Sunday, November 25, 2012

Spending in the Name of

Thanksgiving Day.  It’s a quirky American tradition celebrating our ancestor’s ability to settle their cultural differences with the Native Americans, and share the crop brought forth from the mutual perseverance of all.  This day in history would be followed with the settlers buying land from the Natives at a mere pittance of their actual worth, all because they knew how to work a mark over.  See, the Native Americans didn’t have a concept of ‘owning’ land.  They would have taken a damn letter opener from the settlers for it, because they had no idea how any one person could own the land – just like our notion of no one being able to own the sky- and figured they were the ones taking advantage of the early American pioneers.  They would take these contributions and laugh, because they didn’t understand they were being taken advantage of, and they had no indication of the dangers ahead from just letting a few Shylocks pull the wool over their eyes.

But that’s just me being a hipster, anarchist, liberal, egalitarian dick, right?  I mean, it’s not like this gets brought up on Fox News or anything...

The same celebration of thanks occurs to this day.  We sit with our families, setting aside our perceptions of who is really the craziest one in the bunch, ignoring Aunt Edna as she slams back Xanax and wine like Tic Tacs and Fresca.  We find Uncle Charley’s inebriation charming; instead of the slow, menacing vehicle he’s using it as to cure his manic depression – either by killing him, or numbing himself into a mild mental retardation.  No, on this day he can happily play with the nephews and nieces, none older than nine.  And look! – They think he’s funny and imitable!  How adorable!

I honestly love Thanksgiving.  As a day, it truly speaks to what is best about being from this country.  We have branched so far from our families and our familial identities in just a little under a century.  We are all our own franchises: selling the same genes, but with a refreshing regional twist that keeps everyone guessing.  And on this day, we come together to share in our food, our stories, and our loving appreciation of each other. I love this – it is fantastic to see so many, and to be reminded of what makes them unique and just simply wonderful.

And when the food has been consumed, the wine emptied, the turkey looking as barren as the elephant boneyard in The Lion King, we chuckle like devious hyenas as we plan the next, inevitable phase of spending time with our family not 31 days from Christmas: holiday shopping for each other.

Black Friday is as American as Peter Minuit’s purchase of Manhattan:  Smile at the natives, let them all eat, and then take them to the bank.

Disclaimer time.  I have worked retail since 2003.  That’s nine seasons of working through Black Friday (and Saturday. and Sunday. and – sometimes - even Thanksgiving Day).  Last year I dropped over half a K on Black Friday – just on myself.  This year I still dropped about $100, but not on myself.  This was a conscious decision predicated by my desire to decrease my annual spending.  By a lot.  I did NOT visit a brick-and-mortar store that day, as all shopping was done right from my phone’s browser.  I did NOT do any of it on Thanksgiving Day.  Ironically, now that I was no longer on the other side of the counter I had this almost Pavlovian instinct to look at all the sales flyers and set aside the times necessary to purchase the timed deals online.  The epiphany I discuss here did not hit home until the drive home when I took the time to think about personal growth. 

Again, this is all fucking ironic, and in large part a lesson to my future self.

Back to the story here.  We drove out of state on Wednesday.  Even on that day, when driving past a Best Buy or Wal-Mart, there was always – yes, always; not a hyperbole – at least one tent setup at the front door.  Occasionally, there’d be a few other chairs behind it.  At one location, there was a truck backed up the tent, running a power line to a light inside of it – maybe even a television, by the flickering - and several people playing soccer by the vehicle’s front lights.  It looked quite jovial, as there was also a mini fridge plugged into it, and a gas grill steaming in the brisk New England nighttime air.  This was how they were spending their holiday: in a parking lot, in the cold, at a store, and –from my own experience behind the counter with this fine pedigree of human consumer - away from their families.

The training has been to wait until THIS day to buy THAT item because it will be at THOSE prices.  The hottest new toy, the fad cellphone, the best-ever video gaming doodad – they’re all available at the year’s lowest prices.  You’ve just had a day to spend with your family – aren’t they great? – don’t they deserve the best? – Then come on out and shop for them!  Hell, if you’re so crazy about your family, some places are even open on Thanksgiving Day!

So you can leave your family gathering, shop for the people at your family gathering, and get back before it’s over.  This is ingenious, right?

Well, sure: if you aren’t the one that’s working at this fantastic retailer ringing you out on Thanksgiving day.  What in the great merciful hell is actually wrong with you, America? - Tampon so high up there you’re suffering from toxic shock?  These are people that have a family; somewhere, someone is having a family gathering – without them.  The family is broken, and the day that should be bringing them together is driving tacking nails with the hammer of Thor to do the opposite.  Even with a tight schedule that had me working so closely before and after the holiday, it was impossible to spend the actual day with anyone from my family.  Finally spending it with them this year was both wonderful and a little awkward.  I mean, it’s a shame how much I don’t know about any aspect of my family.  Equally, I feel like they always see this twisted misanthrope and that’s all (to be fair, that’s half of my personality).

The great retailer broached us in years past for how to grow their business.  We replied to give us better deals.  They celebrated – the idea could work.  They give us discounted food, and we in turn storm the stores like the beaches of Normandy on June 6th of 1944.  That may be hyperbole.

Do our children need iPads? – sure, if they’re on sale!  Do they need iPhones, designer jeans, and faux-fur parkas? – why not!  Already at the store buying that 93” television, may as well toss it all in.  Besides, they’ll love you more if you get them more! – remember last year when you got them all that stuff, but they started hating you again a month later? If you buy them more this year, that won’t happen!

Let’s branch out from a tirade that’s seemingly going nowhere for a moment.  I’d run into this psychobabble every year where parents would accuse me of ruining their child’s Christmas because we’d run out of “The Barney Chainsaw Massacre” or “Call of Dootie: Taint Surprise”.  Are the loving bonds between you and your family so tenuous that a sixty dollar piece of plastic is the only thing maintaining the admirations and standards that they have held you to?  Will they stop thinking they can’t be an astronaut if mommy can’t buy them a copy of “Assman’s Free 3: The Chap’s Revenge”?  Does little Jimmy really NEED an iPhone 5 when his 4S from last year is just as good?  Fuck- the kid’s eight: why in fuck’s name does he even have a cellphone? - Is Selena Gomez his girlfriend?  

As long as retailers believe that they can get more money from us on this day, they will continue to encroach on our wallets – and our families.  With a little lobbying, the right shoulders rubbing together, or even the right money on the right candidate, how soon before they create a precedent allowing them to rip employees from their family to work on this day with no recompense?  Hell, how long before none of us can have Thanksgiving Day as a holiday?  The retailers are schilling us their crude shapes of plastic and cut glass in an effort to hold more of the modern American real-estate: our money. 

How in the hell do we make a change? – starting simple.  Re-evaluate why you’re buying what you’re buying.  First, do you need it?  Do you need to purchase it on Black Friday?  Is so, Do you need a $900 dollar TV just because it’s $700, or can you get by nicely with the $200 one?  Feeling more radical? (brace yourself: this might cause you to blow a damn vessel in your eyeball) – stop shopping on Black Friday.  But, hey, while you’re at it, let’s also rule out Thanksgiving Day, the Saturday and Sunday after, and even Cyber Monday.  Make them treat it like any other day of the year.

It is not for the consumer to bend to the stipulations of the business; it is the business’ responsibility to cater to a consumer’s whim.  And we’re just giving them the dotted line on that contract for our paychecks - or souls; whichever’s worth more.

When is the last time you actually sat down with your family – your kids - and talked to them?  For those who are unaware, we have an entire day as a country dedicated to just this opportunity.  I mean, a whole actual day – no work, no need for TV, and we’re already indoctrinated to get together with every able branch of our family.  Blows the mind, right?  Maybe simmer on the shopping lists, and focus on the reason you have the day off from work, and we could all learn a little something about the monsters living under our own roof. Or, you could even get crazier, and try to have regular “family time” – maybe on a weekly, or even – gasp! – daily schedule.  You might even learn something about someone in your family.  Hell, you might even learn something about yourself.

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