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The biggest holiday of the year has just past. Bigger than Christmas, bigger than Rosh Hashanah, even bigger than Washington’s Birthday. It’s called Black Friday and for good reason. It’s the day the shopping gods are appeased by the sacrifice of virgin greenbacks. When America’s trailer parks empty and the Walmarts fill with herds of greedy consumers looking for a deal on something, anything that will satisfy their lust for stuff. I’ve seen a dozen overweight women brawl like ultimate fighters over a bin of bath towels as if they were desperately hungry and this was the last stock of government cheese. (OH SETTLE DOWN! Before you call the P.C. Police you should know that I spent a good chunk of my childhood living in a trailer park off government cheese, which makes me qualified to make a joke or two about it!)
How does a woodworker fit into this grand celebration of consumerism? As the saying goes, if you can’t beat ‘em… well, bring a bigger club. That’s exactly what I did this past Friday. Determined to find a deal worthy of a reasonably adequate woodworker with a tendency to pinch a penny or two, I got out of bed at the crack of 9am and pointed the pickup toward Woodcraft. I was prepared, sales paper neatly folded in my pocket, wallet stuffed with plastic, pepper spray secured in a holster at my hip. You could say I was a late shopper, but you’d be wrong, so why would you say that? No, I was arriving just in time because Woodcraft doesn’t open early like the other stores. They know that woodworkers won’t camp out on the sidewalks days in advance, sacrificing sleep and dignity to save a few bucks. But I wasn’t taking anything for granted; I was prepared to defend myself should any nut-job, drunk with the holiday spirit, want a piece of this. As I pulled into my parking spot I pointed an eye in each direction like a gecko, scanning the lot for dangerous hooligans.
At this point I should tell you that I was once infected with the Black Friday disease. Yes, even I, in all my worldly wisdom and maturity, could once be found standing in predawn lines, thawing my blackened toes over tiny fires kindled among discarded McDonalds wrappers on electronics store sidewalks. I’ve elbowed my way into more than one store, emerging through narrow entryway doors with my shirt torn from my body and my pants in tatters around my ankles, scarcely alive but deeply focused on the mission ahead. The intoxicating smell of discount televisions and giant summer sausage rolls for a buck has enticed me to do things I am not proud of. I excused myself with the fact that I’d never shoved an octogenarian with a walker or used a child as a human shield. But I’ve lost a great deal of self-respect simply by being among the crowd as passersby mockingly honk their horns and shout expletives on their way home to warm beds as we fend off hypothermia with body to body heat. I have spent long hours waiting to save fifty bucks without considering that a minimum wage job would net me more for those hours, and spared me the painful amputation of frostbitten digits. So I speak from experience, from wisdom earned the hard way. You might even call it street smarts. I know the sort of people that a reasonable shopper must look out for, because I once was that sort of person. I’d kill you for a cup of lukewarm coffee as soon as look at you.
So as I emerged from my pickup at Woodcraft my senses were keenly alert. I scanned the sidewalks in all directions like a man in a horror movie being stalked by brain hungry zombies. I gripped a chunk of hardwood in my right hand, spikes fashioned from drywall screws driven through the end. I sniffed the wind, listened intently for any sign of danger. But there was none. The few customers I saw seemed to be human and they were filing into the store with order and something I had never seen before: I think my grandfather used to call it…. manners. One man held the door for another who smiled, yes, SMILED! This was no day for smiling! This was Black Friday! It had to be a trick; I resolved keep my guard up. But even so I surrendered my club and stalked toward the entrance with my hand over my pepper spray like a desperado ready for the quick- draw. As I entered the store the scent of coffee struck me in the face like a slab of hard maple. I wasn’t expecting this, it felt wrong. The lady at the front counter greeted me by name and I shouted “LEAVE ME ALONG! I’M JUST BROWSING!”
This is where the whole incident took a dramatic turn. You see, I had come expecting to me molested by angry crowds whipped into frenzy by the tantalizing sales papers and the heartless employees mocking us through the glass as they delayed opening the store for a few seconds just to see if one of us would go off the deep end. But I found no long lines at Woodcraft, no toothless cussing or savage beatings among unruly shoppers. People were browsing, chatting, even laughing and enjoying themselves! The “door-buster” items that many had come for were easy to locate, without the crushing disappointment of losing out on the last one to some teenager with an infected nose ring that is clearly just going to put it on ebay and make a tidy profit. I drank three cups of coffee without a rebuke from anyone; the salespeople were accommodating, even friendly.
Now, you may think an internet woodworking celebrity such as me would have a hard time in a Woodcraft store. But I swear it was as if I was just another customer. Nobody asked for an autograph, not a single child peed his pants with excitement, nor did any of the store’s female clientele toss their undergarments at me when I walked down the aisle. I hovered around the front of the store for a good long time just to confirm my suspicion, and was satisfied that everyone was just too polite to bother me. Clearly they were trying their best to pretend that they didn’t know that I was among them, and I was very grateful for their convincing act. I collected my items, drank another cup of free coffee and checked out with speed and efficiency. It was like an episode of the Twilight Zone, without the poor acting and even poorer special effects. In a city full of chaos, where sirens could be heard in the distance as emergency personal rushed to the latest scene of consumer carnage, I had found an oasis of peace and tranquility, a place where a person could spend a little more than he could afford without feeling like a steer in a stampede toward the killing floor with the smell of blood in the air. I wasn’t shoved; nobody tried to feel me up. I only had to throw one punch and that was over a cookie, so it’s at least partially excusable.
The bottom line is this… I survived Black Friday at Woodcraft because woodworkers know how to deal with shopping without losing their minds. We don’t shoot anyone; we don’t get into our cars and try to run down the guy who got the last VCR. We are a breed of honest, reasonable people, with a ratio of nut-jobs that is infinitesimal when compared to your average population. I take at least partial credit for that, as the host of Blue Collar Woodworking. I mean, after all, what clams the holiday nerves better than good old fashioned woodworking entertainment from a chubby guy with questionable skills?
Next year, I might even leave my flak jacket at home. But the pepper spray stays on my hip. You never know when you’ll need it.