I was thirty years old before I had the guts to experience Black Friday.
When the alarm clock blared at 0300 hours I wondered if I’d somehow woke up in the Marines. By 0400 I was standing frozen in line, shivering, and stamping my feet alongside my mother, sister, and a few hundred equally insane shoppers awaiting the opening bell.
Our shopping list was burned into my brain until the moment the front doors swung wide and everyone surged forward. Once inside I took a terrified look around and realized I’d forgotten everything on our list. Everything!
A quarrel had already broken out slowing the main flow of foot traffic to a crawl. I glanced to my right and then I saw them, part ballerina and part hunter, as they hurdled their way toward the back of the store. Something about the way they carried themselves told me these women were the prima professionals and they were after the “good stuff”.
I too was a hunter of sorts, and here, game was limited to supply on hand with no rain checks. I trailed the hunters to the back of the store where they had already “made the kill”, feeding over a pallet of chrome scooters, the door-buster of the day. I scavenged heartily and was rewarded with three scooters. Then whirling with the throng, I was swept toward another pallet of action figures. With my free hand I grappled for the dolls and got several before they were gone.
Then, just like that, the frenzy was over. I stood there, trembling as the warrior hunters around me were still eyeing each other’s spoils with gluttonous envy. I swallowed hard, holding stone still. In my arms was more booty than I could possibly defend if ever contested. My family arrived just in time, their carts full of lesser items, their faces forlorn until they recognized me quivering behind my armload of loot. “Oh my gosh!” my kid sister exclaimed. “Look at you! How did you get all of this?”
“I…I…I don’t even know. I just grabbed whatever they grabbed.” It was a dangerous thing to say out loud.
“Excuse me!” The loutish woman’s words were polite but her tone was anything but. I froze, sensing that at any sign of weakness, the professionals would likely attack, leaving me near naked and shivering in my underpants. “Excuse me!” The greedy woman growled again as my family stepped quick between her and me in a defensive stance. “If you don’t want those, then give them to me,” the woman insisted.
“Oh, he wants them,” my kid sister hissed, eyes glowering like we were in a vampire confrontation from Twilight.
The intrusive woman backed away with reluctance as I somehow understood that much of my sister’s warning was nonverbal.
At the front of the store, life in the checkout lane was miserable. Babies were bawling, people were cussing, and many were cutting in line despite the angry jeers of protest behind them.
We moved forward at a snail's pace. Scooting a few boxes along with my feet, I began to wonder how the holidays had gone so horribly wrong. All around me was humbug rather than happiness. Was this really what Christ wanted for Christmas?
Then I noticed a woman crying softly up ahead. She had just finished a cell phone call and was reacting to some very bad news. “What’s the matter?” I finally asked over the three shoppers between us.
“It’s my father,” the woman sobbed. “He’s just been taken to the hospital.”
Guessing her dilemma as to where to ditch her cart full of toys and how to extricate herself through the massive slow moving throng, I wedged myself forward and tapped the next person in line. The man grumbled as he turned to face us, his expression softening as he noted the wet streaks down the woman’s cheeks.
“Her father has just been taken to the emergency room,” I explained. “Would you please let her pass so she can pay for her things and get to the hospital?”
“You bet,” the man kindly replied stepping aside as the shoppers behind us listened to what was happening. “Excuse me,” the man then said to the women in front of him. “Would you mind letting this poor lady through, her father was just rushed to the hospital but she needs to pay for her things.”
“Yes, of course,” she answered taking the crying woman by the arm and helping her to the front of the line.
As the woman reached the register, joyful cheers mixed with applause arose from the crowd, and we all delighted in the true spirit of the holidays. It was then that I knew, Christ had gotten what he wanted for Christmas.