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Holiday gifts to die for

Submitted by on Saturday, 29 November 2008 No Comment

I went to Wal-Mart yesterday on an unsuccessful mission to avoid ruining Big Guy’s Christmas.

No one died there, though an associate looked like he was ready to kill me when I asked where to find skateboards. He directed me through gritted teeth, but I bet he would have rather told me to go somewhere else.

Next stop, Target, where the parking lot was packed but the crowd was congenial. A dazed associate there told me to enjoy the rest of the night. It was 2 p.m. I’m sure her body clock was warped after a 4 a.m. start and a morning full of dealing with jerks.

I’ve marveled for years that no one’s died during the early Black Friday rush. I’ve never participated for several reasons, not the least of which are I don’t do cold and I don’t do 4 a.m.

But I’ve heard the stories — shoving, knocking over little old ladies, running down children and pushing down people on crutches. And I’ve heard of folks drawing up battle plans worthy of military campaigns, right down to coordinated cell phone updates as to which holiday prize which member of the shopping party has seized.

It finally happened yesterday, at a Wal-Mart in a New York City suburb. A 34-year-old temporary worker trying to hold back the crowd was trampled as the doors opened. He died later at a hospital.

“I’ve heard other people call this an accident, but it is not,” Nassau Detective Lt. Michael Fleming told The New York Times. “Certainly it was a foreseeable act.”

There used to be a cell-phone video of the incident on YouTube, but it’s been removed due to a “terms of use” violation. I can’t see any potential copyright problems there. It sounds suspiciously like a “terms of a nasty call from Wal-Mart lawyers” issue. Though the idea that someone stood by and recorded the scene instead of trying to help is sickening anyway.

The video session isn’t as appalling, though, as the behavior of some shoppers as officials tried to clear the store.

“When they were saying they had to leave, that an employee got killed, people were yelling, ‘I’ve been on line since yesterday morning,’ ” a Queens woman told The Associated Press. “They kept shopping.”

Wal-Mart re-opened the store eight hours later. Can’t miss out on Black Friday receipts!

I can’t recall when Black Friday became an accepted part of American culture, but it probably was about the same time that shopping became an end and not a mere means.

Certainly retailers have done nothing to encourage it, opening at 6 a.m. or earlier and providing directional signs for lines.

Manufacturers have played a role as well, strategically limiting release on the latest must-have holiday bauble in order to keep prices high and word-of-mouth buzzing.

When it comes right down to it, though, we the people are responsible. And we the people need to find better ways to mark the day after giving thanks than to celebrate it with a festival of wretched overconsumption.

When I was a kid, my mom and her sisters gathered at Mawmaws to make rock candy. To this day, I can’t smell oil of cinnamon without being carried back to that time of warmth.

That’s preferable to the memories too many of today’s kids will have, of their parents leaving the house in the dead of night, returning hours later to crumple in exhausted heaps.

Make no mistake: I love a bargain as much as the next person. I was thrilled tonight to find a Fisher-Price I Can Play Guitar System for $39 on amazon.com, particularly since the product once retailed for as much as $110.

Would I have stood in line at 4 a.m. to get it, even at that price? No. I would have scratched it from the list and moved on. Because, other than the coveted Batman skateboard I’m blowing it on, I can’t thing of a single item we have to have.

Yes, Big Guy’s going to be pretty steamed at Santa if that skateboard of his dreams doesn’t show up. And yes, he’ll site it 11 months from now as proof that even Claus loves Boots better.

But despite my earlier exaggeration, its absence won’t ruin his Christmas. He looks forward to family coming over as much as he does the gifts anyway.

Which is as it should be.

Copyright 2008 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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