Today is the worst day of the year.
Black Friday is so named because it marks the theoretical transition from where retailers operate at a loss to when they operate at a profit, but it is perhaps an equally descriptive of the mood experienced by any retail clerk working the day after Thanksgiving. I’ve worked my fair share of Black Fridays, which has since inspired me to always add “that I don’t have to work retail tomorrow” to my list of things for which I’m thankful, right after the part about a healthy family and that I don’t have any terminal illnesses.
Venturing into a shopping environment today is an unwise prospect. Don’t be fooled by newspaper and television ads promising amazing savings and once-in-a-lifetime prices on ceramic tchotchkes, you simply aren’t hardcore enough to be there while anything of value is in stock. I can assure you, unless you’ve been planning, training and plotting for this day all year, you are simply not prepared to face the professional batch of shoppers who will viciously molest your local mall with tactical plans for acquiring significantly discounted loot. This is not a market for casual shopping, and less so for sightseeing.
Frankly, as gamers it’s probably just as well that our shopping season is essentially over. For us consumers, the important advantage of having every developer working overtime to ensure that their big season release is on shelves before Black Friday is that they are in stores before Black Friday. From this point on, except for the 15 minutes most of us will spend on Christmas Eve shopping for something for our wives, girlfriends or mothers, we are free from the turmoil and tumult of the ever-escalating chaos that is the local mall in early winter.
Unless, of course, you work retail. And, for you valiant minimum wage martyrs, I must admit that despite your gruff attitude, your general incompetence and your unabashed scorn, my overwhelming sympathy is with you. I realize that today you will likely be cursed at by any number of customers, and very possibly spit at as well. I’ve seen it happen, and it didn’t even seem out of place at the time. In the pit of vipers and vultures, scowling faces shoving newspaper inserts in your face with apparent selective illiteracy when it comes to the phrase “while supplies last,” it’s understandably difficult to maintain a pleasant demeanor in the same way that it is understandably difficult to swim across the Lake Michigan.
And, as an added layer of chaotic nonsense, many locations including my own local mall are opening at positively ridiculous hours, like one in the ever-loving morning. I can’t begin to imagine beyond medicines for the sick and prophylactics what kind of commerce needs to be done at 1:00 a.m., but apparently there are enough people in the world who are willing to stand in line at JC Penny for really cheap underwear just north of the witching hour that it makes some kind of sense to someone.
At the risk of being cliché, never have I been more certain that our entire civilization is on the brink of doom. Perhaps that’s melodramatic. I suppose that our species survived parachute pants and breakdancing in the ’80s signifies that we’re more resilient against poor cultural choices than I might think. Either way, I’m pretty sure that were Dante alive now he’d include a late night visit to a suburban mall as one of the circles of hell, maybe replacing the one where everyone is encased in ice.
I suppose there’s room here for commentary on rampant consumerism having changed the spirit of the holiday season from something divine and sublime into an unscrupulous used car-salesman, but having just spent nearly $200 dollars on the illusory accoutrements of pretending to be a rock star, my commentary on artificiality would be woefully hypocritical. I’m only grateful to not be a functional part of the retail process for the next few weeks. As far as I’m concerned department stores, strip malls and the hilariously named lifestyle centers might as well be surrounded by police tape with big biohazard stickers pasted on all the doors.
Know this, if you whether by employment or choice ventured into a retail environment today, you have my respect. And my pity.