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Black Friday and the Arrival of the Grinch

(For the uninitiated – e.g., those living in more civilized parts of the world – Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving when stores offer their best sales for Christmas. It even existed during the Dark Ages when I was young. The Thanksgiving newspaper was always the largest of the year because it carried the advertisements for the Day-after-Thanksgiving sales. As I recall it was more genteel pushing than tripping and hitting.)

On my first day of work, the manager told me that everyone works on Black Friday. It really didn’t surprise me since the company is on the news every year for its Black Friday mobs (and occasional brawls).

My experiences at my previous job weren’t particularly encouraging. But working in cheese meant that I got the customers after they had been through battle and licking their wounds. The Grinch usually arrived sometime before the end of the shift with his tight shoes and snarl to take up residence until after New Year’s Day.

At 10p on Wednesday, I showed up for work ready to prepare for the sale. Silly me. The sale didn’t start until 2p Thanksgiving afternoon. If we put the merchandise out the night before, the day shift would be fighting off customers all morning. That might be fun to watch.

I was pretty excited. I never shop on Black Friday, and I thought it would be fun to see the crowds. There was even a county deputy there. I got to the back room and the manager said that we were going to be assigned from the break room instead of the hall as usual. It was packed, about two times as many people as usual.

The store director got up to talk. This must be important. We never see him at night. He started out by telling us how disappointing sales have been so far. Way below what they expected.

Our job was to make sure that the store looked good for Friday. They advised us to look around the store to know where the sale items were since people would be asking us all night. Good idea. Except we didn’t have fliers to know what we were looking for.

There really wasn’t a good job that night. We straightened, put things away, and threw away mangled displays. It was a bit like kids cleaning their rooms. No Grinch in sight; he would have been bored.

I straightened men’s jeans. I don’t know what kind of gremlins shop for men’s jeans when the store is busy, but they’re slobs. Must be male gremlins.

I talked to two customers. One wanted to know if it was always that slow on Black Friday. The store they usually shop at back home in Missouri always had at least a couple of fights going on. The other guy wanted to know where we kept the garbage cans. Seriously? Who buys garbage cans at midnight on Thanksgiving? Of course, I hadn’t seen the ad.

The food they provided was amazing. Big aluminum trays of ham and turkey. Mashed potatoes with bacon. Pies and cookies. Soda and water. The Grinch didn’t make it to dinner.

I was sent to stock toys; an indication of how slow it was. I talked to one customer. She wanted a toy from the ad. We were sold out of it. She huffed and said that she was going to Kmart. I didn’t have Kmart’s ad either. Maybe the Grinch was there and she’d find a soul-mate.

I had just unloaded the third pallet of toys when someone came by and said that we weren’t stocking anymore. We were supposed to straighten all of the end-caps before the end of the shift. Ummm. Okay. You took several of us from straightening to stocking. Now we’re going from stocking to straightening.

I decided to straighten the gift baskets, stocking stuffers, etc. It was the best because I got to play with the stuffed animals. Did you know that if you go into Starbucks and order hot chocolate, you have to get it with mocha but you can buy the real thing (no mocha) in a gift collection? How about they now sell foot-long Twix bars for stockings? (My family got cheated. None of us has a stocking that big.) And cheap perfume companies come out with really horrific smells for their holiday scents?

Friday night was equally quiet, but they gave us really good food again. A couple of nights later, they gave us 15% off coupons good for an entire shopping trip because we worked on Thanksgiving. A couple of nights later we got two cakes for our hard work. Two days ago we had pizza and salad for a quarter with no lost time injuries.

I never did see the Grinch. I guess he got held up at my old store.

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Nothing Says Last Day of Summer Like Trim-a-Tree

According to my calculations (which should be double-checked), there are 95 days until Christmas. It’s almost time to start nagging my family for suggestions, so I get them by December15th if I’m lucky. Otherwise, it’s fall to me. Our burning bushes have just begun to burn, the weather’s getting cooler, and we have less roadkill because the genetic pool of the animal world has finally been downsized to those who understand why their parents told them not to play in the road.

Not so in the retail world. A point of pride at Ralph’s is that we are always the first with new merchandise for the season. I’m not sure how it’s tallied, so I’m guessing that’s like being the most famous. Statistics can be used to prove anything, but should be limited to those who know how to use them safely. For example, last year summer got an early start. So we opened our garden center two weeks early. (I know this because it was part of a presentation later in the year.) It’s that kind of thinking makes Ralph rich. Of course, this year summer decided to visit us on it’s vacation from other spots, so we had an end-of-season sale like you wouldn’t believe.

Halloween candy has been out for weeks. Of course, everyone knows that’s just a cover for us to buy it for ourselves now and buy the “real” Halloween candy on October 30. It’s the beginning of “The Holidays” when we’re allowed to eat what we want because it’s only once a year. The Holidays used to be between Christmas and New Year’s, then we pushed the start back to Thanksgiving. Now we’re moving in on Halloween. Maybe we could do like the bears – eat everything in sight for a couple of months then sleep it off til spring. It would beat slogging around in the ice and snow. I bet I’m not the only one who wished they could lose a couple of pounds overnight.

But everything pales in comparison with Christmas. I know some of you still associate Christmas with the Nativity, but you probably still give thanks on Thanksgiving too. It was over 80 degrees and humid yesterday, but as I walked through the back end of the store on my way out, there it was… the first Trim-a-Tree box (artificial tree with its own decorations). I had been expecting something since the big toy sale a couple of weeks ago. By Monday, there will be more. Pretty soon it will be an invasion waiting for Halloween.

The small stuff will start sneaking in soon. Things like cards and ribbon. Sparklely sweaters and Santa boxers. On November 1, the big stuff will make its appearance. We’ll have trees, door decorations, fake greenery, blow-up Santas, tinsel, and all that other stuff the Whos put up in Whoville. Part-time Christmas music between Halloween and Thanksgiving then All Christmas All the Time. People will complain it’s too early, but they’ll start looking and slowly start buying. Those people who have everything up by the middle of November must have bought it somewhere.

The big sales were traditionally the day after Thanksgiving. It’s still a big day, but unless you want to stand in line and fight for the 5 HDTVs that will be available at 4a, you might as well sleep in. December has become one huge rotating sale. Best of all, the stuff that we convinced you was must-have at the beginning of November is on sale in the middle of December. By a couple of days before Christmas, almost everything has been marked down. (No, this does not give you permission to wait until December 23 to remember you have to give your wife a present without a cord.)

My advice? Eat as much Halloween candy as possible. With a little luck, you’ll hibernate until the whole thing is over.