Before we get into today’s horror story, it is important for you all to know one thing about me. I don’t like crowds. At all. I have this thing about too many people and physical contact. Always have.
So many of you out there know exactly where this story is going.
Early last week, my mom called me from work to point out a site to me. On it were Black Friday ads listing all the special sales going on the day after Thanksgiving. “See if anything looks good to you,” she said, “and on Friday we’ll go out and get it.”
I toddled over to the site, found one item, one item mind you, that I thought will make a good Christmas present, and then called her back. “Sure. Let’s go get this.”
I didn’t know.
Thirty three years old and I had no idea why they called it Black Friday.
Outside of the fact everyone was making a big noise over the day, my first clue should have given to me from Brother Todd. Mom and Dad were going to Wal-mart at midnight on the day for a sale. Mom wanted to pick up this thing called an IDog. I have no idea what it is myself, but from what I gather it’s sort of the Tickle Me Elmo of 2006<1> . It sold out quick enough.
Todd was practically begging to go with. He was going to bring his camera. This is the man, by the by, who takes pictures of graveyards, burnt out houses, and dead animals. His interest in Black Friday should have been a big old neon sign flashing in my face, reading “Cullen, you ignorant slut! DON’T GO OUT ON BLACK FRIDAY!”
But I did.
My mom, being the kind hearted soul that she is, tried to warn me about the crowds. I poo-poohed her concerns. “We had some big crowds at the D-Shoppe and at Kinko’s,” I said. “I can handle it.”
I wasn’t kidding. I have seen big crowds. The D-Shoppe was a college bookstore, so on the first and last days of school there are a hell of a lot of people. The busy day I had at Kinko’s was connected to the fact I was working morning shift in the middle of the City. Lots of people, always needed to be on my toes. Truth be told, I remember those days with some fondness.
What I hadn’t considered was that at the D-Shoppe and at Kinko’s, I was behind a register, at a counter. Where it was safe.
We arrived at the store and the parking lot was jam packed with cars. This was, of course, yet another hint that Cullen didn’t really want to be here. But people were leaving the store we were going to with big smiles on their faces. It couldn’t be that bad if they were leaving with smiles. Right?
We went in and the usual thing happened, which was I went my way and Mom went hers. My way should have been to pick up the one item I was here for, but of course I couldn’t do that. I did a little me shopping instead. As in, “OOO! Wouldn’t it be neat to get that! Whoa! When did they release that!”
No matter how many years pass in my life, I don’t think I’ll ever lose that greedy child stage.
This trip, however, I cut it short quick. I get to the end of the row I’m in and see a line. Obviously it trailed off to the cash registers. It was a pretty big one. Better get what I wanted and go find Mom. If she wasn’t ready yet, I’d take a place in line and wait for her. Simple, really.
I headed back the way I came and started for the product I want. (I can’t say what it is, cause while he isn’t a frequent reader, he does on occasion read the blog.) It was located in the back of the store, several aisles away from where I was. I tell you all this so that you can understand my dismay when I discovered the end of the line not only on the opposite side from where the start was, but also snaking back towards the front of the door. Now that’s a long line, I thought.
By the time I picked up my one item, I discovered that the line not only curves around the back of the store, it goes up and down various aisles. I had never seen lines that long that didn’t have some sort of amusement park ride at the end. I was now in serious need of finding my Mommy… excuse me, my Mother… before this line stretched out any longer. Only I couldn’t find her. Anywhere.
Several hours minutes of mortal terror later, I finally tracked her down. She’d been looking for me, funnily enough, with thoughts of getting in line. The two of us went to the end of the line and the long wait began.
Now, I’m don’t have my finger on technology’s push. I know this. I’m more than a little behind the times. However, I was unaware that dimensionally transcendental technology had become a common place thing. I swear to you, that store was bigger on the inside than on the outside. Miles of aisles. Miles.
At first, things weren’t that bad. Mom had a few last minutes ideas for gifts. I would scamper off, grab them, and come back. This could only happen a few times, unfortunately, as we hadn’t brought a cart with and we could only hold a few items. In time, I was stuck waiting with Mom.
The line moved slightly faster than a glacier, though at times it seem much slower. The staff would occasionally wander past to remove the customers who had dropped dead from exhaustion, which was good, because by that time we were all too weary to step over the bodies. While they were about their work, they would talk about this great deal or that great deal. Most impressive.
Along the course of the line, the staff had also strategically placed items the customer might have forgotten to pick up. I was a bit dubious about putting a few HD TVs hither and yon, but the practice must have work. A guy a couple of feet in front of us was carrying one all by himself, along with the DVD he had come to get for his wife. He would have made it all the way, too, had his back not given out. Had to put everything back, too, which was a shame. I don’t think the price on the extended version of Debbie Does Dallas will ever be quite so low again.
About midway through this ordeal, I was starting to feel like a heel. Here I was, a reasonably healthy man in less than adequate condition, while my Mom was standing here on bad ankles, bad knees, and bad hips. It was Christmas time almost. I should man up at volunteer to stand in line while she went back to the van and wait in comfort.
So I did. I said, “Mother, if you so desire, I shall wait in this indeterminable line indefinitely while you recline elsewhere in a more genteel environment, listening to music that does not remotely sound like bad teeny pop.” And I meant it with all my heart.
I would have done so.
Of course, the moment I finished the offer, I was on the ground blubbering, begging her to say no, pleading with her to stay and protect me from all the people around me. And I might have thrown myself on the floor, kicking and screaming. I’m fairly sure I didn’t tear out my hair and that these bald patches have always been there. But I’m sure that none of this influenced her decision to stay one bit.
She’s shopped with me before, after all.
In the end, I made it to the registers, where I bolt from the store, leaving my Mother to pay for the one item I wanted to get. I used the excuse, “Going to pull the van forward.” That always works.
I’ve hardly driven back to front of the store when she emerges. And she has a smile on her face, just like the people I saw leaving the store earlier. And at last I recognize that smile. It’s one of relief.
But, all in all, I thought, it wasn’t that bad. I could do it again. Easy. First time is always the hardest.
She climbed into the van and said, “Where do you want to go next?”
“I wouldn’t mind checking out Wal-Mart. I know they’re probably out of IDogs, but just in case…”
She had to drive home after that. I was in the back, curled up into a fetal position.
<1> Small tangent here: Back a few years ago, I was strolling through the toy department, living in the foolish hope of finding more Godzilla toys. Back around 1998 they released a whole slew of Godzilla products, and I live in hope that maybe, just maybe, it’ll happen again. Oh, I know there was a reason for that happy occurrence, but a man can dream, can’t he?
Any ways, as I looked in vain for Godzilla toys, I came across a new version of Tickle Me Elmo. Out of curiosity I “tickle” the toy. He laughed. He wiggled. He begged you to do it again. All very cute, little laughing Muppet, kids would love it.
Except, of course, for me. In my long ago youth, I found talking dolls a bit… creepy. And that was before I saw the Twilight Zone “Living Doll.” Now I can’t even stand the thought of them. Hell, I can’t even watch The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show without getting the creeps. Watching the little red monster, I couldn’t help but think, “Hi! My name is Elmo! You better be nice to me!“
Gah. Still get goose pimples.
I watched the whole routine, though. No little robot was going to get the best of me. After a while the damn thing went silent. Good deal.
So with my curiosity sated, and a bit unnerved, I moved off. I was going to go to the video game section, maybe see what RPGs they had out. So many games, so little time, so little money…
Elmo called after me, “Tickle me!”
I turned. No one was by the Muppet. It has just spontaneously called out for me to tickle it.
As if it was alive.
Does Cullen run screaming from the store?
You better believe he does.