illustration by Lars Leetaru
It’s Black Friday and the electronics department at the Edina Target is a modern-day retelling of Lord of the Flies. Shoppers are forming tribes. Power is being seized. A pack of customers works over a pallet of flat-screen TVs with the urgency of looters.
I’ve come to Target for the steep Black Friday discounts—specifically, to buy Fitbits for my nieces and video games for my nephews—because I love my family dearly, though not enough to pay full price.
After meandering through various departments in a frivolous zig-zag, I realize that my loosey-goosey shopping style simply won’t cut it. When I get to the video game aisle, I’m jostled aside by a stout woman with bangs so severe they look like a guillotine hanging over her eyes. In seconds, the woman harangues a hapless teenage Target employee by thrusting a newspaper ad into his face.
“I need this game,” the woman says, pointing at the ad. “This one.”
“I think…it’s…over here?” the Target employee squeaks out.
“You think?” The woman says, snorting with indignation. “You think?”
The next night, I visit the Apple store in Uptown to look for an iPad for my teenage son, and encounter a true retail paradox. From the outside, the store is lit up like a space station, with a futuristic allure that promises sleek, efficient operations. Inside, though, it’s Ellis Island. A huddled mass of shoppers from all walks of life washes in from the teeming shores of Hennepin Avenue. They line up to enter the high-tech promised land.
A dour, frustrated old man next to me jabs a crooked index finger at one of the display devices. An Apple employee with bolts for earrings hands a new phone to a woman in tight jeans that flaunt a chandelier of sparkles on the back pockets, and she stares affectionately at the fresh white box. A family huddles around a new iPad, their faces illuminated by the screen, transfixed.
“There’s a new retina display in the Air 2,” the dad says. His mini-hipster son, with checkered Vans and a salad of shaggy hair, swipes apps and webpages with the slicing flair of Zorro.
Because I’m a native of the PC world, anchored to the old country, I don’t know Apple’s language or customs. When the ear-bolted staffer finally signals my turn, I’m afraid to ask questions for fear of betraying my Luddite status. So I simply point to the iPad directly in front of me and say, “That one.”
When I return from my shopping spree, my family asks me for my own Christmas list. I envision my wife—who is allergic to sports—checking her way through the machismo smarm of the Bauer Hockey store to buy me a new stick. Or my aging father driving through Franklin Avenue’s Cannonball Run of crosswalks, traffic cones, and middle-finger salutes to get me an Electric Fetus gift card.
Instead, I do the most holiday-spirited thing I can: I go online and send them links to what I want. That woman at Target, turning as red as the store’s bullseye logo, can scream for her discounted video game. And the Apple family can bask in the glow of a high-definition screen in lieu of a yuletide log. Each of us has our own holiday rites and rituals. Mine just come cardboard-wrapped and delivered.