I can't quite remember the first time I heard the phrase 'Black Friday'. Surely I would have thought it was some Catholic designation for one of the days preceding the Crucifixion. Something terrible.
As a teenager it was a day after the huge tense family dinner. Parents were hung over and kids were punchy and overfed. Breakfast was black coffee and a cigarette for my Mom. Maybe cold stuffing for me with hot chocolate and some dirty looks for whatever I might have said or done the night before.
It was quiet and cold outside. The air smelled of bonfires and rotting leaves. It was a day for huge library books and blankets on the porch while my father slept off his angst and the meal. It was claustrophobic.
On break from college it was a reunion day. Homecoming for my girlfriends and sometimes a movie and a local bar. Phone calls and yearbook reminiscing. Comparing our new boyfriends and nasty roommates. Dogwalking and getting high in a sort of innocent way. No one shopped in our household. We hardly spoke.
Once I played in a band, Thanksgiving meant a turkey sandwich in a diner or Chinese takeout after the gig. Friends showing up with girlfriends and wives, looking sheepish and disgruntled. It was a day you'd evaluate your own family; usually things didn't measure up. As a musician, it was a relief to come home in early Friday. You could sleep it off and here was a regular weekend.
My first marriage meant excommunication from my family. I was banned from their Thanksgiving. The gig was the Lone Star-- the original one on 13th-- and I remember feeling a little non-Texan and isolated. I was writing Black Friday songs in my head without having heard the expression. Once I had a son I began my own dinners-- we were usually destitute and someone would either donate a bird or we'd manage to collect enough scraps for a feast and it felt good. I lit candles. I bundled up my baby boy and went to watch the floats getting blown up at 2 AM and drank hot chocolate in some diner. On the Friday we'd go see Christmas lights.
One Black Friday I remember having one dollar. One. I decided I'd buy a couple of bananas and 2 rolls for 25 cents apiece. My son and I went out looking for the best deal on bananas and on the side of the road I found an envelope with some cash in it. $550. For me that was hitting the lottery. It was groceries for a year…. baby clothes too. It was amazing… visions of Christmas trees… toys… going into a diner with my son and letting him order something besides chocolate milk.
But that $550… it was someone else's winning lotto ticket. It was someone else's loss. Some poor cab driver or laborer had taken out his savings and lost everything… a cancelled vacation … whatever. Why is it that I can never accept good fortune without considering the B-side? So I gave much of it to homeless people, to charity. Yes, we bought an Ernie and Bert Lego set… we shopped Toys R Us like royalty and we picked out Sesame Street Action figures and a plastic house. We saw Santa and ate burgers and fries in the Herald Square mall and looked out at the Empire State Building lit up for Christmas. My son was singing with his little red corduroy hat on.
I learned about Black Friday from my son when he was a teenager and muttered vicious maledictions at his loser mother because everyone else was getting their new Sevens for All Mankind and Timberlands.
It was humiliating and sad. I was unsympathetic and he was angry. He stayed out until 3 AM and came back stinking of alcohol with a black eye. A black eye is actually blue.
This year Black Friday apparently started on Thursday. Stores were open-- kids, including my son, had to go to work at midnight. People stampeded and fought over merchandise. Rain checks and bracelets were handed out, internet sites extended their sales through cyber Monday--- but there were stabbings and blood. What do you call this kind of violence? Retail-rage? It baffles me.
I haven't spoken to my older sister in maybe 12 years. She likes it this way. Absolutely no competition and she can malign me until the cows come home and no one will disagree. It has been so long our enmity is like a Thanksgiving float of some kind of nasty cartoon thought-balloon. I imagined their Thanksgiving--- my parents, the tense old family facade like a toothless old leather-face. I still cringe when I think of my father; he still hands over the phone like a hot potato when he hears my voice. The Pilgrims and Indians sat down together, but not my original family--- not any more. They have invented a new tradition which is now older than the original. My chair has been long filled by grandchildren.
I loved my Thanksgiving guests this year; each one was so special. I loved my home and my unmatched dishes and funky seating. No one thought about shopping. No one discussed things or clothing or new apartments. We listened to jazz and indie rock until the early morning and then I cleaned my oven. When I am content and grateful that way, I worry about Jesus--- but maybe that is Good Friday. Everything seems to be running into everything else-- I mean, what difference does it make--- corn, chocolate hearts, colored eggs, fireworks, parades? It's all the same thing-- every holiday is cause for celebration and cause for sorrow. I hope I don't die on Thanksgiving.
While I cleaned, which is somehow a not unpleasant part of my tradition, I remembered. While I scrubbed my floors and dried glasses-- I remembered the great love of my life, wasting from stomach cancer and deemed 'nil by mouth' his final Thanksgiving… asking me to describe the smell of my turkey, the texture of my stuffing… we stayed on the phone until he finally slept on Black Friday morning. I was relieved he'd made it through the day, but it was the last time we spoke. It has been so many years now, I can't even cry; I light a separate candle for him, on the table, and remember driving back to school after break, on the black turnpike, in a blue car, listening to Cinnamon Girl on the radio, with the heat on and Friday on our mind.