Having survived Black Friday at my local Woodcraft last year, I considered myself as brave as any man since Homer’s Odysseus. (That would be Homer of antiquity, not Homer Simpson.) Odee, as his friends may have called him, was headed home after a long day fighting the Trojans when he got lost and decided to go on an Odyssey. I think Odysseus must have been a woodworker. He was tall, muscular, the ladies loved him- he was the Stumpy Nubs of his day. But most of all, he was able to go wherever he had to, fight whatever stood in his way, get a Cyclops drunk, whatever it took to get what he needed. This Black Friday, I needed good deals on woodworking tools. So like Odysseus before me, I put on my toga and set out on an Odyssey of my own.
I was planning on an early morning visit to my local Rockler. I didn’t know if they’d be open at 5 am, but I suspected the owner would be in there with a pot of coffee and a warm welcome for an internet celebrity such as me. So there I was, chugging down the road in my old truck with the broken windshield wipers and the radio that only gets the polka station, when the strangest thing happened. The wind started picking up, the once light snowfall turned into a blizzard and before I knew it, I was in a complete whiteout! Mustache Mike was in the passenger seat screaming like a little girl, Chip and Randy were holding on for dear life in the open back as we careened out of control down the road to who-knows-where. I could have just slowed down, maybe even pulled over until it passed. But on Black Friday, time is of the essence. I wanted to be first in line for any hand plane discounts, so I squeezed the wheel with all my might and tried to keep ‘er on the road. I was doing an admirable job right up until we started spinning.
We came to a stop in the strangest of places, I couldn’t believe it myself. We were neatly tucked into a parking space at a Walmart. Of course this was the last place I wanted to be, especially on a Black Friday. This is where people get trampled, or shot, or worse. Black Friday at Walmart is like the running of the bulls, except the bulls are ten thousand people running to get the two cheap televisions in stock. I wanted no part of this mayhem, so I turned the key and pumped the gas. Nothing. My battery was dead. The nightmare had begun.
What could I do? If I was ever getting to Rockler, I was going to have to venture into Walmart and get a new battery. Time to put on the man pants, get out of the truck and face my demons. As the Stash and I pried open our icy doors, it occurred to me that I hadn’t heard from Randy and Chip since that last suicide spin. I peered into the back of the truck, expecting the worst. There sat Randy, securely tied to the spare tire where I’d left him, every crevice and hole packed with slush and ice. He was alive, but chip was nowhere to be found. In my rush to get moving that morning I had neglected to bungee his wheel chair down and he must have flown out. No time to worry about that now, I pulled Randy to his feet, cleared his eyes with an ice scraper, and the three of us turned toward the store with its line or people wrapping around the building like a boa constrictor ready to feed on half off holiday hams. There was no way I was going to the back of that line, it would be hours before I got in the store. The doors opened in five minutes, I had to find someone who would let me cut in front of them.
If you’ve ever been in an early morning line at a Black Friday sale, you know how dangerous this can be. Imagine a million grizzly bears waiting at a stream for their chance to swat at a salmon, each with three cubs that have been wining about the cold for the last six hours. Go near the wrong one and you’ll be pounced on faster than you can say “why is my face missing?” You have to play it cool, pretend you know someone toward the front of the line. I could feel the eyes burning little holes through the back my stylish mink parka. Every face was angry, every toe was frozen. They huddled in small groups around burning trash barrels, some were cooking beans in the can like hobos, and more than few had gone to the bathroom right where they stood rather than surrender their spot. Every one of them thought they had a shot at that one I-pad. It didn’t matter that a thousand people in line ahead of them wanted the same thing, they were willing to fight to the death for it. I had to get in and out before I got caught up the carnage.
I pretended to recognize someone near the door. “Hey! Uncle….” I blanked! Randy tried to help: “Polyphemus!” I was thinking more along the lines of “Smith” or “Jones”, but whatever. Now, you can’t just cut in line, even if you know someone. You have to pretend you were there all along and had just stepped around the corner to take a pee or something. You’re just returning to your group where you were freezing like everybody else since last Tuesday, and if anybody questions it, you distract them. I yelled: “They’re handing out vouchers for free jars of mayonnaise back there!” It started a frenzy, everyone was shouting, stampeding. A group of women saw a piece of trash blowing across the parking lot and, sure it was a coupon, became tangled in one big mass of stirrup pants. Seeing our opportunity, Randy, the Stash and I took our place behind the row of tents near the door. Mission accomplished, and none too soon. The clerks were putting on their riot gear and drawing straws to see who would give his life to open the doors. One of the them went pale and I knew he was the one even before his fellow employees started weeping and saying their good byes. They gave him the keys, he gave the manager a piece of paper, probably his will, and he was left standing in the entryway. The glass was the only thing between him and the mob. He hesitated and the clock struck 6 am. Too late. The crowd rushed forward and the door frames buckled like Japan in a Godzilla flick. The clerk never had a chance, but we managed to keep our heads above the flowing mass as we were swept inside the store.
We headed for the automotive department in the back, running like triathletes leaping over discount racks and downed shoppers like so many hurdles. We reached the jewelry counter where we paused to defend an elderly woman fighting off a group of teenage girls. Wielding a Swiffer as a club I faced them down while the old lady grabbed an armful of flowery smelling perfume, punched a woman with a baby and disappeared into the crowd. I wished she had punched Randy who was wasting time layering on all of the manly body sprays. The Stash grabbed him and we were running again.
A piercing scream sent shivers up my spine and I knew we’d reached the toy department. Children were running in packs like feral dogs, parents were fighting each other like game cocks. I grabbed a small boy to use as a shield and made my way up the aisle, swing his little legs at anything in my way. “What’s your name, boy?” I demanded, to which he giggled “Billy”. He was having fun, but I was laser focused as I reached the end of the aisle, discarding him into a heap of stuffed toys. We’d reached the video games and beyond, the very bowels of the store- the electronics department.
Here we paused, taking in the incredible vista before us. Boys were clubbing each other with Play Stations, men were cussing and swearing, scratching and clawing their way to the top of a pile of speakers where one of them stood, his shirt torn from his body, raising a surround sound system over his head as king of the mountain. Hiding behind racks of half-off DVDs, we made our way through unnoticed- until we reached the televisions. With a mighty roar a large woman grabbed Randy by the collar. He cried for help as his feet dangled in the air, but I’m not ashamed to admit that I froze. She was enormous and she was angry. Her sweat and makeup streaked down her face leaving her with just one giant, bloodshot eye full or murderous intent. But the Stash sprang into action. Pulling a juice box from his pocket that he’d snagged in the grocery department, he franticly started stabbing at the top in a hopeless effort to insert that dumb straw. “There’s no time!” I shouted, but just as the Cyclops was about to bite off Randy’s nose, the straw engaged and Mike sprayed grape juice into her eye. With a howl she flung Randy’s limp body into a rack of digital cameras and we hauled him away as the creature retreated.
Finally we reached the automotive department. Emboldened by our close call with the Cyclops, I chased off a group of teen boys who were fighting over which set of thousand dollar rims would look best on their two hundred dollar cars. This time I was the hero as a clerk crawled from beneath a pile of tires, grateful to be alive. As a reward he offered to open his register so we could pay for our battery without having to face the checkout lines in the front of the store. Randy, still woozy from his savage beating, bought a bag of gummy bears, which the clerk put in a bag and we were on our way.
We detoured through the clothing department, hoping to make a speedy retreat, but it was not to be. We ran headlong into a mass of women trying undergarments on over their clothes. There was only one thing to do, blend in. I grabbed some support hose, Randy and Mustache Mike forced themselves into nighties that were far lacier than they had to be and we worked our way through the herd. Coming out the other side we discarded our disguises and made for the door. This was it, we were home free, and I was euphoric as I began skipping toward what was left of the doors. That’s when I heard it. “Receipt, please!” It was a store security guard, clad in body armor with a muddy footprint on his cheek and a scowl on his face. Randy had the key to our escape, but as he opened his bag the wind caught the receipt and carried it back into the store, deep into the men’s department. Mustache Mike gasped in horror. Randy sobbed. The security guard sneered. I tucked the truck battery under my arm like a football and executed a spin move around the guard, juked my way through the shattered door frames, hurdled over the body of the unfortunate clerk who let us in and sprinted toward the goal without looking back. I had the battery installed and the truck running by the time Mike and Randy caught up with me.
We arrived at Rockler like long lost voyagers, returning home after being long lost… on some sort of voyage. Our women were there to meet us with hot coffee in their hands and crowns of laurels for our heads. Chip rolled up in his wheel chair, the tires worn down from his own journey from the side of the road to the store. But I didn’t care to hear his story, I was just happy to be alive. We enjoyed a fine morning shopping for woodworking tools, made all the better by the Odyssey we’d endured to get there.
And that’s how I spent my Black Friday. How about you?
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