THE RYAN DIXON LINE: An Ode to Black Friday [Best of FaN]

Conventional wisdom has it that Thanksgiving is the one day where family and friends reunite, reconnect, and relapse over a grocery-store-bought feast of turkey, stuffing and wine. Football is watched. Happy tears are shed. Everlasting memories are made.

Balderdash. Come on, admit it, if I put a gun to your head, would you be able to give me ten specific (not to even mention, beloved) Thanksgiving Day memories?

What’s that, you say? The many years of chewing on dried turkey, hearing the same dull stories and watching the interminable parades and bad football games have melded together in the same way Aunt Jane’s viscid, feldgrau-colored gravy slithered into the cranberry sauce on your plate last Thanksgiving to create a ichorous blob of food that looked like the bloody brown mucus goo that was leaking out of your nephew Timmy’s nose at the kids table?

Well, then, in that case, how about ten Black Friday memories?

Ahhh. Now that’s easy. Without any prompting you rattle off a host of fond recollections…

Delicious cold turkey sandwiches (so much better than the dry, hot turkey slices of the previous night)…The entire family going to see the latest Disney, James Bond, Harry Potter or Twilight movie…Dad somehow getting that perfect parking space right in front of the mall’s entrance….Mom buying the very last Cabbage Patch doll…and the sales…oh, the sales…

Now those are the memories for which ink is laid upon the Hallmark Card.

According to Wikipedia, the term “Black Friday” was originally coined to describe the great stock market crash of 1869. “Black Friday” gained traction as the nom de plume for the day after Thanksgiving (and unofficial start of the Christmas shopping season) in 1969 when the Philadelphia police used the term to describe the unprecedented traffic that flowed into the Center City District from shoppers who then clogged the streets in the same fashion that the cholesterol from the previous night’s pumpkin pie surely had clogged their arteries.

What makes Black Friday so special is that, like the Super Bowl and the Oscars, it’s a secular holiday created to honor one of America’s favorite pastimes: shopping. Even though we’ve gone perhaps a little too far in our reckless spending habits over the past few years, the access and ability to buy so much stuff is one of the great blessings of being an American. There’s a reason Sultans, drug lords and wives of Third-World dictators step off their Gulfstreams and head straight for our Armani Exchanges– no one does shopping better than America.

Black Friday is a Saint’s Day for shoppers. Unlike Thanksgiving where we are forced together in the same room with nothing to do but drink, eat, and argue, the pre-planning needed to experience a successful Black Friday offers family members the chance to proactively, and genuinely, bond – I’ll never forget how, year after year, my mother, her two sisters and brother, his wife and my grandmother would sit in the living room, post Thanksgiving feast, and debate over which store sales were seductive enough to earn the top destination spot for the 6am landing at Pittsburgh’s massive Century III Mall.

While I never signed up for the early morning invasion, I led the second line of attack, traveling to the mall in the late morning, alongside my father and grandfather, to meet the other family members who had already been shopping for the length of a workday. There, I roamed the dark corridors of the mall*, Orange Julius in one hand, toothpick-pierced Hickory Farms Beef Stick sample in the other, spending countless hours perusing the merchandise-filled aisles of Suncoast, Spencer’s, KB Toys, Waldenbooks and that weird place with the swords (you know the one). Forget about being a kid in the candy store, I felt like a Boy-King touring his Kingdom of Magical Merchandise.

My family would reunite throughout the day at specific times (with my mother never failing to be 30 minutes late) to eat at the food court, plan the next several hours of shopping or — bliss! — head to the movies. In the periods leading up to our rendezvous, I nervously plotted how best to ask my parents for the extra five dollars that would allow me to get the movie, book or He-Man figure that I really, really wanted, nay, needed.

By the end of the day we would head back to my grandparent’s house and collapse on the sofa, exhausted, but exhilarated. Not only had we taken part in one of society’s great communal rituals, but the day at the mall had brought us closer together– our love for one another was as full as our shopping bags.

Yet now, as we move inexorably toward the second decade of the 21st Century, the magic glow of Black Friday seems to dim a little more every year. The internet has given us Black Friday-level sales 24/7 and since my family lives on the East Coast, zooming off by myself to a crowded L.A. mall on the day after Thanksgiving is about as appealing as sitting in rush hour traffic on the 405.

So what do I have to be thankful for this Thanksgiving? One thing, mostly– a lifetime of treasured family memories revolving around the brightest day of the year.

* The halcyon days of my family’s Black Friday mall trips were in the 1980’s and early 90’s when malls were as darkly lit as the inner heart of the Amazon and decorated with faux trees, plants and rivers to match.

P.S. If you want to fully celebrate the Black Friday shopping experience, than there’s no better gift you can get for yourself or a loved one than a copy of the newly released graphic novel I co-wrote, Hell House: The Awakening. Give yourself a post-turkey treat and purchase it now!

featured image credit: Roadsidepictures