November 30, 2013

Black Friday

Another Black Friday has come and gone ... the great American potlatch where throngs of shoppers for one day find common cause in buying for others what they wouldn't want for themselves if you paid them. Millions of visitors from Planet Me, tight-faced in their grim pursuit of the Christmas spirit, will once again be sucked into the black hole of consumerism, most to emerge stripped of their money and their holiday cheer.

The term derives from the belief that Black Friday is the day that retailers go from being in the red to being in the black. The irony is that even Black Friday is being debased by greed. It used to be that Black Friday was the weekend to save big bucks, but store chains desperate to show improving bottom lines have expanded it beyond the original concept.

Walmart offered Black Friday savings a full week early on some items in an attempt to avoid the riots that have marred previous Black Fridays. Gray Thursday notes the emerging practice of opening stores on Thanksgiving Day, a sort of negative Miracle on 34th Street effect where if one store opens then all the stores feel they must open to avoid losing sales. Cyber Monday has been added to the list to entice those who prefer not to have to mingle with the hoi polloi.

Folks react differently when I tell them I work in retail. For some, there is a whiff of social stigma attached to it ... definitely a bit déclassé, don't you know. They won't say it, but you can tell they consider retail work to be something one does in high school, perhaps, but not the sort of thing a successful adult would be doing.

Then there are those who have worked retail. The word alone is enough to evoke an immediate connection ... a meeting of the eyes, a knowing nod, an unspoken band-of-brothers moment that is felt in few other occupations. I'm sure cops and ER workers experience the same feeling, the instant understanding that only shared tribulation brings.

The common denominator is working with the public. People can be wonderful or they can be a mess. Like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get. The only sure thing is that in the few minutes it takes to buy those shirts or shoes, a person's character will be revealed as fully as it is after weeks of therapy. I am continually astonished at the intimate details that people share about their lives. Some of it is heartbreaking to hear. At other times, you can't help but share a laugh. Either way, you are as affected by the transaction as is the customer.

I think every young person should do two things before they settle down: live alone in a big city and work retail. Life in the big city teaches you self-reliance. Working retail teaches you how to read people and control situations. Both experiences breed a self-confidence that will help them throughout their lives. If you can handle the invaders from Planet Me when they are having a bad day, well, you can pretty much handle most anything.

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