Rick Bragg's Black Friday
I have been scared of a few things in my life, but, across the years, I've tried to cowboy up and get over them. I used to be afraid of heights; even a barn loft or the roof of a Winnebago made me dizzy. So I hitched myself to a rope and rappelled down a rock face on Chandler Mountain from so high you could look down and see the hawks circling. I don't think I screamed once, except maybe inside my own head. I used to be afraid of copperheads, till I watched an old woman go to town on one with a hoe handle and then go make me some tea cakes. I am not a squeamish man, mostly. The only thing that terrifies me still is what they call, ominously, Black Friday.
It sounds like something from the Dark Ages, from the plague years. I've never actually experienced one, but I've heard the awful stories.
One minute, you're saying grace around a Thanksgiving turkey, grateful for all the good things in your life— like hot biscuits, cornbread dressing, candied sweet potatoes, and (oh, yeah) friends and family. Full, tired, and happy, you slip into a soft chair and, surrounded by the people you love, vanish into a deep sleep.
The next minute, you're tugging on one end of a flat-screen TV, trying to wrest it from the grip of a rabid grandmother who, teeth bared, is calling you names that should never be uttered on the cusp of the Yuletide.
Or so I am told.
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The truth is, I've been too afraid to see it all for myself, even if you can buy a refrigerator for $17 with a clip-out coupon. For days, the mailbox has been crammed with circulars that promise seasonal savings on everything from pickup trucks to printer ink to pistachios, and I think that a real man would just gird his loins, sharpen his American Express card, and do battle. But then I imagine the shoppers—faces all aglow, clashing through the toy department and all the way out to their minivans, each with half a teddy bear held aloft in grim triumph—and I lose my nerve. I find myself a sturdy chair and a stack of catalogs and shop from the safety and comfort of home, even if I do have to pay full price and a $10,000 delivery fee, even though L.L.Bean is almost always plumb out of size XXL double long.
I'm told that there is a far safer method, something called the Internet, but I hear they can be a rough bunch too. So I'll stick to the catalogs. I think the operator at The Vermont Country Store genuinely likes me.
Now and then, my kinfolk, who are braver and tougher, shame me. They get me a present they fought for, suffered for, in the melee and misery of a Black Friday, and I think that, next Christmas, I will be brave.
So watch out, Grandma. I'm coming for you and that bargain flat-screen, and you'd better not get in the way of my Christmas shopping, if you know what's good for you.