For my parents, Thanksgiving dinner is a minor footnote to a weekend of indiscriminate bargain-priced holiday consumption. Thanksgiving's main course is Black Friday – the cruelest shopping day in the calendar year, and one area in which our country can still confidently call itself the world's leading superpower.
As soon as my parents picked me up from the train station last Wednesday night and loaded me into their Subaru Forrester – rated number one in safety in its class, my mother repeatedly reminds me – they outlined this year's most important shopping mission very clearly. They had their sights set on Wal-Mart (they would have to choose from one of two Wal-Marts in their area) where, for a limited time, between the hours of 6am and 9am on Friday morning, they would be offering a DVD player on sale for seventeen dollars and seventy-eight cents.
Seventeen dollar and seventy-eight cents. For a DVD player. The mind reels. There aren't enough international child labor law loopholes to exploit in order to make a seventeen dollar DVD player profitable. You would actually have to invent new child labor laws, and violate those, just to break even. And, though my parents often accuse me of being a bit of a consumer elitist (see previous post), you don't have to have Bang & Olufsen on speeddial to expect that, as a general rule, a DVD player should cost more than a DVD. That's simple economics. A toaster should cost more than a piece of toast. A toilet should cost more than a glass of urine. And, it would follow, a DVD player should definitely cost more than a DVD of How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days – even the widescreen director's cut.
But my parents kept assuring me the seventeen dollar DVD player was a name brand. Unfortunately, that brand name was "Tupperware." But my mother already owned several Tupperware serving bowls, and one of their desktop computers, and was very happy with those, so this was an argument I could not win.
For those of us who happily live our blissfully ignorant, spoiled lives in metropolitan cities, visiting a Wal-Mart is like being unplugged from The Matrix. Wal-Mart is the red pill, if the red pill came in ranch flavor. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, you will find the floors of any Wal-Mart swarming with morbidly obese Americans navigating electric carts to help them shop at maximum efficiency without the risk of fatigue cardiac arrest. And, when I visited with my parents, I found many of those morbidly obese, scooter-propelled Americans wearing yellow LIVESTRONG Lance Armstrong bracelets, sometimes one on each wrist. For some people, the bracelets were cutting so deep into the extra flesh around their wrists that their hands had turned blue and numb, rendering them unable to grip the E.L. Fudge Nutrition Bars and Head and Shoulders brand radial tires they'd pulled from the shelves in a frenzy.
The shopping trip did have a happy ending, I'm afraid. My parents were not able to get their seventeen dollar and seventy-eight cent DVD player. It seems, at the last minute, the DVD players were pulled from inventory when one of the stock boys discovered that many of them were filled with Mexican jumping spiders. But my parents found all sorts of other great gifts. One of Wal-Mart's big Christmas items this year is a La-Z Boy recliner chair for small children. The child pictured on the box – she was no more than 7 years old – appeared relaxed and, not surprisingly, a little drunk. The chair includes side pockets for remote controls, crayons, and valium, and a drink holder that comfortably accomodates a Capri Sun juice pouch.
Camouflage – both as practical cover and decoration – was everywhere, as if Wal-Mart knows something we don't. I even saw a display teddy bears fabricated with camouflage material, which is a good idea only if the United States is in danger of land invasion by the small, vigilant nation of Babystan.
My parents grabbed two teddy bears for their grandchildren and, just before we made it to the check-out line, my dad remembered he needed to pick up some laundry detergent. Tide was having a sale on limited edition jugs of "Enduring Freedom" scented detergent with Colorfast™ action. The packaging was Tide-orange, white & blue and claimed, "THESE COLORS DON'T RUN – AND NEITHER WILL YOURS!"