Manufactured Drama, Part 1

I never do the Black Friday thing because I hate crowds, especially crowds of grasping, mannerless conformists. Not that I’m saying everyone who shopped Friday was that. But I think you know what I mean.

However, last week I got an ad in the mail informing me that Kohl’s would have for sale the exact video game and video game accessory that I was planning to buy for my children for xmas. Also, all their boots would be half off, and I’ve been wanting a pair of brown boots. So I reasoned that Kohl’s probably wouldn’t be too crowded on Black Friday, and I decided that I would go.

We didn’t get to bed on Thanksgiving until around 2:30 AM. I like my family, and we have fun when we get together. Therefore, we all got together and drank and ate and made fun of each other until the wee hours. So I was in no condition to wake up in time to be at Kohl’s at 5 AM. Instead, I woke up at 9:30.

I went to Kohl’s alone. My boyfriend and my kids waited at home with sugar plums (or World of Warcraft quests) dancing in their heads. The Kohl’s parking lot was disorganized. Inside, the first thing I saw was several displays of picked-over sweater. Signs everywhere advertised special sales for this two-hour period only. A single line stretched from the cash registers in front, all the way to the back of the store.

After searching fruitlessly for a while, I asked a Kohl’s employee where the PS2 games were. He seemed to have a hard time understanding what I meant. I had the impression that he wasn’t normally a floor worker. It looked like a lot of people hadn’t shown up to work that day, and maybe they’d temporarily promoted this guy from stocking. However, he eventually indicated that the games were somewhere in the men’s department.

Kohl’s had (cleverly?) interspersed all the advertised electronics throughout the clothing departments in the hopes that, while searching for my video game, I’d be irresistably tempted by the socks and stepped-on sweaters all around. Instead, I was upset by the lack of video games. Either there weren’t any Desired Game II’s around, or else I was too stupid to find them.

I started looking at the purchases of the people in line, to see if any of them had Desired Game II. No. No one had that, and no one had the portable DVD’s advertised, either. Instead, I saw people standing in an multiple-hour-long line to buy: a Barbie dreamhouse. A palette-load of no-name video games. A thing that looked like Desired Game II but that was, to the trained PS2 habit enabler’s eye, definitely not Desired Game II. Sponge Bob slippers. I’m assuming that stuff was marked 40% off.

The line reached its midway point near the shoe department. With one glance, I saw that there wasn’t a single pair of brown boots in Kohl’s worth waiting in line for an hour to buy. Not even for half the price.

I left. Then, instead of going to Hobby Lobby to buy a marked-down fake xmas tree, I drove back home. That was enough Black Friday for me.

In my car, I listened to a local AM station headquartered in one of Houston’s poorer neighborhoods. It was playing a talk show about managing money. The hosts were talking to a local car dealership owner, but the conversation had tangented into imploring listeners not to believe the Black Friday hype. “I see people running around buying gifts they can’t afford for people they don’t like,” said one of the hosts. “I saw a woman driving around with a car full of purchases, and she didn’t even have working AC. She had to roll her windows down,” said the dealership owner. (It’s Houston. Yes, we need our cars to have working AC in November.)

Anyhow. Listening to them made me sad, because I knew they were telling the truth. And I knew half their listeners weren’t listening, and would be spending money they didn’t have, anyway. And for what? Long lines of gifts you settled for, at 40% off, at 20% interest. Gifts nobody will remember.

Manufactured Drama, Part 2

This morning on the radio – both on NPR and on the local conservative AM station that gives traffic and weather reports every ten minutes – the talkers were talking about Cyber Monday.

See, last Friday was Black Friday, and today is Cyber Monday. That means, allegedly, that shoppers who went unsated at brick-and-mortar stores over the weekend are supposed to shop online in record numbers today.

“Don’t be surprised if the Internet is sluggish today,” warned one guy.

I call hype-mongering. Why would people who shop online pick today to do their shopping? I’ve been browsing gift ideas for weeks now. Why should I believe people who believe that the whole Internet would somehow run slower today, even if people were shopping more?

And yet, why do I know in my heart that there were people listening to those stories and thinking, “Oh my God, I’d better hurry up and buy stuff online”?

To NPR’s credit, they clarified that today is dubbed Cyber Monday because it was the biggest online shopping day of last year. But they said most people just browsed and didn’t buy.

This hype is killing my buzz.

The more people hype stuff, the less I want to do it. Seriously, I don’t even want a Christmas tree this year. I mentioned that last entry, but since then I’ve been dwelling on it, crystallizing the idea in my mind.

I don’t want to buy a fake tree. Fake greenery is not the kind of thing I buy, no matter the season.

I wanted to buy a real tree, even though it would’ve been a pain. But now, I don’t even want to do that. What’s the point? What does it mean? Lately, nothing.

Last night we watched Father of the Bride on cable, and I thought of how dumb American weddings are. Every time I see someone plan a wedding, I think about how many of our customs have no meaning or, worse, have offensively arcane ones. That’s not a new thought, I know.

But now I’m starting to feel the same way about Christmas. What’s the point of having a dead tree in my house? We’re so far removed from the German pagans who invented that tradition. Why should we put fake reindeer and snowmen in our yard, when we’re driving our cars with the AC full blast?

When I was a child, Christmas meant two things to me. One: Christmas pageantry. I would sing and dance and dress up for audiences, and their applause would mean the world to me. Two: Free stuff. We were poor, so free stuff was a major incentive in our lives, and December meant more free stuff than usual, if we played our cards right.

Thank God we don’t have to live like that anymore. Also, I no longer go to church just so I can sing.

Obviously, if I want to celebrate Christmas, I need to find out what it means to me and my family, and concentrate on fulfilling those meanings. Last year I asked the kids what their favorite part of the holiday was, and they told me it was opening their stockings in the morning. Good, I said, because I like filling their stockings at night. In fact, the part I like best now is giving gifts to my friends and family, because I love them and I don’t get a chance to show that often enough. The other thing I like is hanging out with my family. We’ll do that, then. Good for us.

If we had more money, I’d buy presents for poor kids every year. It would make me happy to give kids the same crazy, bittersweet, materialistic pleasure that I used to hope for every year.

Is there anything about the winter holidays that has special, hype-free meaning for you? Tell me, please. Share with the class.

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Posted in domestic, stories, venting on 11/27/2006 03:00 pm

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