Black Friday Memories

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Alexander'sPeople would tell you that my Dad did not like to shop. But that wasn’t really true. My Dad didn’t like to shop for things he didn’t need is more like it, and he certainly didn’t like to shop for anything under pressure.

Still, that didn’t prevent he and I from getting up at some ungodly hour back in 1983 and striking out on Black Friday to go get something for my Mom. A surprise for Christmas. What were we shopping for? To tell you the truth, I can’t remember. The title of this piece aside, the item itself? Totally forgotten. I’m not even sure if we succeeded in getting whatever it was we wanted, although for sure, we did come home with something. Several somethings, in fact, because heck, if we were going to sneak out of the house in the wee hours of the morning, we were gonna spend some money-whether my Mom wanted what we got or not!

I’m sure you know the feeling. I know I’m not alone here. In 1983 I was fifteen and six months away from my first real job. I was at the Green Acres Mall in Valley Stream with Dad, and a pocket full of paper route money )mostly singles). Here’s why I picked this memory to spotlight.

Dad and I were on line. We’d been standing there waiting to pay for roughly 72 hours or so, when directly in front of us, things started getting iffy. Picture this. Dad and I are fourth or fifth in line. At the head of the line, a frazzled cashier is trying to move things along with a customer trying to pay. My guess is with an out-of-state two-party check and no ID, given how long we’ve been standing there, but whatever. Then, there’s a poor schlub with one item. One. He’s a thin guy, beard, his winter coat on, and he looks miserable. Probably because he was. I’m standing there, trying to remember if he came into the store overweight and clean-shaven, and this is what he’s been reduced to. And then.

There’s two women on line in between Dad and I and the poor guy with no hope for an express lane. They’ve got carts filled to overflowing. They’ve both decided that the Limit 2 or Limit 4 or Limit 6 Dozen sign does not apply to them with the day’s hot ticket items, and they’re jostling against one another with their carts, continuing a ruckus that Dad and I first noticed when passing the TOYS section at the Alexander’s department store, which as you’ve probably guessed no longer exists. I’m getting the feeling that this is going to get uncomfortable quick, when Mr. 1-item and my Dad start paying attention. And that’s when it struck me. It wasn’t just Dad and this stranger. It was everybody. The people one line over. The next cashier ringing up customers. Shoppers who were trolling the clearance bins. This was good stuff! The monotony of standing in line in an era without smart phones or texting or crossword apps on your tablet had been broken!

“Did you see that?!” Limitless shopper A turns to ask my Dad.

Instead of ignoring her, Dad answers. “Oh, yeah.” Funny, I hadn’t expected him to say anything, but he did. So, Limitless shopper B asks Mr. Facial Hair if he’d seen the cart-shoving exchange. His response?

“Oh, yea-a-h-h-h.” He and my Dad exchange a look. They both fall silent, and we stand back to watch.

I’ll spare you the details. The toys flying out of their carts. The pushing and shoving. Profanity that would’ve made a prison cellblock proud. How it wound up that the women started throwing the items that they’d been battling other shoppers for at one another before store security and a manager got there to defuse the situation (taking the women away to ring
them up somewhere else-out of sight of the rest of the now-giddy crowd).

“Well, that shortened the line a little,” Dad says, and Mr. 1-item drops a twenty on the belt and walks away with his purchase. He didn’t even wait for his change. He just smiled at us and winked and was gone.

Black Friday. My Mom hates it. My sister hates it. My brother-in-law isn’t crazy about it, either. My wife? Ehh. Sometimes she’s willing to brave the stores, sometimes not.

Now, my nephews? They don’t mind Black Friday. The few times I’ve gotten them to tag along, we’ve always had fun. Not quite the ruckus at Alexander’s, but we’ve met some strange birds on line and in the places I’ve taken them to eat on our holiday shopping excursions. They think Uncle Joe always meets strange people when we’re out together. That Uncle Joe never misses a chance to chat up a stranger who’s having the worst day possible while waiting on line at Wal-Mart or Bass Pro Shop and, especially, at the Flea Market. My nephews, once upon a time, did not believe there was such a thing as haggling-not until they’d seen it first-hand. Not until they’d seen the price come down on  a bottle of Drakkar Noir for their own father.

My Dad’s gone now. But he knew the deal. He knew what Christmas and Black Friday and the holidays were all about. He didn’t care what we got or where we went or what we spent. We just cared about making the effort.

And the good time that went along with it. Even if it sometimes came at the expense of others who were, in a word, clueless. Me and Dad had some great times shopping. On more than a few occasions, we drove my Mom nuts. Someday, I’ll share the Hungarian goulash story with you, that one’s a keeper.

Today, I’m guessing most people would rather sit at home, do their Black Friday shopping online, avoiding the crowds and the hassles and the nightmare of the register tape running out and causing further delays. I can’t disagree, there’s definitely a huge up side to that.

But me and my nephews? We’re still all kids. We’re going to go out, and we’re going to carry some loose change in our pockets like I taught them so when we pass the bell ringers for the Salvation Army, we can wave and say, “Merry Christmas!” and hear the coins drop into the bucket. We’re going to eat strange food at the Fleamasters Food Court, and haggle over items we don’t care about paying full price for. We’re going to split a Santa Claus funnel cake with cinnamon sugar on it even if it looks nothing like Santa, because this is the time of year you get to do things like that. We’re going to find something so outrageously, hideously, unforgivably ugly that we cannot pass it up, wrap it, and give it to my Sister so she has to go and return it with an expression on her face that says, “Yes, my family has no taste.” I’m going to get each of us an egg nog shake and ignore my sister’s disgust at what I pay for them, because someday down the road, I’d like to think my nephews will drag their own kids out on a Black Friday and build the same kinds of memories.

So, when you’re done clicking and ADDing to Cart. When you’ve exhausted your stockpile of ideas for shopping here and around the web, think about it. Think about packing your kids, or your nephews, or your sister-in-law into the car and heading out into the wild. Without a list. Without any goal in mind. Just go out with the sole purpose of having fun, and enjoying the chaos of the day. It ain’t all bad, if you can watch it with a smile on your face.

Last updated: Nov 29, 2013
Filed under: Retro Memories Tagged with: shopping