I like things, it’s no secret. I even like stuff. But what. the. fuck. America? The insanity known as Black Friday wasn’t enough. Ok, I’m not a Black Friday shopper, but lots of people are, I’ve known several who find it fun, and a few who see it as a type of sport. Now more and more stores are opening on Thanksgiving. Shop, shop, shop for more shit you don’t need and no one wants while you’re in your growth-hormone-laced-turkey stupor, so there won’t be any pesky common sense to get in the way. A couple of days ago I saw a clip on the news about a mall in Western New York that will be opening at 6PM on Thanksgiving Day (and I’m willing to bet if there’s one mall doing this there are more doing the same)–and any retail stores that choose not to open will be fined somewhere in the neighborhood of $200 an hour for every hour the mall is open that the store isn’t. Apparently these fines are somewhat common, written into lease agreements at many malls across the country. Opening on Thanksgiving Day, though, that’s new(er).
What is wrong with us? These big box retailers are the pimps driving BMWs with flashy rims, and we the consumers are the black-eyed, split-lipped prostitutes shivering in the cold and dirty slush waiting for the bus at 5AM. I don’t know that I think Thanksgiving with its false myths of blissful Pilgrims and Native Americans singing Kumbaya together over pumpkin pie is so sacred. But it is supposed to symbolize something, a day to reflect on who and what we have, enjoy our friends, families and communities, what our society is and what it stands for. If you’re a cynic like myself, your immediate thought is of the big money involved in those Thanksgiving Day football games and the gluttony encouraged on TV screens across the nation.
This is New York, city of convenience. Public transportation, grocery stores, drug stores and restaurants being open 24/7, 365 days a year is nothing new. I used to work in social services so yes, I have worked every holiday. I’ll even admit I didn’t hate it. In fact, it was lovely, and those holidays affirmed the work I did mattered, because these were human beings I worked with, not diagnoses, and workers and clients had a good time cooking and eating together. Sure there was always someone who would decompensate and need to go to the ER right before I was about to go off shift–but that’s why I was there, why the work was meaningful if not lucrative–and good God, draining doesn’t begin to cover it.
That said is why I’m very aware not everyone can or should have the holiday off. Social services, medical services, residential treatment services, police, firefighters, public transportation, emergency crews available for public works, these can’t all lock the doors and turn the cell phones off. Sometimes the service provided is more necessary than dinner with Cindy Lou Who. But buying the latest video game console? The perfect sweater for an ugly sweater contest? Really, that can’t wait until the morning? People who work retail are among those who can least afford to take a stand and say “I’m not coming in to work on the holiday,” yet they already see their loved ones least, since they work evenings, nights, and weekends.
I posted last week about my city adventures in the Met and St John the Divine. I’ve been thinking about it ever since, these great enduring works of art–hundreds, some thousands of years old, still revered, still relevant, artists and works still remembered. This being the case, why are artists (visual, actors, musicians or writers) still treated with contempt, as if what they offer society has no value, unless, of course, they’re hugely financially successful? Or dead. Maybe I’m just a flaky mush but I went back to St John yesterday, to bring my godson and Art Child and spend time again with “AMEN: A Prayer for the World.” And I was moved, on the verge of tears again from the works of these modern artists from disparate cultures, an exhibition about respect and understanding, our shared humanity.
Husband works retail. His store is closed on Thanksgiving, but if they decided to open, he would grumble, I would bitch, and then he would go to work. Because rent. Maybe the saleswoman helping you find the laptop you want this Thanksgiving is a mom who is paying a babysitter more than she’s making for the day because the regular sitter is with her own family, or the daycare is closed. Maybe the cashier is an artist who thought he was going to be able to spend the day sculpting. Maybe the floor manager is just fucking tired and had hoped for a day off before the insanity of Black Friday began–because yes, she does have to be back at the store at 4am the next day. The executives who decided the stores should be open? They’re home. Or on vacation. Maybe they’ll stop in and benignly thank the peasant workers for their service. They’re most certainly not trying to figure out how to cook, clean up, offer a holiday experience for their children, beg for child care, calculate how they will pay rent/mortgage/utilities and then go stand on their feet and smile politely for 14 straight hours.
I received this solicitation in the mail the other day. I don’t have much, but I think I’ll write a check.
We each have a voice in this country, as individuals and as a greater community. Our voices are heard when we vote, and at this point in our consumer-based society, I believe our voices ring out most clearly through our wallets. People can tsk tsk all they want. The only message being conveyed if you shop on a holiday is that it’s a good, profitable idea for the stores to open, and the people working don’t matter. I’m asking the Fringelings here in America (who don’t have to work on the holiday) to speak out by staying out of the stores on Thanksgiving. Read a classic novel, listen to music, plan a trip to a museum, watch It’s A Wonderful Life. Use the day to make a statement about what you believe matters. Unless you have to work.