BLEAK FRIDAY

In the past I've been open about not really understanding Black Friday, although recently I've come to see it as something people enjoy as a ritual rather than for any logical reason. Some people enjoy going shopping at like 4 AM rather than buying things online for the same reason some people enjoy going to a sporting event rather than watching it on TV. I've made peace with the fact that it's stupid and people like it anyway, and I've stopped trying to talk anyone out of following the herd.

Then they started this "Friday starts on Thursday morning" shit.

Look, I could recite all of the reasons why this is fucked up from the macro perspective: crass consumerism replacing family time, expansion of the holiday spending frenzy, the inability of small businesses to compete, etc etc. The only thing that really bothers me about it, though, is the way that low-wage service industry employees are being forced to sacrifice one of the few remaining holidays on which Americans are not expected to work. As a person who usually spends it at home alone these days, economic activity shuts the hell down on Thanksgiving. Everything is closed. Even the gas stations and chain fast food restaurants are closed. Bars are closed. Even the few things that seem to stay open on Christmas are closed. It's essentially the last holiday in our economy that is a "day off" in the literal sense for everyone who isn't working in an emergency room or a fire station. At least the people in those professions are relatively well compensated for the scheduling sacrifices they make. The people working the floor at Target – not so much.

Perhaps we're overreacting to this. Maybe people working retail are fine with the opportunity to (hopefully) get time-and-a-half for working on a holiday. The problem is that people who aren't OK with it can't do anything about it. Hourly retail staff are among the lowest paid and most powerless people in our workforce. Like fast food workers they are viewed as disposable and high turnover is expected. If you don't like it, there's the door. And when you end up choosing family over a day doing inventory, you become another Lazy and inherently flawed person wearing the scarlet U of the unemployed.

If you're going to get fired for trying to do normal human things like spend a holiday A) not working and B) with family, it should at least be on account of how vitally important your job is. The people working the register at the big box stores probably aren't over that bar.

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38 Responses to “BLEAK FRIDAY”

  1. Ted Says:

    "crass consumerism replacing family time"…
    "As a person who usually spends it at home alone these days…"

  2. Anonymouse Says:

    The national news this morning featured a story about the shopping frenzy that included a smug Millenial woman chortling over how she and her friends "stayed up all night all week!" to plan out their shopping route for Thanksgiving afternoon and into Black Friday. I was left wondering if she and her friends were part of the same crowd that refrained from voting because it was "just too harrrrrrd!" to educate themselves about the candidates.

  3. Anubis Bard Says:

    You're not overreacting. Probably under-reacting if anything.

  4. Anubis Bard Says:

    If you want a more paranoid take on it (and something that is sad in a different way) you could view this as the front line of consumer capitalism's final crushing advance. The satisfied customer is the death of consumer capitalism. All the untold billions of dollars that are spent on marketing are mostly designed to convince us that we are not satisfied – that we NEED something else – that we should scratch that inchoate itch by BUYING something. Thanksgiving is the one day when we are collectively expected to be thankful – to reflect on the things that we HAVE and be grateful for that completion and resolution and lack of NEED. The attempt to destroy this last moment of reflective satisfaction is hideous, not just for the workers being ground down, but because it's also a defeat of our last, fading, collective stand against consumerism's project of demoralizing us into another round of shopping.

  5. Breezeblock Says:

    I heard on the news about a stabbing on Black Friday, Long Island I think, during one of those shopping deals. So, maybe things aren't so bad after all.

  6. Skipper Says:

    Time and a half??? What planet do you live in? Very few of these people are even working 30 hours. If they did, they'd have to get health care. They bring in bodies for the rush time, schedule them for 28 hours, and then dump them after the holidays. That's why you'll see all the stories next month about how "the economy added xxx new jobs." They were all minimum-wage part time temporary jobs. My other half worked in big box store. There were four full-time people.

  7. c u n d gulag Says:

    I worked at a Sears Customer Service, back when I was going to college in the late 70's – early 80's.

    In the midst of what should be a joyful and thankful time of year – with all of the holidays, religious, and otherwise – you can also see the worst in people.
    Especially on Black Friday and the day after Christmas.
    It was bad enough when I worked retail.
    And looking at the TV news, it's far, far, worse now.

    Being in Customer Service, I truly hated that day after Christmas, more.
    Black Friday is about greed and a lust for bargains.
    The day after Christmas, is about greed and anger.

    Back then, people returned the gifts others got for them, and wanted cash, not an exchange.
    I imagine thy still do now.

    I'll never forget this one particular day after Christmas.
    Our counter was mobbed with people trying to return shit, and this one woman wanted to return a shirt she said she'd bought at Sears, but it didn't fit the recipient, and she wanted her money back.
    I looked at the shirt, said that I was sorry, but that I couldn't do that.
    She started screaming and cursing and yelling at me, saying she'd seen me hand back money to others for returns, why not her! What did I have against her?
    I told her it was because she didn't buy the shirt at Sears.
    She started screaming and cursing and yelling at me again, swearing up and down that she had!!!
    I told her that the shirt said JC Penney on the label, and on the price tag, and that we were Sears, and we didn't sell each other's stuff.

    She screamed and yelled and cursed some more, and then left in a huff – or, maybe a minute-and-a-huff.
    Seemed like an hour-and-a-huff.

    She went to the store manager, and he brought her back and told me to give her the money that was on the price tag.
    Ok, what was I going to say?

    When I handed her the money back, she stuck the tongue out of her smug face.
    Thanks for the support there, big guy!

    I was ecstatic when I graduated, left Sears, and moved to NY City, to greet my future.

    I rarely went to a mall after having worked in one for over 5 years.
    And I haven't been to a mall in about 10 years, and don't plan on ever going to one again – if I can avoid it.

    For you younger folks, here's a dating tip before you decide to make your relationship permanent:
    Take the love of your life to a retail store, a restaurant, and/or a bar, and see how they treat the people who work there.
    Unless something truly bad happens due to that person's incompetence of malice, if that love of your life treats the working person with anything but kindness and respect, and says, "Thank you" for services rendered, and doesn't tip at least 15-20% – run for the hills!
    S/he is almost surely an asshole!

  8. Nick-B Says:

    Interestingly, I think I found one of the only jobs in the country that has to stay open 24/7, 365 days a year, and fails to pay holiday pay to 50% of their workforce (temp employee my ASS). Say hello to the USPS.

  9. quixote Says:

    Then again, if half the family is out working / screaming at "bargains," there's half the chance of arguments with whoever remains.

    So maybe it'll be good for families?

    /*sarcasm, etc.*/

  10. Major Kong Says:

    I'll be hunkered down at home all day today. You couldn't pay me enough to brave the mall or big-box stores today.

    There's nothing I need to buy that badly.

  11. jeneria Says:

    If I venture out today, it will be for a burger at a local pub. And that will be the entirety of my Black Friday spending.

  12. Misterben Says:

    My favorite thing about Black Friday is that the chain stores use it to clear out the overstocked garbage. "Deals"? You're paying to take out their trash. Last-generation, outdated electronics; last season's clothes; off-brand Chinese-made shit. There might be one "good" item on sale per store as a "loss lead"; the rest is junk.

  13. J T Noble Says:

    As a nurse, I usually work every other Thanksgiving and Christmas (not to mention other holidays). Personally, I am happy to do so, not just for the time and a half, but sometimes it is nice to just be removed from the whole equation – I can't travel, go out, etc.; the pressure of the holiday is removed. But I have never understood shopping on Black friday – and the idea of shopping on Thanksgiving itself is just awful.
    If anyone needs something to do on Thanksgiving, I'm sure there is someplace serving free meals that can use some help.

  14. Anonymouse Says:

    In my house, we as a family took stock last week. Everyone has sufficient clothes, books, and electronics. The house is sufficiently furnished. The pantry is sufficiently stocked. While we're not rich, we have what we need, which is far more than many people have. We pooled our money and wrote out some checks to various charities, and that's it for the "holiday season".

  15. Captain Blicero Says:

    Ted doesn't grasp the concept of empathy. You know, being a human being and imagining what it's like to stand in the shoes of someone different than him.

  16. Robert Says:

    I added a new line to my Thanksgiving glurge message this year – "and if your job requires you to work today, may your bosses be the first against the wall when the revolution comes."

    When I met my husband, he was working in retail. Much like my dad (career postal service), he didn't really enjoy the season until he got out. Now he's in business for himself as a baker/pastry chef. While it's still a busy time, he likes it more. Everyone's glad to get pie this time of year.

  17. Xjmueller Says:

    I am going to try to avoid shopping at stores that opened on Thanksgiving whenever possible, but certainly during the holidays.

    My 28 yo step daughter left for work last night (Thanksgiving day) around 5:30 and we probably won't see her until very late tonight. She slept at the storelast night. She works at a poorly run electronics chain the has small stores all over America. Forcing minimum wage labor to work ridiculous hours trying to boost profits isn't going to save this chain from sinking like a stone.

  18. John Danley Says:

    C'mon, who wouldn't want to sleep in a freezing tent for 3 days to get first dibs on a Jersey Shore talking pen?

  19. Anonymouse Says:

    @gulag; don't you wish you could openly call these people "dumbass" and be done with it? When I worked retail back in the 1980s, the bane of my existence were the dumbasses who sauntered in 2 minutes before closing and expected us to wait on them as they meandered around the store. We minimum-wage peons stopped being paid the second the store closed, so we were donating our time to these idiots.

  20. Spiffy McBang Says:

    None of the people you're talking about get paid time and a half. California has relatively nice overtime laws (OT pay for working over eight hours in a day or forty in a week; some places it's only one or the other), and even there nobody got time and a half for holidays.

    It's amazing, having just moved from Cali to Minnesota, how people are actually quite reasonable here in the ways you'd expect from Californians, with the one exception being labor and treatment of low-wage workers. Burger King had a poster up for everyone walking in about how glorious it is that everyone has the Right to Work. I got in an argument with someone who tossed out the old tropes about higher wages causing higher prices; she's an accountant for a construction company. All a higher minimum wage would do is increase their potential business, but nope, bad bad bad bad bad.

  21. Skipper Says:

    @Spiffy. Right to work = right to be exploited. And the generous OT laws in CA are why many people work four seven-hour days — and no more. I had a friend who was a waiter in a high-end fine dining restaurant. If he even approached 30 hours, was sent home immediately. It wasn't so much the overtime as the fact they would have had to provide benefits. Fortunately for him, it was such a high-end restaurant that he could make enough in 28 hours.

  22. FMguru Says:

    "Right to work" = "Right to work yourself to death for pennies"

    @Xjmueller, I think I know which dying national electronic retail chain you are talking about. SBNation (!) has a piece up from someone looking back on his time there. It really does sound like scientists discovering a new level of misery, even by retail-employment standards: http://www.sbnation.com/2014/11/26/7281129/radioshack-eulogy-stories

  23. McDee Says:

    I worked in a call center for many years. Occasionally management would bring in an outfit to sell us some new program to "manage our staffing".

    One group extolled their program because it could tell us "when to send people home" (without pay of course) if it was slow. It was my job to tell them that we couldn't do that.

    We could ask for volunteers. We couldn't SEND anyone home. The response I got was priceless: "What, you mean your employees have rights? Yes, they did. And if they volunteered to work a holiday they got their regular pay (holiday pay) PLUS time + 1/2 for hours worked. But of course…. WE HAD A UNION!!!!!

  24. Khaled Says:

    I was a manager for 14+ years for a Chain Drug Store- all of the stores were open for holidays, pharmacy open only in 24 hours- the 24 hour stores never close for anything ever. They extended the Thanksgiving hours to a full day last year, and I assume it is the same for people this year. To put the $$$ in perspective- the busiest day for that company is Xmas Eve, with Xmas being either #2 or #3 depending on the year. Thanksgiving was a slower holiday, but many stores did good sales.
    At least the company gave everyone who had worked at the store longer than 30 days holiday pay for the day- and I dunno anyone who hired temporary help.
    Stores are open because people come in and buy stuff. If not enough people came in, they wouldn't be open. Should they be closed? Probably. It always pissed me off as people were either saying sorry that we had to work or complaining that we were open. As they were in the store buying stuff. Bastards.

  25. Robert Says:

    America works best when we say Union Yes!

    Am I showing my age? One of my prouder achievements in life is having been an officer of my union local. My kids may not even understand what that means.

  26. Death Panel Truck Says:

    "She works at a poorly run electronics chain the has small stores all over America."

    That wouldn't be The Shack Full o' Radios, now would it?

  27. Kulkuri Says:

    The only shopping I did on Bleak Friday was getting the car aligned and a pair of new snow tires at a local tire shop. The only reason I did it on Friday was that was when the appointment for the alignment was, and I didn't want to buy the tires until after the car was aligned to keep the tires from wearing funny.

  28. Shakti Says:

    Even the gas stations
    No, gas stations are always open every day. It doesn't even make economic sense to be open*, but they're open 365 days a year, 7 days a week, at least 16 hours a day.

  29. Skepticalist Says:

    Never been out on Black Friday until yesterday when I took a bus to Wal Mart. All I needed was non-salt ice melt–made by Morton Salt–I discovered. I'm little suspicious.

    The thing is that while chatting with (I'm a rather benign looking bloke) more than one Wal Mart checkout "Associate" as they say, I learned that they had to wait several hours before much having to hang around the registers because the place was so empty on Thursday. Good for my little upstate NY town, I thought but hard on them. No doubt it will be deemed their fault.

  30. HoosierPoli Says:

    " Maybe people working retail are fine with the opportunity to (hopefully) get time-and-a-half for working on a holiday."

    Ed, I think you're showing signs of Alzheimer's. Time and a half? You've gotta be kidding.

  31. April Says:

    J. T. Nobel….interesting about that prospect for serving. A few years ago I decided to help with the free dinner thingy. I found the organization (a church, naturally) who did the free dinner in my town, and contacted them ahead of the day. They said they would welcome a cooked turkey. So I made one. When I brought it to them on the day, the people in charge were extremely abrupt – "Put the turkey here." I asked if I could help serve and was told "No. We have enough people. You can leave now."
    Ooooookay. Didn't do that again.

  32. Xynzee Says:

    Retail helped put a roof over my head as a kid, but it's different when it's a family enterprise. The Christmas season is effectively the "harvest time" for many small businesses. Getting snow at that time could really skewer the whole season for the business.

    Working for a big retail operation though really takes the joy and fun out of Christmas. The incessant jingle bells and the stench from the Christmas candles ugh!!

    My worst experience though was working in hospitality. If you really want to become misanthropic, work in a bar Christmas Eve. This place was packed, impossible to get through with glasses, etc. Basically, the shittiest experience I have ever had. Had a customer insist they could move a table across the path. When I told them no they couldn't they said one of the shittiest things I've ever heard said, "Come on man, where's your Christmas Spirit!" Sub-text: because it's Christmas we get to be arseholes and you get to suck it up. I called them on it, and said, "So where's your Christmas Spirit towards myself and co-workers?" This was quickly followed up with—thank God for the Liquor Act—"are you having a good time? Because how about I cut you off and end your evening right now! Now put the table back, and leave it where it belongs!"

  33. Xynzee Says:

    Otherwise Anubis and Anoymouse made the best summations about the day and the season.

  34. Xjmueller Says:

    @ Death Panel Truck

    The very one. They're bad.

  35. Xjmueller Says:

    @FMGuru

    Thanks for the great link. It's all true.

  36. Safety Man! Says:

    @April

    I had a similar experience back when I lived in Atlanta. I don't expect bend-over-backwards accommodation, but when I'm volunteering my time I have a short tolerance for rudeness.

    Not much point to my post, but you're not the only one.

  37. Two Below Says:

    Requiring employees to work on Thanksgiving is not a new thing for retailers. Many employees have had to work the holiday in order to ready the store and merchandise for Black Friday.

  38. cromartie Says:

    I have no idea where this "everything is closed on Thanksgiving" attitude comes from. Meijer and Fred Meyer have been open on Thanksgiving for years. Most grocery stores, including Giant Eagle and Kroger, have been open on reduced hours on Thanksgiving to accommodate last minute food needs since I was a child in the 1980s.

    Employees work on Thanksgiving already to prep retail for Black Friday. None of this is new.