Black Friday is Way Scarier Than Halloween
By J. L. Thurston
The Holiday Season approacheth! And what does that mean? Shopping!
Yes, we all like to pretend that we aren’t like the materialistic hoard, those coyotes that pack the stores, brutish cave-dwellers with zero tolerance for others near them. Yes, we say we live above all that nonsense, and maybe you are one of the few who strictly shop online and avoid all human interaction for your holiday shopping to protect everyone’s sanity (everyone except the UPS guy and your mail carrier). But we all at least know those people who don’t feel like it’s the holidays until they’ve put too much in their carts, get angry when unable to find the exact right thing, and spend far too much time than they want to in lines. Ho! Ho! Ho!
When asked about the upcoming holiday, I get all tingly thinking about the roasted turkey, the creamy mashed potatoes, the gravy, the yams! But that’s not what others think about, anymore. They stuff themselves at noon and put their boots on and are waiting in stores for the Black Friday sales before their turkey has even reached their small intestine. Oh, but what about family time? Well, hell, bring the kids, send them out on their own little mission to find that marked-down item in the catalog! Don’t forget to put them in helmets and full body armor, the crowds get pretty rough.
Back in the day, I was hired by Walmart. I worked in a smaller store while a Super Center was being built in the empty field behind it. Three weeks into my job as an electronics associate, I had to work my very first Black Friday. I will admit, I was actually kind of excited. I had never experienced the occasion before. What can I say? I was 19. Now, this was back in the day when Black Friday was actually held on Friday. For stores that weren’t 24-hours, the doors would be unlocked at the crack of dawn. There was a kind of holiday thrill in the air, I thought, with a completely full parking lot and crowds pressed chest-to-back at the door. I was new, so I tried to get in the normal way near the front entrance, only to be sworn at by furious customers who thought that if I could be let in, they should be let in, too. Fortunately for me, an experienced associate discovered me and took me to the back. It was a preview of the day to come.
We had stations. Some of us were to maintain the special item displays, most of us were to work the registers, and some of us were to help direct the flow of shoppers in an orderly fashion. That last one was my job. Again, I was nineteen, barely a buck-twenty and about as authoritative as a glass of milk.
When they opened those doors… I actually heard Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana– O Fortuna. People ran forth like the hounds of hell. Immediately, I was being shouted at from all directions. I was speechless, pressed to an endcap with my mouth agape. I remember the angry contorted faces of grown men and women as they shrieked at me. A man said to me, “Fuck you!” and I was also called a "useless bitch" more than once. People actually felt it was perfectly OK to grab my arm and yank me toward them in order to get my attention. They wanted me to tell them where certain items were. I was completely useless the rest of the day.
I felt shell-shocked, like all I needed was a loud bang for me to be thrown into a PTSD panic. I was forever changed after that Black Friday. Dramatic? Sure, but if you’ve ever Black Friday shopped, you know I’m not really exaggerating much.
What have we become? As people, I mean. I gave four years to Walmart, and I worked every weekend and every holiday (except Christmas, but that’s only because Walmart is closed for Christmas). I worked every Black Friday, and every year got worse and worse. Especially with the Super Center opening up and the doors never closing. People were then free to wander around before the Black Friday hours and be rude to employees before showtime.
Yes, Walmart employees generally suck. They’re tired, they’re annoyed, they are not helpful. But you’re currently shopping at Walmart, people, how much help can you need? Customers think up all sorts of questions, and they like to create a lot of problems, too. For example, one day I was called to go over and help a customer with some fabric. It’s easy for an employee to do—just measure, cut and tag—as long as the customer doesn’t mind asking an associate for help. Apparently, this (former employee) customer was enraged she had to wait for me to go from electronics to fabrics and as soon as I rounded the corner, I shit you not, she snarled in my face, “Fuck you!” Then proceeded to call the Walmart hotline to file a formal complaint about me (which does absolutely nothing, I guarantee) as I cut and tagged her fabric.
So, the next time you get annoyed because an associate rolls their eyes because you can’t find a router the store doesn’t carry, maybe remember that we’re all human and the internet exists (for Amazon, I mean).
To complete the holiday cheer from my years in retail hell, I played the good employee and gave my store manager a month notice before I quit. I worked the holiday season, my last day being December 31st. On my very last day, I approached my store manager to ask if there was any paperwork involved. I’ll never forget the blank look on his face. He said, “What do you mean, ‘paperwork?'” He was completely shocked that I was quitting and stated he didn’t remember me sitting down with him to explain I was quitting to enter healthcare. Well, thanks, boss. Glad to be important around here.
Before I sign off on my Black Friday reminiscing, I’d like to leave you with a bit of shopping advice from a former Walmart associate.
• Don’t shop on Black Friday. Especially now that it starts on Thanksgiving Day. Family time is not as common as it should be; cherish it. Stroll into the store late, because the special prices are good for the items as long as the items are in store. Also, lots of people return buckets of crap the next day because they just went crazy and bought too much. When I worked there, I’d fish through the returns bins and do my Christmas shopping in five minutes flat.
• My next piece of advice is always hard for people to swallow, but it’s 100 percent true and will steer you in a good direction: Sales aren’t always sales and markdowns are made to fool you. Just because something has a red tag, does not mean it’s on sale. It means that Walmart is not going to carry that item in the near future. It could be a seasonal change and it will come back. Most of the time, the was and now pricing on those tags are misleading. The was part of the price tag could mean the price of the item five years ago. A camera that now costs 200 dollars is marked "Was $400" because it was that much when it was the newest in technology half a decade ago.
So, happy shopping, I mean, Happy Holidays! Keep the season in your heart, and save the holidays for loved ones and alcohol.