A relatively recent phenomenon

Published 8:21 pm Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Kevin Costner baseball movie, “Field of Dreams,” is built around a voice that keeps telling Ray Kinsella, the Costner character, to construct a major league baseball diamond in the middle of an Iowa cornfield. The voice keeps telling Kinsella “If you build it, he will come.”

It’s a crazy thing to do, of course; take a regular and productive cornfield and turn it into a lighted baseball park in the middle of nowhere. But, Kinsella does it and his dad comes.

That line, “build it and he will come,” came to my mind as I observed the relatively recent phenomenon known as Black Friday. I changed a few words and the phrase became “advertise it, proclaim it and they will come!”

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I also thought, has there ever been a clearer example of Americans being led by the nose? Being led by the nose comes from the practice, mostly from the past, of bulls that had rings in their noses. A rope would be attached to the ring and the farmer would be able to lead the bull anywhere he wanted to lead and with relative ease.

There is also the idiom that has someone being played like a fiddle, or the one where a person is wrapped around the little finger. Both refer to the ease of manipulation. When thinking about Black Friday, I think that the American public is being played like a fiddle by the retail stores. Or that they have us wrapped around their little fingers. Open up early, offer some door busting great deals and we’ll come running.

Let me quickly say that I understand the concept of sales and marketing. It’s a free country and if stores want to open at four in the morning and offer the buying public outstanding deals on a few items, just to fill up the stores and sell them other things to make a profit, more power to them.

The term Black Friday can refer to two situations.

The first is an accounting term. In days past, red ink was used to denote a ledger sheet that showed losses. A business “in the red” is a losing business. I wonder what a country that is “in the red” is called. It could be called the United States of America!

A successful business or ledger is indicated by the use of black ink. The Friday after Thanksgiving has symbolized the kick-off of Christmas sales. It is a very profitable day for retailers and, hence, the term Black Friday is very appropriate.

The second application of Black Friday is more germane to our conversation today. It also revolves around the Friday after Thanksgiving and its natural position as the beginning of our holiday shopping.

The time and place is 1966 and Philadelphia. In anticipation of special deals and what was then known as After Thanksgiving Sales, traffic accidents and other crowd altercations caused the Philadelphia Police Department to dub the day Black Friday. The name stuck, but it did not become the phenomenon that we know today until a relatively few years ago.

Only in 2003 did the day after Thanksgiving become the busiest shopping day of the year. It fell from that perch in 2004, but returned in 2005 and has remained the busiest shopping day ever since. Ironically, though, it is not the day with the highest sales. That day is usually the Saturday before Christmas or Christmas Eve. I guess on those days, there is no time to mess around.

When I was growing up a few miles from here, shopping was the last thing on my mind the day after Thanksgiving. Plus, if anyone had suggested that we get up at four in the morning so that we could be one of the first to arrive at Wal-Mart or the mall, we would have laughed them out of the house. Then we would have asked, “What’s a Wal-Mart?”

If my cousins were visiting Granny, our No. 1 priority, I can assure you, was not going shopping. We had too many games to play outside. Outside. That’s almost a foreign place to our youngsters today. It’s amazing the time we could spend outside and never think of coming inside, except to eat.

Basically, the games would come down to about three or four. First of all, the two cousins that were closest to my brother’s and my age were Bruce and Johnny. We were close enough in ages that we paired up two against two. That made two teams for football or baseball. Thanksgiving meant football and we must have played for the Championship of the World for all time every year.

We would start off with good natures, but it didn’t take long for one to tackle the other a little too hard and then, it was war! I can’t believe that in all the years we played no one ever broke a bone. We had our battles and might have ended up fighting, but once we stopped to eat, it didn’t take too long to get right back into the good times.

We played endless games of Cowboys and Indians. It didn’t matter who the cowboys were or the Indians. We fought and won World War II more times than I can count and, once again, it didn’t matter who was the Germans and who was the American.

We played around the old barn, in the woods, in the fields, wherever. Grown-ups might have sat around all day, but, for us, there was too much to do. Nobody had to tell us to go outside and play. The only question was something like, “Where are the boys?”

And, we never, ever would have been caught shopping! My, how the times have changed.