Black Friday and Human Kindness

by Stanley Delgado

DOWNEY, Calif. – “It doesn’t turn into a zoo. It’s creepier, actually.” said Benjamin Ruiz, 21, about working at a superstore on Black Friday. “It’s like something out of ‘1984’.” Ruiz laughs.

This year Black Friday will land on Nov. 15 and will live up to its namesake.

A history: The “black” in Black Friday refers to the color ink that retailers use in their checkbooks; black meaning profit as opposed to red, which means loss. And so the large amount of sales on the day after Thanksgiving would usually cause retailers to finally use black ink instead of “being in the red” the rest of the year. Or at least that’s what Ruiz’s shift manager had told him.

Ruiz, a creative writing major at Cal State Long Beach, has been working at this particular superstore for three years now and this is his third time working on Black Friday. It’s an experience he dreads but doesn’t mind once it’s under way.

“It’s the hype. The hype makes it [seem] like people are getting trampled left and right, guns firing, police choppers around or whatever.” Ruiz said. “It’s not even like half that crazy. It’s like really, really, really calm.”

Ruiz will be working the cash register this Black Friday – his detail for two years.

“The first year they gave me the orange hi-lighter vest and I was in charge of the people in line. Like I’m not bragging but I’m kinda huge so I guess they thought I could keep everybody chill.” Ruiz shakes his head as he remembers something: “There was nothing to do – it was mostly like people asking me what time we opened or what the discount on like a 50 inch [television] would be. It was really, really chill.”

Contrary to what is shown on television sometimes ie. The flood of people crashing into a store, climbing over each other like ants trying to reach their queen or something equally fitting and disturbing, the scene at Ruiz’s superstore could not be further from that image.

“It’s really weird how, I don’t know, just nice everyone is during the [Black Friday] thing. Like everyone is maybe kind of scared of everyone else, like ‘Oh, I don’t want to start a fight’ or something like that.” Ruiz says.

This particular superstore is somewhat set up like a museum exhibit rather than the labyrinth it usually is. Many aisles are blocked off so customers can only follow a very strict path. All of the merchandise is set up on the outer perimeter of the aisles so that you can quickly see what’s on sale without actually going into the aisles.

Ruiz compares the layout to “1984” because “It does kind of give off that ‘Here is what Big Brother wants you to buy’ kind of vibe. ‘Don’t look at anything else, just this.’”

Ruiz says that sometimes there will be skirmishes but they are usually about a sold out item or about coupons and things like that.

“About the irony of Black Friday after Thanksgiving… Eh. We’re Americans, yo. Not being happy with what he have and wanting more is like fundamental to functioning.” says Ruiz. “Plus, Thanksgiving is about family and friends and love and all that. It’s not about being thankful for a laptop or whatever. It’s not like you’re going out to [a superstore] to buy new friends or new parents. It’s not that deep.”

According to Ruiz, there is one thing he especially enjoys from working on Black Friday: “The thank you’s. Seriously. Like maybe it’s because everyone is in the holiday spirit or whatever but for some reason, a lot of them are really, really, really nice. I think I hear more thank you’s on this day than any other. That sounds like super sappy but it’s true. Black Friday is like,” Ruiz takes a very long time to finish this thought. “I don’t know – wait, write something like it’s an exercise in kindness!” He laughs.

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