December 4, 2008

Black Friday Shopping: Contact Sport Gone Wrong

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In the wee hours of the morning, while the sun shone brightly on the other half of the world, a couple thousand Long Islanders sat in their cars in silent anticipation. The cars were neatly packed into a dark parking lot, every here and there one illuminated by the eerie glow of a lamppost. The fenders sat a little lower than usual in these first moments of the day after Thanksgiving, as most bellies were still stuffed to unusual dimensions with turkey and pumpkin pie. Floor mats were littered with the pages of a Wal-Mart flyer that had long been committed to the memory of every shopper. Visions of $69 digital cameras and $28 vacuums danced in their heads.
As dawn approached, people quickly traded the warmth of their SUVs for a spot in the growing mass outside the closed entrance. By the time the sun finally made its lazy appearance on the horizon, Wal-Mart had grown a tumor the size of a second Wal-Mart around its front doors. With the 5 a.m. promise of Black Friday shopping commencement looming ever closer, the impatient crowd began to chant: “O-pen up! O-pen up!”
A young, relatively new Wal-Mart employee with a ring of keys jingling between his fingers rounded the corner toward the entrance, and the crowd’s frenzy reached a dangerous intensity. The man approached the door and began sorting through the keys.
What happened next is like you being stuck in your car while it slowly sinks to the bottom of the ocean. As the water pressure builds, the slightest of cracks bursts open, the water rushes in uncontrollably and you drown. The only difference between the two situations is that, unlike humans, water has neither a brain nor a choice.
The man began to unlock the door and the instant one body could fit through the opening, they all spilled in. Before the worker could get himself out of the way, he was knocked off his feet by the flood. Not only was he struck down, but he was then pinned to the Wal-Mart floor under the weight of the two-thousand shoppers who did not seem to care that for a couple moments the support for their mass was not a ceramic tile, but a human body. The man’s chest was compressed under the constant weight, rendering him unable to take a breath for far longer than the body can survive without oxygen.
The lazy shoppers who stayed in their cars the longest and made up the fringes of the tumor were lucky not to be considered guilty of manslaughter, because by the time they entered the store they were stepping over the man’s dead body. What a way to go out: on a Wal-Mart floor, trampled by fat Americans who value a $20 deal above your existence.
Several customers, including a woman who was eight months pregnant, and the workers who’d tried to rescue the man also sustained injuries. Even the building itself was damaged — the metal doorframe at the entrance crumpled like an accordion. What a horrifyingly violent display of … something meaningful?
It is not particularly horrifying because a man died in a stampede. There have been dozens of fatal sport stampedes in recent years. Nearly 50 people were crushed to death at a soccer game in South Africa in 2001 when 180,000 people tried to get into a 60,000 person stadium. A year before that, 13 people died in a stampede at a World Cup qualifying game in Zimbabwe. I have seen one too many cross country runners go down in the first 100 meters of a race and get ten pairs of metal spikes driven into their flesh.
Stampedes are all a part of an overpopulated, over-opinionated planet. For sports, they are common — a risk many dedicated fans are willing to take. But for a couple deals at Wal-Mart?
It could be argued that in the chaos that is Black Friday and the rush to buy everything on sale before anyone else, people didn’t realize that anyone was being trampled. But one woman who’d been injured by the stampede waited until she’d finished her shopping to report her injuries. And then when an announcement came on shortly after the ‘accident’ that the store was closing due to a death, people were angry!
Wow. Are these individuals of the same species or has modern evolution split mankind into human and inhuman? Are those shoppers going to watch their new TVs and take pictures with their new cameras and ever not think ‘I literally killed a man to get that’? I hope not.
I also hope that life never loses its sense of humor: the cursor sat blinking at the end of that last sentence when my mixed vegetable brown rice dinner arrived noisily at the front door. Out of my fortune cookie slipped a little white paper that read: “Society prepares the crime; the criminal commits it.”
Let’s hope the criminals who made that man suffer a brutal death by compression asphyxiation bought those $28 vacuums, because their souls need some serious cleaning.