccer and cricket and horse racing, before going into rants about politics in Great Britain, and his belief that Communism never truly died. He claimed that the fall of Soviet Russia was a ruse, a trick to make the western world weak and unprepared for when the ‘red gorgon’ came back to life and conquered us all). And, full and self-satisfied as we usually are, far too much money is about to be spent on items you are not entirely sure their intended will even want.
If we truly think about it, most of the presents that we open are unsatisfying–even disappointing. Oh, sure, we usually get at least one (if we’re lucky even two) of those items we talked on and on about to Santa Claus or Hanukkah Harry, or to one another in a frenzy of, yes, again, a frenzy of unrestrained greed. But the rest of those gifts–practical items like socks and shirts and underwear and formal clothes, are not what we gathered underneath the tree for.
And yet, after the holidays–after Thanksgiving and Hanukkah and Christmas and whichever non-secular version these holidays non-believers like myself celebrate (I used to call it ‘Gift-Giving Day,’ which was a random day in December when all the gifts are bought and you see whomever it is and say “Here! Happy Gift-Giving Day!” This would provoke confusion if the people were new to my cynical tradition, or simple awkwardness because the other people either didn’t have a gift for me available or did not plan on buying me something in the first place. Ah, holiday memories.) we slouch back into our everyday lives, somehow less satisfied than ever before. This is why so many people have things like ‘seasonal depression,’ and other temporary mental illnesses that cripple you until the sun starts shining again. Come January there is nothing much to look forward to until spring.
I’ll let the comments go there. Happy Thanksgiving to all. And stay the fuck out of my way in the goddamn motherfucking mall when I have to buy a bunch of shit for all those assholes who will never appreciate anything!