I’m feeling lazy today with the title. This time of year scares the bejeezus out of me as it’s “Holiday Shopping Season”. I hold the theory that the crazed people we see in news clips, storming the doors of the big box stores come midnight (even though Toys ‘R Us starts their deals at 9 PM tomorrow… according to the news), have never worked a moment of retail in their entire life. Why? Because I choose to believe that those of us who’ve worked in the trenches of Holiday Shopping Season have been tragically scarred for life. Because of that, and the advent of internet shopping, I no longer have the need to shop in the stores anymore. Sit back, relax and listen to my tale of warning.
My retail experience began twenty years ago when I worked in the lawn & garden department of Shopko. Work time was filled with watering plants, arranging plants and pallet jack races in the parking lot. I became a lot more familiar with my friends Logic and Physics as well. “No, Sir… your Buick Skylark cannot handle the entire order of 100 paving bricks… you see, you’ve just loaded 35 of them and your car is sitting on the wheel stops. No, I do not think it would be wise to continue loading them into the car…”
I then moved on to working at Stein Gift & Garden Center (in the greenhouse). This is where the Holiday Shopping Season scars began. I wouldn’t have thought it possible, in fact, didn’t think it possible that the insanity of a deal would drive people to a garden center the day after Thanksgiving, but it did. The managers warned us, prepared us as best they could. I should have known from the dead looks in their eyes that they’d survived something so horrible that it haunted their memories.
My domain was the greenhouse, which did not hold the Doorbuster Deals for the store. This should have been a warning… I was expendable. The troops were told to report to work at 5 AM the day after Thanksgiving. The evening before Thanksgiving we’d battened down the hatches as best we could. The shopping carts were gathered at the back of the store to avoid having a crush of shoppers right at the entry. Aisles were cleared and shelves fully stocked. We were told to bring rations to sustain ourselves through a long and arduous battle.
The morning arrived without pomp and circumstance. I drove to work and as I rounded the curve, I saw them. Shoppers, still in their cars, engines running to keep them heated and comfortable against the cold; it was 4:45 AM. The line of people had already formed, the woman in front holding her ground before the double glass doors. The employee parking area was cordoned off and the Gatekeeper, a poor lackey named Ben, waved me in as he blew on his mittened hands. The morning was cold… below zero cold… the kind of cold that makes your nostrils freeze together when you take a deep breath; but the cold air couldn’t compete with the cold, fist of dread that found its way into my stomach as we readied our defences.
I went to my foxhole, the greenhouse, put on my uniform, armed myself with a Sharpie marker and scissors and made my area tidy. I made my way to the registers for the platoon meeting. The general was about to give us the battle plan when one of the colonels fell back into the store from between the glass double doors, imploring the Shoppers to stay back and be patient. There was a wave of unease that swept over us, surely this wouldn’t be as bad as we were told!? Surely these Shoppers would comport themselves with class and courtesy?
Boy… were we wrong! As the doors opened, a rush of Shoppers, men and women, thrust themselves into the bowels of the store in a flurry of snowflakes, glitter and penguins on ice skates. A vomitous sea of red, white, green and gold swept its way down the aisles. There was pushing, there was shoving, there was even thievery from other Shopper’s carts. Witnessing one Shopper steal a box of christmas lights from another Shopper’s cart was the cherry on top. The utter madness that abounded that day was only surpassed by the day after Christmas….when all of the remnants of Christmas cheer went on clearance.
I thought that my survival of Black Friday meant that I would be safe… Oh no. What false hopes I carried with me in my naivety. The day after Christmas began much the same as Black Friday. Deja Vu almost. I had survived the previous assault, and the officers felt that I would play a minor role in the battle of that day. How wrong they were, for a new colonel was put in charge of the opening of the doors. Their inexperience combined with the desire to “just get it over with”, as one does with ripping off a Band-Aid, led to them opening the doors unannounced.
I… was in the path of destruction.
The front line of the enemies forces careened into me as I made my way, innocently padding through the poinsettias, giving each a drink. I flew backwards into a display of Beanie Babies, wracking my elbow on the metal shelving; an officer, caught in the fray, my only witness. They called out to me, but it was to no avail. The enemy was upon us, short, rotund women (mostly) dressed in red, bedazzled track suits or pantsuits bedecked and aglitter with winter motifs. I scrambled to my feet, steadied myself and made a hasty retreat to my foxhole – the greenhouse. I’m not one to run from a fight, but I knew when I was bested.
I wasn’t the only victim that day. Other soldiers, caught in crossfire or run down by Clearance-Crazed Shoppers made their way to the breakroom-cum-infirmary for bandaging. Harried cashiers, screamed at for keying in a price incorrectly flinched under verbal assaults by grandmothers wielding purses you could park a Volkswagen in.
The horrors of what I have seen has stayed with me these last twenty years. Oh, I worked retail, here and there… but the dead look in my eyes should have been warning enough to all of those who crossed my path. Be brave Retail Soldiers! For I have seen evil… and it wears a red sweater with an ice skating penguin on it and shops on clearance.