The wife and I had been out for a nice evening adventure to Ikea and realized that before we went home we needed three very important things. Light bulbs, cat litter and cat food. The first two didn’t matter at all, the last was a matter of life and death. If perchance we had forgotten it once again, our curiously vindictive male cat would start puking all over our freshly cleaned house. It does no good to rub his nose in it, all he wil do is freak out and run away crying, then return in about 30 seconds to demand to be fed. He has a serious case of short term memory loss. But I digress.
Because we had closed down Ikea (that’s how you know you’re starting to grow up, instead of closing down bars, you close down home furnishing stores!) our options were limited. Target? Closed. Fred Meyer? Too far out of the way. WinCo? We knew from experiece they didn’t have what we needed. Oh yeah, I nearly forgot: Wal-Mart. They’re open 24/7 and not too far out of the way, all things considered. I really didn’t want to go there. It’s not that I despise the leviathan of Bentonville, having lived in a small rural community I understood the need that a local Wal-mart could feed, beyond driving many independent businesses into the ground. I just didn’t like to shop there. It makes me feel, well, dirty.
So we pulled into the massive parking lot, nearly expecting a tram to show up and ferry us to the store a’la the Magic Kingdom, “Remember folks, you parked in the Gun-Toting Redneck Lot*, across from Foxworthy Lane and Made in China Parkway!” This is a traditional suburban Wal-Mart. Probably big enough to park a 747 insider its massive gaping maw, and enough goods inside to keep a fleet of those jets busy for a better part of a month. Basking under the near-radioactive glow of the overheads, the greeters somehow manage to crack a small smile while saying, “Welcome to Wal-Mart” through gritted teeth.
Once my eyes adjusted to the ultraviolet bombardment I began to notice colored boxes around the register poles. They looked like wrapped presents. In fact, that’s what they were. I turned the corner and nearly ran into a fully decked out fake-as-hell Christmas tree. There were signs above that read, “Visit our Christmas Shop!” and Christmas-themed clothing front and center by the check-out. And over the hum of folks busily adding to our national trade deficit I heard a familiar tune. At first it was hard to make out. Then as we kept walking we got closer to the overhead speaker the dulcet tones of “Silent Night” came wafting out of the industrial grid-work that passed for a ceiling in the Wal-Mart. Yes, a Christmas carol. Christmas decorations and gift ideas coming at me from every direction.
I was in shock. I know that they’ve been itching to get this stuff out since Valentine’s Day, but it’s barely November 2nd! I’m still fighting off the sugar hangover from Halloween, my fragile Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup addled brain can’t handle the assault of 2 holidays, very different holidays at once like this. It just ain’t right. Granted, the Christmas season is when company shareholders salivate over the masses of people cramming the stores to buy every new gadget, toy and piece of clothing to wrap and place under the tree for Christmas morning. They call it Black Friday, because historically that’s the day that many stores actually become profitable, “in the black”, thanks to the avid consumption brought on by the Holidays. It is a big deal economically. And with all the craziness this year, hopes will be even higher, dreaming of boosted revenues and positive cash flows instead of sugar plums in the heads of CEOs across America. But man, I wish they would back off a bit. Maybe until the 15th or so, close enough to Thanksgiving that it nearly seems right. Is it that much to ask?
My mom used to tell me a story about Frederick and Nelson, a large department store in downtown Seattle that went all out for Christmas. It was te palce to have your moment of fame with Santa. It had the best window displays and the most beautiful decorations of the downtown core. Most of all there was a 20-some odd story star that the scaled the side of the building, a guiding light if you will to this retail Mecca. The greatest thing though was that they did nothing until Thanksgiving night. Nothing. Well, maybe some behind the scenes stuff that ws kept from the view of the eager public, but nothing anyone could see. Then Thanksgiving night, while many slept off the tryptophan the employees decorated the whole place. And they paid their employees well for this act of self-sacrifice, it wasn’t just expected. Top to bottom. It took all night, but when it was time to open the day after Thanksgiving (Black Friday) the place was immaculate. So much for tradition.
The other thing I thought about while we were in Wal-Mart: what is it with Wal-Mart and their customers and Disney-character apparel? I just don’t get it.