Happy Thanksgiving, everybody! I know a lot of you Americans won’t read this when I post it because of the holiday. It’s cool. Maybe this is the week I finally gain an international following. Non-holiday-related greetings, hypothetical comrades from far-off lands! Thanksgiving is one of my two favorite holidays. The other is the Fourth of July. Because stuffing ourselves senseless and blowing shit up are two of the great American traditions, and I just like to do my part to keep them alive, you know? Plus I really enjoy both of those activities so, bonus. Score.
Anyway. Go eat some turkey (or whatever fake turkey food-like product you enjoy as a vegetarian option). Sneak an extra special holiday scrap to the dog. Take a nap. Give thanks for the things that make your life worth living. Watch the parade. Hug your mom. Make some nieces and nephews giggle. Eat pie. Rinse and repeat.
Now. When all that’s over, that’s where I come in. Because I want to talk about Black Friday. Have you seen that Facebook meme that says “Because only in America would we trample each other to death for sales, one day after giving thanks for what we already have”? True story, that. Ironic and sad. And I won’t go into all the over-commercialization of Christmas, and the corporate scumfuckery that turned “Black Friday” from a boring accountant’s term into a self-indulgent, materialistic, made-up holiday in and of itself. But I could. Makes me a little ill, though. I’d rather skip it. Let’s skip it. Shall we reminisce instead?
At the Giant Evil Bookstore, we went to full holiday mode on November first. A different interpretation of that sentence: on one of the worst hangover callout days of the year, the company began its annual ritualistic two-month torture of us minions. Changing every single display in the store, so much overstock you couldn’t move around in the back room, weird shifts, training and working with new seasonal employees who don’t know what they’re doing, scheduling nightmares, bad weather, turning the heat up high enough to roast us all alive, and overtime (which is good money, but too much overtime and you would get a written warning from the company – that’s fucked up, right? It’s not just me?). Oh, and a blackout on being able to ask for time off. So no holiday travels to see my family for Thanksgiving or Christmas. Good times, let me tell you. I still have a bad taste in my mouth about the holidays from working retail. Hopefully someday that will go away.
Meanwhile, let’s all make a pact, right here and now, to try and be nice to retail minions this holiday season. These people work their asses off every day, even more so at this time of year, and they get paid very little for it. As I’ve said before, your horrible shopping crisis is just one of many that they’ll go through in any given shift. They may not know the answer to your question, but there is always someone available who they can ask. If the item you want is not in stock, they’ll do their best to get you what you need or at least come close. If you’re shopping at the last minute and you’re in a hurry, know that this person, too, has eight thousand things they need to be doing at that moment. And on top of that, they probably need to go pee and get a cup of coffee and maybe eat something at some point today. Everyone has bad days. Computers will fail. Credit cards will be declined. Special orders will fail to show up. The things you buy will break or malfunction. Cashiers really do need management’s approval to do certain things. None of these is that retail minion’s fault. And, most importantly, the person standing in front of you is not the whole company. They’re just trying to do their job under pretty heinous circumstances, like you would at your job. Which, by the way, is no better than theirs. Just because someone works behind a counter or sticks things on shelves for a living doesn’t mean that they’re dumber than you or less of a person than you. Maybe they’ve got two other jobs and a bunch of kids who are running wild while they’re out of school and probably won’t get the expensive presents they want. Maybe they’ve got a final exam this afternoon or a paper due tomorrow. Maybe they just got chewed out by their boss for being late because they couldn’t find a parking spot either and had to walk half a mile in the snow to get to work. Maybe they just had three horrible asshole customers in a row right before you and they’re trying not to cry. So be patient. Be kind. Be understanding. Maybe cultivate a bit of holiday cheer, yeah?
A couple of tips to make this easier on you: Don’t shop when you’re in a hurry. Your agro does not make anything go faster. Carry cash. If your check or your credit card won’t go through, it makes everyone’s lives easier if you can just hand over cash instead. The cashier and the people behind you in line will thank you. Be nice while you’re standing in line. You’re all in this together, and communal bitching doesn’t help the line move. Put things back where you got them. Half of a retail minion’s job is cleaning up after people. They’re there putting stuff away for two hours after the store closes. And if they can’t find the thing you want because it’s not where it’s supposed to be, that’s probably because someone else decided they didn’t want it and just set it down in some random place. Do not snark at someone because they told you “Happy Holidays” instead of your particular holiday of choice. This is not this person’s personal religious or political stance. It’s company policy put in place to avoid offending customers, and it’s designed to be inclusive, not exclusive. Keep your receipts or get gift receipts so the horror of January returns is easier on everyone. Tip your gift wrapper. Tip your barista. Tip the hell out of your bartender.
Or, skip the whole thing altogether. A couple of years ago I imposed Homemade Christmas on my family. Because I’d rather get one present that someone put a lot of love and effort into than a stack of corporate-funded shit that I don’t need or want and that some little brown kid got paid ten cents a year to make. That kid doesn’t get awesome Christmas presents, does he? No, because he has to work. (And maybe doesn’t celebrate Christmas anyway, so the point is kind of moot, but you see where I’m going.) So, Homemade Christmas rocks. If it’s the thought that counts, I like to know that my family knows I put real thought into something. Or buy local. Those little businesses need your money so much more than giant corporations do. And those are the people you know, who are a part of your community. You go to church with them, or your kids go to school together. You should support each other. Or buy used items. Things like books and movies are no less awesome just because they came from the thrift store, and that locally-owned thrift store probably needs your money. Or donate to charity in each other’s names. Do your research and pick a good one (here’s my vote), but use that money to actually help someone out who needs it rather than lining the pockets of some rich toy-maker asshole who probably doesn’t need another yacht. Or do something creative like buying a Christmas dinner for a poor family who doesn’t get to expect a feast as a matter of course. Maybe go take some firewood to the little old lady who lives down the road. Fix your neighbor’s broken-down car. Pay off someone’s medical bills or start a secret bank account for a kid who wants to go to college. And really, we should do these things year-round, shouldn’t we? But we put aside our money and our goodwill and save it up for this time of year. That makes me kind of sad. I’m not religious, but that feels a bit like bad karma.
So, yeah. Enjoy your turkey and your pumpkin pie. Really enjoy it. Be thankful for it. Say, “Thank you, turkey, for giving your little bird life so I can eat the best sandwiches ever for a week.” Be thankful for this world we live in, the dirt under your feet and the sky above your head. Be thankful for your family and the eons of time and genetics that stacked up just right so you could all be in a warm room together while it’s cold outside, enjoying each other’s company. Or if you’re spending Thanksgiving with friends (as I am), be thankful that the universe put these people on your path so you could love them. They’re family, too. Continue to be thankful tomorrow, while you’re shopping (or not). As we get closer to Christmas, remember that it’s not about the hassle, it’s about shared experience, and keep being thankful. When New Year’s rolls around, be thankful that you got this past year to live and breathe. Be thankful the day after that, and the day after that, and the day after that…