I’ve seen enough videos to know that visiting Target on Black Friday is a good way to get stabbed. And if you’re not stabbed, then you’re going to be trampled by your sweet little old neighbor that runs you down to get that sweet, sweet deal on a new TV.

It seems like every year there’s more articles about why Black Friday is the worst thing ever, but even more articles about how to make the most of Black Friday shopping. As my brother pointed out, how did people go Black Friday shopping before websites aggregated every sale to maximize savings  and time spent shopping?

So in the midst of this fear of imminent stabbing and guilt over the poor retail workers giving up their Thanksgiving, I ventured into the cold to find an Xbox. It wasn’t on a Friday either. Thursday and Friday are apparently the same thing, sort of like how Star Wars VII comes out on the 18th but I’m seeing it on the 17th (as I think at least half the world is).

I was pretty okay with this arrangement. I’d had ample time to digest my turkey and rest, and I also didn’t have to stay up until 4 a.m. or wake up at 5 a.m., instead I could be in the stores at 5:30 and be back in time to watch a movie and fall asleep. I live an extraordinary life.

I went with my brother, sister, and brother-in-law, the four of us all looking for the best that Black Friday could bring us. I wanted and Xbox, so did my brother. Everyone wanted cheap Blu-rays and kitchen supplies. It was a chance to get Christmas shopping done before the all-too-familiar panic of wondering if Amazon will deliver presents  ordered on the 23rd by the 25th.

We stopped first at Best Buy for some cheap movies. The store had already been open for several hours and it showed. The workers looked tired already, settling in for a long shift that would only end sometime after midnight. The shelves were empty like those Apocalypse movies where everyone raids the store shelves for food to survive, only this time they raided $4 copies of Transformers to enjoy (as much as one even can enjoy any  of those movies). But it wasn’t as sad or as terrifying as I’d hoped. It was busy, sure, but I figured that they’d already been picked pretty clean and the worst of it was over.

I’m sorry that anyone had to see this. Flickr.

The saddest store was our next stop, Target. We got there 15 minutes before it opened, waiting outside in a long line of cold, wet people waiting for the sweet scent of new TVs and KitchenAid mixers. I stood shivering, dreaming of the Xbox I would find behind those closed doors. Would I get into a fight? I’d never been in a real one. Would there be enough left as the people in front of me rushed to the back of the store, knives out and trampling boots ready.

As soon as the doors opened, the long line (the huddled masses, if you will), half ran into the store. They grabbed carts and practically sprinted to the section they wanted. I’m pretty good at maneuvering in crowds, so I zigzagged my way through, found the pile of Xbox’s and clutched it tightly so if someone stabbed me I wouldn’t drop it. My laser focus had prevented me from seeing anything up until that moment, but as I clutched my prize I looked upon the war zone that was Target on Thanksgiving night.

The shelves, only minutes after opening, looked desperately in need of restocking. The workers stood, eyes wide at the sea of people rushing at them. It was like a bus of kindergartners had walked into the store and the employees were supposed to direct them. Everywhere, customers clutched tightly their hard-won prizes, refusing to look anyone else in the eye for fear they might want it as well.

The adrenaline rush created by running into the store had changed from fight to flight in an instant. Now everyone had the same look on their faces as a college student that eats an entire bag of chips and stares at the empty bag, wondering where his life is going (I have never done this).

I waited in the long line that only grew longer as more came into the store to pick its shelves clean of the last scraps. Each customer seemed to weigh the benefits of spending thousands, only to justify it by the age-old reasoning “But I’m saving so much!” I brought my purchase up to the register, meekly apologized to the cashier for having to work so late on Thanksgiving, and then walked out with my new toy. I was excited and saddened.

I’d saved hundreds of dollars, but I felt like a hyena running down a baby rabbit (does this happen? It’s been a while since The Lion King). It felt gross to be there on a day set aside for giving thanks for everything I have. But now I was thankful for my deeply discounted gaming system.

Black Friday is neither good nor bad. It’s just weird. I hate shopping and I hate crowds, but there is something enjoyable about being part of cultural moment. For better or worse, Black Friday is here to stay, and it’s up to you if you decide to be a part of it or not.

Next year I’ll probably stay at home and play Xbox, thankyouverymuch.

Cover Photo: Flickr