Black Friday

Brown Friday

I don’t have much in common with my parents and brother. In particular, my family is befuddled by my love of all things relating to fashion. My dad still wears the suits he bought in the ‘80s, my mom often mistakes purple for green, and my brother thinks it reasonable to use a piece of rope as a belt. As a result, my shoe collection, my mini-dress obsession, and my perpetually overweight suitcases have become running family jokes.

However, on Black Friday, all of this changes. They still don’t, of course, set foot inside malls, but in recognition of the holiest day of my year, all joking stops. My mom calls, usually a week in advance, to find out which malls I am planning to visit and what time. This way, she says, she can plan Thanksgiving dinner accordingly. My brother makes a list of items he’d like me to find deals on, and this year, even my 70 year old grandmother chimed in with her own request for a stylish red clutch. (My dad usually stays quiet, but secretly probably has nightmares about drowning in footwear).

This year, Black Friday was more highly anticipated than ever. After a 3 week flogging from Dr. Gelb (M2 Neuro) I was in desperate need of retail therapy. I told my friends that there was no need to make plans if they didn’t intend to be outside Macy’s at 3:45 am sharp. After a great deal of personal debate, I decided that the 45 minute mad dash across town from Somerset to Twelve Oaks was worth it and had the trip precisely timed and mapped out for optimal shopping at both locations.

It has occurred to me several times on these Fridays that I am just a little bit crazy. As I waited outside of Macy’s in the freezing cold, pressed up against the glass by a crowd of screaming high schoolers and middle aged women, I felt a sense of camaraderie for my fellow lunatics, comforted that there were others like me out there. I spent approximately 5 minutes in this nostalgic reverie before the doors opened and we all rushed in, climbing over each other, all sense of shared humanity forgotten.

6 hours later, I was wearily digging through a bin of fake leather purses when the mall alarms sounded. Everybody stopped, glanced around, and seeing no impending danger, returned to shopping. Eventually, the alarms got louder and more frantic, so I thought I had better call it a day and head home.

As I rounded the corner inside the mall, I was confronted by a horrible stench. It was so putrid I had to hold my breath to keep from gagging. To my left, a shower of fetid brown liquid rained down from the ceiling. The tile was covered in a spreading pool of muddy sewage water that was inching dangerously close to my feet. I hopped here and there, trying to avoid contamination. To my amazement, the stream of shoppers continued inward, oblivious to the shitstorm. Some covered their noses, groaning at the smell, but charged onward, and still others stacked their purchases onto strollers and pushed them through the sewage, baby and all.

As I tried not to vomit, I remembered back to another time when my stomach had heaved the same way. I was on the outskirts of Chennai, driving through a landfill with a traveling theatre troupe. Our truck had no glass windows, so as we approached, the cab filled up with black flies, followed by the foul smell of rotting garbage. For the next thirty minutes, we tried desperately not to inhale. Outside, hundreds of people were wandering about the landfill, digging for scraps. Oblivious to the smell, they had hiked up their meager clothing and waded knee deep in garbage, holding their discoveries aloft like little treasures. Our companions informed us that these were the rag pickers, the poorest of the poor, so far outcast that society had nearly forgotten them.

And yet, despite all our best efforts to rein in our garbage, shut it up in pipes, and civilize ourselves into good old-fashioned consumerism, here we were, me and my fellow shoppers, wading around in crap. Of course, the motivations are fundamentally different. Rag pickers dig through the dump for survival, because they have no other choice. We do it out of a desire for things, status, or satisfaction. But if you took any of us back to that landfill in Chennai, we would feel repulsion, and perhaps pity, not realizing that we are not better, no less repugnant, and that in fact, we are probably worse.



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