ONE THING I am thankful for on Thanksgiving weekend is having absolutely no desire to go to the mall. I cannot remember the last time I did so, which by extension leaves me utterly out of touch with the national impulse to waddle out of bed at 4 a.m., especially the morning after the biggest collective burp on the American calendar.
It seems that it is not enough for Americans to watch football on turkey day. Obviously inspired by our beloved black-and-blue brutality, otherwise sane Americans treat Black Friday as their day in the NFL, blasting through the hole of the store opening to the 20-, the 30-, the 40-, the 50-percent-off sweater department! Then you chop-block the shopper ahead of you to advance from 53d to 52d in the checkout line.
All this sweat, tears, and occasional blood for the argyle for dear old Dad that becomes moth bait.
This year is, of course, different. Black Friday really turned tragic as a Wal-Mart employee was trampled to death in New York. This and the economy stinks. President-elect Obama has said for two years the planet is in peril. That originally only referred to global warming. But Americans keep thinking we can pilfer the planet at no peril. SUV sales are already picking up again now that gasoline is back under $2 a gallon, at the very same time we whine like the Wicked Witch of the West, shrinking to our knees screaming that our wallets are "melting! melting!"
This would seem like a great time to reassess the difference between what we want and what we need, both for the wallet and the planet. The National Retail Federation estimates that 49 million Americans were sure to go shopping this weekend. That is one-sixth of America. Depending how deep the discounts go, up to 128 million Americans could clog the aisles, over a third of the nation. One shopping center in Wisconsin, which opened at midnight after Thanksgiving, offered free pajamas to shoppers who came in pajamas. Mattel is throwing $50 Visa cards at $100 Barbie shoppers. Department stores were offering toys at half off and bringing back layaway plans.
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The federation said this week, "For the first time since March 2005, the average price of self-serve, unleaded gasoline is $1.91, leaving shoppers with a little extra padding in their wallets . . . Shoppers who held off buying a DVD player or winter coat over the last few months will find that prices may literally be too good to pass up."
Like crack cocaine, I suppose. The Associated Press, in getting the reaction of motorists to the price of gasoline falling to an average of $1.79 in Columbus, Ohio, quoted one woman as saying, "It's awesome. With this gas guzzler, there was no way I could afford to keep paying, the way we're going."
It would be far more awesome to stop the addiction. A growing number of families have gone cold turkey on turkey day, banning the blizzard of boxes under the Christmas tree in lieu of charitable gifts to people really in need. Now, more than ever, with a planet disproportionately fouled by our pollution and waste (Americans waste 27 percent of food, according to the government), we need to ask: Does my kid really need that toy? Do I really need to upgrade my cellphone? Is happiness really wrapped up in the 50-percent-off sweater?
I have a suggestion for these holidays. The average American, according to the government, consumes six times more energy than the world average. Take whatever you spent on gifts last year, slash 5/6ths of it, and see what you can do with the rest - unless of course you make a charitable donation. You're broke anyway, right, so what's the harm? Chances are, your loved ones won't love you any less, someone in need will love you more, and your children might understand a bit more how the rest of the planet lives.
And the planet itself can give thanks for being a few pieces of plastic less in peril.