Saturday, November 26, 2005

When Black Friday Comes

Yesterday I did something I usually avoid: I went shopping the day after Thanksgiving. Most New Yorkers want to avoid crowds between Thanksgiving and New Year's, but like going to Times Square on New Year's Eve or going to a holiday parade, it's something everybody does...once.

My objective wasn't gift-buying. I usually give everyone a gift card to their favorite retailer and a few personal tokens I've accumulated during the course of the year. Yesterday, I was looking for semi-festive holiday wear for myself. In particular, I was looking for the two must-have fashion items that will supposedly rescue me from total geekhood this season: A velvet blazer and a black beaded necklace.

I chose the newly-renovated Queens Center Mall rather than going to my usual stores spread out over different blocks and neighborhoods in The City, since the temperature was in the 20's with a wind chill factor of dermabrasion.

The morning's newscasts had been reporting on the crowds that had shown up at the stores since five that morning: frozen, overcaffeinated popsicle people rioting and trampling each other for bargains. My husband watched me bundle up with trepidation, as though I were a scuba diver being lowered into a shark tank. I offered him the chance to come with me, but for some reason, he declined.

The Queens Center Mall is about a twenty minute subway ride from midtown. When I worked there as a teenager, it was recently opened and consisted of two department stores and a Sunglass Hut. Now, it's a glittering octopus sprawling over four levels and several blocks. The first stop I headed for was the restroom, followed by the food court, where I enjoyed a Subway sandwich surrounded by giant posters advertising the Mall with moody black and white photographs of models proclaiming, "I AM the expression of choice."

I decided to search systematically, floor by floor, from one end to the other. Three hours and a Cinnabon later I left the Mall, empty-handed. In between, I had tried on fourteen blazers, none of which fit properly. The first go-round, I'd focused on black velvet. The second go-round, dark brown velvet was acceptable, and the third time was "Any decent-looking, festive jacket."

At J.C. Penney's, I had seen a display of a mannequin in gold brocade wearing brushed gold plastic beads around its neck, kind of a fifties movie star look. The display of jackets were hanging about ten feet off the floor.

I went over to a nearby cashier and asked her, "Excuse me, how do you get those jackets down to try one on?"

She smiled. "With a stick."

"You're kidding, right?" No, she wasn't. She turned around and handed me an five-foot metal pole with a hook on the end. And I took it. The first five jackets I brought down were the wrong size, but I was getting good at it. I felt like a contestant on a game show, but I also had the feeling that the store was violating some kind of safety regulation somewhere in asking their customers to whack at their merchandise like a pinata. When I finally landed a jacket in my size and tried it on, I looked less like a fifties movie star and more like an organ grinder's monkey, so I passed.

The Mall wasn't a totally bad choice, since I had the opportunity to check out most of the major chain stores in one place. And, like my exploration of Woodbury Common, I did learn a few shopping lessons:
So all-in-all, Black Friday is overhyped, overrated and over-demonized. The real pathological behavior happens when it's five minutes before closing on Christmas Eve, and you've spent the past month looking all over the universe for something that your parent/spouse/child saw once in a fevered dream and described badly, and all the stores have left is a shoehorn, and your parent/spouse/child will say that if you were a real, good, normal child/spouse/parent and you had a real job and you made enough money and cared about anybody besides yourself, you would have found it.

And this is why I give gift certificates.

P.S. I went down Queens Boulevard to Target, where the Woman's clothing department has those "Isaac Mizrahi for Target" clothes. They were inexpensive and surprisingly well-made. They didn't fit, either.

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