Lileks: Are you a consumer in good standing?

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 24, 2011 - 6:00 PM

"Black Friday" sounds ominous and dire, like the market crashed or Satanists are holding a TGIF party.

We all know it refers to retailers' hopes to make a profit this year, even though "profit" and "this year" may seem like irreconcilable concepts.

Compounding matters: The news says the Occupy (Your City Here) movement will attempt to monkey-wrench Black Friday, interfering with shoppers who are hell-bent on getting that 7 a.m. Early-Bird deal on hypoallergenic dog beds with ultrasonic pest repellent and built-in iPad charger at Brookstone. Good luck with that, folks. You may be the 99 percent, but do not get in the way of the people intent on 20 percent off.

Any questions? Yes, you there, waving your hand frantically:

Q OMG, do they have that dog bed, seriously?

A No. I made that up. You may find some interesting gadgets today, but in the current economic climate, also known as "nuclear winter," needless techno-toys are a hard sell. In the '90s, a Sharper Image store could sell Ultrasonic DVD Disinfectant machines and Laser-Guided Ionic Nostril Hair Trimmers. Today, we're more in the mood for shovels to bury food and ammo.

Q Do I really want to set the alarm for 3 a.m., wake in utter darkness, drive to a mall, join a line of people who had Thanksgiving in their car so they could get a good spot, just so I can save 15 percent on a red turtleneck sweater? P.S.: I already have a red turtleneck sweater.

A You are not a good citizen-consumer and have been reported to the authorities.

Q C'mon. Seriously. Do I really save money? Sometimes I look at the prices and it seems as if they're set arbitrarily, with no connection to the item's intrinsic worth!

A Gosh! You think? It's not just supply and demand, it's the intangible sucker-factor. For example: consider, say, a red turtleneck sweater. It was $39.99 last month, which was 15 percent off the regular price (the "regular price" is charged once a year, on March 17, between 3 p.m. and 3:23 p.m.) unless you opened a charge account, in which case you got an additional 15 percent off, or bought two, which drove the price down to $29.99 each. This sweater is now $24.99 on Black Friday, but only until 10 a.m., and then it's back to the regular holiday price of $27.99 -- until the week before Christmas, when the price drops to $21.49, except they only have it in XXXL, a size they carry because they believe an NBA team will burst through the doors any minute now.

Q Why not just shop online? Amazon had great Black Friday deals this entire week, thanks to new technology that lets them tunnel into black holes and access the future.

A Agreed. Except the only stuff I want from Amazon is books and movies. I know they have great deals on electric generators and iceberg lettuce, but neither tops my family's lists. On the other hand, there is no Christmas music playing in the background while you shop. You will not hear "The 12 Days of Christmas," the Yule equivalent of "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall."

Q The annual list of unsafe toys is out. What should I avoid?

A There's a list of Chinese-made toys -- but I repeat myself -- that contains high levels of phlphlthaphlaplhates, or some such word that sounds like Daffy Duck is talking, and you may wish to consult a serious writer for the details. Speaking on behalf of the generation that ate lead, played with mercury and attended Chester P. Asbestos Grade School, I wouldn't worry. As for dangerous toys, there's the usual bad ideas: Velocrapitor Elmo with Real Hydrochloric Spitting Action. The "Cars 2" play kit that includes the Pinto; it explodes when rear-ended. And the Sparboe Chicken-Swinger exercise kit.

Q Stores open at midnight. Is this good for society?

A I don't care -- as long as no one crosses the Rubicon and opens at 11:59 p.m. Then we lose something. Thanksgiving will no longer be a special day, just Black Pre-Friday. Eat fast! We'll have pie in the car.

jlileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858 More daily at www.startribune.com/popcrush.

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