WELCOME TO $AVE-$OME-CA$H (A WORK OF FICTION IN PROGRESS). Written 2003, published at Facebook, November 21, 2010 as Welcome to Waldo’s World, rewritten 2011.
There’s an odd phenomenon in retail called Black Friday. Just the name sends shivers down the otherwise unshakable veterans of commerce while putting large, blinking dollar signs across their vitrified stares.
Before my first Black Friday evening at $ave-$ome-Ca$h, I knew only of the 1869 New York Gold Exchange scandal and the 1945 German and British aircraft battle called Black Fridays, and only because my history teacher spent a whole week that November teaching about them. My parents never celebrated the annual retail craze, so I didn’t know about it when I entered the store for my 3 to 7 shift that day and saw the aftermath.
The store’s “$ave-$ome-Ca$h Cu$tomer$ Love Black Friday$ $avings” had started at 6:00 that morning and ended at 2:00 in the afternoon, so most of the shoppers had left with probably 80 percent of our bargain merchandise. As I looked around, I thought a bomb had exploded inside the store. But since the powder blue chipboard walls were still intact and I saw only one fire, I thought steers had busted loose from Fred Franklin’s nearby farm and somehow managed to get inside the store. I heard mooing coming from the clothing section, so I was certain that that’s what happened. But upon inspection, I discovered it was only Ping Wu Hu, our store sales advocate, moaning from beneath a colorful mountain of discarded dresses, ladies’ undergarments and shoes.
He staggered to his feet, with my assistance, then wobbled to his office in the back of the store, all the while mooing—I mean “moaning”—like a heifer in heat. Later I discovered he was actually talking amidst his moans, saying, “No more. No more. No more.”
While I helped clean up the shelves and floor in Toys and Housewares, I made friends with Charlie Humper, one of the old maintenance guys who looks like Lurch but talks like Uncle Fester from the Addams Family movies. He explained the history and frenzy of Black Friday to me. According to him, the term originated in Philadelphia back in the 1960s when crowds of football enthusiasts entered the city on the Friday after Thanksgiving to shop, stay over to watch the game on Saturday, and then go home. I listened, amazed and alarmed while he told me about massive traffic jams, over-crowded sidewalks, and shoppers mobbing the downtown stores from opening to closing.
“The kids were obnoxious brats at the Philly store I worked at,” he said. “All of them there to see Santa and making a mess of the shelves of toys.” He shivered. “This hogwash of balancing the financial ledgers from red to black is a bunch of PR subterfuge from the 1980s. We old-timers know it’s just dressing up a sinner and calling him a saint.”
As Charlie shuffled off to the maintenance room, I felt glad that I had missed most of the insanity.
I finished cleaning at 3:00 and manned my cash register at the front of the store. Because of my age, I always got the one farthest from the tobacco products, which meant I was closest to the front door. Because of its location, my register attracted the customers who wanted fast exits from the store. But because I was still unskilled at punching the correct register keys, counting out change, and bagging all their loot—and because of my acute interest in every pretty girl who walked by—my lines moved slower than dirt, which … well, you get the picture.
Anyway, there were scores of pretty girls shopping when the 6:00 PM rush surged inside. This crowd consisted of shoppers who needed groceries, shoppers who needed hunting licenses for the approaching deer, turkey and bear seasons, and shoppers who had just got out of work and were hoping for overlooked bargain leftovers from the Black Friday sale. But Ping and his stockers had removed the leftovers and managed to return the store to its usual somber looking self despite all of the cheap Christmas trimmings everywhere.
Other shoppers that entered the store that night were vendee vampires!
I know what you’re thinking: What? Vampires? Those zombie creatures that suck blood?
Not blood, but…
Vendee vampires are shoppers who come out after the sun goes down, and only on Friday and Saturday nights, no matter the time of year. These retail soul suckers are attracted to places with lots of lights and signs that say SAVE. And because $ave-$ome-Ca$h is always lit up like a miniature sun all night long, New Cambridge’s vendee vamps swarm our store as soon as the last glimmer of twilight leaves the sky.
Vendee vamps usually run in packs, but some of the really old ones like to cruise alone or in pairs. Any well-lit commercial venue is fair game as long as these creatures can spend money quickly and give someone a hard time while doing it. Among their favorite haunts besides this store are dollar stores and fast food places. In New Cambridge, several of these stores line both sides of Main Street on the way out of town, and you can often see vendee vamps gathered in packs, berating cashiers and managers if someone either packaged their fast food orders incorrectly or handed back the wrong change. A friend who works at Goody’s Burger Barn down the street told me about a time when some vamps swarmed upon a hapless night manager after a mix-up of food items at the restaurant.
Vendee vampires love confrontations most. I believe complaining and shouting give them energy boosts, stronger than artificial stimulants. They’ll even choose the longest checkout line so they can complain about waiting a long time … or so I’ve heard.
I called Ping on the telephone at my station when twenty of them—young and old—swarmed through the entrance. “The vendee vampires are here,” I whispered into the phone.
“I’m not,” he said and hung up. And despite the noise of lousy Christmas music on the intercom and shoppers talking loudly, I heard his office door’s lock click shut.
I took my break (late as always) and cowered at the round Formica table next to the broken microwave, drinking a Coke and trying to contain my anxiety. I hated confrontations of any kind, and I felt certain I wouldn’t surpass my probation that night.
After my break, I saw only vendee vamps in the store during my long walk back to my register. At the front door, more vampires entered. Several cashiers, including some who had already taken their allotted breaks, turned off their registers and fled to the break room.
I took a deep breath, squared my shoulders, and turned on my Checkout Here light, all the while feeling small and alone at the front of the store where more vendee vampires flooded through the entrance and threatened to drown my hope of keeping my wits until quitting time.