The New World on a Black Friday

Mom's stony, resolute stare brought to mind the look on UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Forrest Griffin's face as he worked over Tito Ortiz last Saturday on Pay-Per-View.

Thanksgiving commercials had me convinced that only the proverbial soccer mom and her ilk would be pressing their faces against the sliding doors of Retail Mecca (i.e. Best Buy) at five a.m. on Black Friday.

That Mom, a Chinese-American woman now in her “Golden Girl” years, had spent the holiday gingerly reviewing “Doorbuster Specials” in the newspaper was no surprise, however. “I got you six pairs of socks for free! Guess how I did it,” she’d said by way of greeting when I returned home for Thanksgiving.

Sensible people did not stand in the parking lot of retail stores before the break of dawn, especially not in Lake Jackson, TX where even bars are closed and empty by midnight. Or so I believed. Not even Mom had been known to grace the doors of a retail outlet before seven on Black Friday.

But this year, Mom had high aspirations to secure an HP Laptop with Intel Celeron Processor (Model: G60-507DX) for the bargain bin price of just $197.00. In the alternative, she would settle for a Toshiba Intel Core 2 Duo Laptop with Win7, 3 GB, 250 GB HD for $399.99 (not a “Doorbuster” deal per se, but still pretty darn good).

“You'll have to be ready to go by four thirty if you want to come with me,” Mom explained. She was decked out in her long, lobster apron and lobster claw kitchen mitts, sliding the turkey out from the oven, which had been cooking in a bag for a couple hours, and setting it down on the counter. “I have to be there first thing,” Mom continued, punctuating every word with a lobster claw.

“You just wake me up tomorrow,” I replied.

All Thanksgiving day, my uncle and dad vacillated between disbelief and poking fun at Mom. My uncle, for example, might go, “You really doing this? At four thirty in the morning?” Then Dad would chime in with something like, “Only your mom is this crazy. She’s totally nutty, you know that, right?”

My mom, for her part, was undecided about whether we should actually be at Best Buy by three. “They might do this thing with tickets around three,” she kept saying.

“I’ll do four thirty with you Mom, but no way in hell am I getting up with you before three.”

Still, Mom continued to wonder to herself, “Three. You think people will be up before three?”

“I don’t think anyone will be up before eight.”

At 4:30 a.m., I felt a light tap on my shoulder. My eyes snapped open.

There was Mom, hovering over my bed in an over-sized, reversible red sweater circa 1992. “It’s time,” she said, face drawn from lack of sleep, jaw set with hallmark determination. Mom’s stony, resolute stare brought to mind the look on UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Forrest Griffin’s face as he worked over Tito Ortiz last Saturday on Pay-Per-View. For a second, I thought she might pummel me.

“Okay!” I jumped to my feet, palms open in surrender. “I’m ready. All I gotta do is put on shoes. And don’t forget, you owe me donuts for this.”

The first sign that something was amiss came not seconds after Mom pulled cautiously out of the driveway. As Mom meandered through the neighborhood at a ten mph clip, a white Ford Ranger reared around us, stepped on the gas, and left us in the dust.

“That was not very neighborly,” I huffed.

I had witnessed my mom (5’6” 110 Ibs) overtake a nest of hornets, pull eggs out of boiling water with her bare hands, and physically force me every day for a decade onto a piano bench to engage in the recommended thirty minutes of daily piano practice (when I was younger, she would chase me around the house, whipping my butt with a stick until I shielded my ass by plopping it on the piano bench; “work hard or get beat with a stick” doesn’t leave a kid with many options), but damn if Mom was going to break the law. As if it were any other day, she drove five miles below the speed limit, heavy on the brakes, all the way to Best Buy.

Mom and I eventually pulled into the Best Buy parking lot around 4:45 a.m. Solemnly, as we approached the store on foot, we noted that the lot was sprinkled with the tiny glow of truck lights, under which men in camouflage hunting caps scanned advertisements with a concentration that I might have expected if they’d been, say, attending to firearms or gutting fish.

Every demographic was represented in the line that wrapped around Best Buy. High school kids in letter jackets chatted excitedly; families huddled together for warmth; elderly couples stood arm-in-arm; and a surprising turn-out of not-even-remotely-metrosexual men waited stoically with hands tucked in the pockets of their Wranglers.

No one was more thrilled by the approaching hour than the die-hards who had spent Thanksgiving Day in the Best Buy parking lot. A father and son team headed the line. They’d been standing vigil since 11:30 a.m. the previous day, and it was all for the promise of a good deal on a laptop. They were flanked by two skinny boys who had come for an Xbox and a woman with her sights on a computer.

“Do ya’ll do this every year?” I asked.

“No! No! No!” they replied. “This is our first time!” In the last 17 hours, the die-hards informed me, they had shared food, music, and more than a few card games to pass the time. “But I don’t even know their names!” one of the boys exclaimed. In response, the die-hards turned to each other to shake hands and introduce themselves.

“But will it be survival of the fittest when doors open?” I asked.

“Oh yeah, she’s gonna get an elbow!” the same boy replied, faking an arm to the gut of the woman to his left. The woman laughed, patting the kid good naturedly. “Nah,” he added. “They give out tickets for certain items beforehand,” he assured me.

Best Buy at 4:55 a.m. is the Olympics of Black Friday, and most people had come with a coach. As I milled through the line, a woman drove by, rolled down her window, and handed her husband a sweater. “Take this breakfast off my hands!” one man exclaimed, handing off a foam box to a friend. People in line pulled out advertisements from their back pockets and pointed out deals to one another. The pervading spirit of cooperation was reminiscent of the mood that comes over Lake Jackson before a category five hurricane.

“We’re screwed Mom,” I said grimly when I met her near the end of the line. “You were right. We should’a been here by the latest.”

Once Mom and I were granted admission into the warm bowels of Best Buy, we became a part of the fray. There were still plenty of good laptops available, but it appeared that the store had been stripped of its best deals.
Mom proceeded to order a noticeably sweating, freckly, morbidly obese store clerk to check the store database, look in storage, and climb a ladder to scan the top shelf for one last choice Toshiba laptop that might have gone unnoticed by others.

“Mom. They don’t have it. Let’s go,” I said, nodding apologetically in the direction of the sweat-drenched man—clearly a techie who, in stark contrast to the large-breasted, female employees accosting shoppers with their pleasant smiles and mammary glands, was not a temporary holiday hire.

The brief glimmer of disappointment on Mom’s face was heartbreaking.

“Well, I don’t need a laptop anyway,” Mom said.

As fellow shoppers raced around us, mental states ranging from determined to quite possibly deranged, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the Pilgrims who had braved the heavy seas for The New World, with goals even more outlandish than securing a Sony VAIO Laptop (Model: VGN-NW235F/W) for $399.99 or a 32” LCD HDTV for only $299.99.

I put an arm around Mom. We glanced back one final time before exiting the store.

“Hey Mom. What about Office Depot?” I asked. “Doesn’t it open at six?”


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