America: the rest of the world loves us and hates us. And it's easy to sit back and blame any anti-American sentiment on our political leaders. My father has announced, "Bush has ruined our credibility as a nation," in my presence more often than I heard him say, "Clean your room," while I was growing up. If we need any proof that Clinton was a joke, Chuck Shephard's "News of the Weird" reports, "In September, China's Guangzhou Haojian Bio-science Co. introduced new condoms whose names read phonetically as the 'kelintun' and the 'laiwensiji,' which of course resemble the names of a former U.S. president and his acquaintance."
As much as I'd like to blame our politicians for the rest of the world thinking we're belligerent and dippy, I must point out that earning respect starts at home. Specifically during holiday shopping.
As early as Friday afternoon there were already news reports about Black Friday shoppers arrested or hospitalized due to shouting matches, fist fights and trampling. Among the victims across the country: a thirteen-year-old girl, an eleven-year-old boy, a pregnant lady and an elderly woman. They weren't vying for food or water in an area hit by war or natural disaster. Most of them were shoppers trying to get into Wal-Marts in Rhode Island, Michigan, and Florida. No wonder the rest of the world thinks we're nuts sometimes.
Here's a hint: if you see a television commercial that says you need to "hurry down and buy!!!" and you actually feel a tightening of urgency in your chest, it's time to turn off the television for a while. We watch the change in advertisements the way Egyptian priests used to watch the stars. I'm surprised the Farmer's Almanac still bothers with soil temperatures and times of sunrise. ("You want to plant spring crops right about the second Cadbury easter bunny commercial of the season.")
On the other hand, maybe I should just get into the spirit of things. If we get that Wal-Mart in Ripon, the Black Friday festivities should be particularly interesting. I can have someone hold my spot in line while I walk fifty feet to a friend's house and use their bathroom. They can lean out their windows and keep me posted on my favorite shows while I wait.
I don't know that I'll actually be there to do any shopping. It would be more of a circus-come-to-town thing. Watching that kind of infectious madness hit a small town where so many people know each other would be neat. Would we see any of the old almond families duking it out over rollbacks? How close does a neighbor have to live before you're obliged to watch where you step when the trampling starts? ("This... is for letting your dog... poop in the park where my little kid plays!") Would injury/citation betting pools be legal?
Actually, Black Friday in a Ripon Wal-Mart would probably be fairly tame. Statistics show that for every Wal-Mart supercenter that opens, two local grocery stores are forced to close. Given the impact Wal-Marts usually have on small businesses within a community, there will probably be plenty of familiar faces they can hire for extra security during the peak of the holiday shopping season. Be nice to clerks around town this year -- by next, they may be carrying pepper spray and nightsticks while you wait for those 5 a.m. shopping deals. Of course Wal-Mart's known for buying 'dead peasant' insurance -- that's when they take out life insurance policies on employees without the employee's knowledge or consent, and name themselves as the beneficiary. How long before they do that with shoppers, too? We'll know if they start throwing, "Last Man Standing" sales where consumers get to brawl. Cage-fight rules, no holds barred, winners get laptops for the unbelievably low price of $400. Don't forget to pick up pain meds at the Wal-Mart pharmacy on the way out! Added bonus: the paramedic crews know exactly where to wait.
But getting back to the truth of the matter, no one can make us behave badly. No politician, no retailer, no barrage of brainwashing advertisements. And this holiday season, I extend an invitation to all my fellow Americans -- let's leave the embarrassing displays of unethical behavior to the pros on Capitol Hill and focus our attention on goodwill towards men.
Unless it's the last Tickle Me Elmo '05 -- if that's the case, just go for the eyes.
Comments and Sam's Club body armor to Alex.Queen@gmail.com.
This article first appeared in the Sunday, November 27, 2005 issue of the Manteca (Calif.) Bulletin.