I’ve little doubt that some of you reading this, perhaps many of you reading this, spent the day braving the shopping centers and malls, in search of Black Friday deals and making a dent in your Christmas shopping.
I spent another Black Friday at the office. I had little on my plate today; I wrote like a demon Monday through Wednesday (two 10k-plus days) for a number of reasons, and that left me with little to do beyond some spreadsheet clean-up, some desk clean-up, and some instructioneering that I’d been putting off. Except for a stop at the post office to buy stamps — I am not using the Madonna and Child stamps this year for Christmas cards; instead, it will be the Angel and Lute! — I went near noplace that sold anything at all.
My Christmas shopping is largely done. Partly, I lack the extra money to throw around in December; it’s more sensible to spread the Christmas money load around. And it’s partly experience; I worked in retail for a very long time, and after a near-disaster holiday where I simply didn’t have the time to do any Christmas shopping until the very last minute, it’s better to get the unpleasantries of shopping out of the way early.
I drove to work today; I knew that there wouldn’t be rush hour insanity on the Beltway, and I pulled into the office parking lot twenty minutes after leaving the house. Driving home, I tried to think of any great Christmas season war stories. I worked retail long enough; surely I have a story or three?
Except that I really don’t.
Oh, I could tell the story about the man who came into my EB Games store five minutes before closing on Christmas Eve, and I made sure that when he left with his PlayStation 2 that he went home with all the worst games. (Yes, I made the man buy Fantavision. And Eternal Ring.)
I could tell another story, about getting clocked on the head by a falling PlayStation system box.
None of these are Black Friday stories, though.
And I realized that I don’t have any great Black Friday stories. I’d arrive at work long before the sun came up, I’d go home long after the sun went down. The moments all blend together. There’s nothing unique — or even particularly worthwhile — in sharing those war stories. When you work retail in November and December, you can go entire days without seeing the sun.
One Black Friday customer does stand out in my memory, mostly because he was weird.
My last Black Friday with EB Games was 2005. We had a door-buster sale running, and it wasn’t a great sale by any means. It was additional savings on a group of underwhelming games that we had in stock. (That’s the secret of Black Friday sales, by the way; what’s on sale is stuff that the company has a fuckton of and is sitting on, and they want to move it, so they price it to move and shovel it out the door.)
The door-buster sales were programmed in the system to run from 6 o’clock to 9 o’clock. At 9 o’clock, the sale wouldn’t work any more. There was a way to force it, but it shouldn’t be necessary for more than one or two customers because, honestly, the person who wants to take advantage of a door-buster sale gets there when the store opens. They don’t want to miss anything.
I unlocked the door a little bit before six, a dozen customers come rushing in, some buy the door-busters.
One of those early-bird customers was a man in his early forties. He was rail thin, he had a mustache and silver-gray hair. He clutched his sales flyer from the morning paper. He wanted the door-buster sale. Fortunately, I had a display of the door-buster items on the counter. He stood at the display, looked at the games, picked them up, carried them around the store.
Now, my store wasn’t that big. I didn’t even have a line of customers.
Six o’clock became seven. The man was still in the store. He would consult his sale flyer. He would look at the games. He would pick a game or two up and carry it around the store. He would put the game back on the display, consult his flyer, and this dance would begin again.
Seven o’clock became eight. I left my employees to look after the place, went to Panera, got coffee and a bagel, and came back. The rail-thin man, mustache and silver-gray hair, was still there. Still consulting his flyer, still trying to settle on which of the door-buster games he was going to buy.
At eight-forty-five I made an announcement that the door-buster sales were ending in fifteen minutes and customers needed to bring their purchases to the register if they wanted to take advantage of the sale. The mustached, grey-haired man was still consulting his flyer and pondering the door-buster games.
At nine o’clock, the register stopped automatically giving the door-buster sales. I walked up to the man, who wasn’t in line (because I didn’t have a line), and told him that he needed, at that moment, to make his door-buster decision. “I’m still thinking,” he said.
“The register isn’t going to take it. It needs to be done now,” I said.
“I don’t know. I’m still thinking,” he said.
At nine-twenty, the man made his decision. He came to the register with three door-buster games.
“I can’t give you the door-buster sale price,” I said. “The register won’t allow it.”
“Can you override it? Surely you can override it.”
“If you’d come to the register before nine, it wouldn’t have been a problem. If you’d come to the register even fifteen minutes ago, I could override it. But, it’s nine-twenty. The sale’s been over for twenty minutes. I can’t override it now.”
“But I didn’t know what I wanted.”
“Sir,” I said, “you had three hours to decide what you wanted. You looked at the flyer. You held the games. You walked around the store. How could you not decide?”
“I didn’t know what I wanted.”
“I can’t give you the sale price. I’m sorry.” He gave me back the games and he left the store.
I couldn’t even feel bad. He’d been in the store for three and a half hours at that point. He couldn’t make a decision, even when I told him he had to make a decision. I asked him to get in line, and he didn’t. Indecision had its consequences.
He was a weird, weird man.