Most wonderful time of the year (if you survive today, that is).

Black Friday shopping gets bleaker with each passing year.

Black Friday shopping gets bleaker with each passing year.

“When Black Friday comes, I’ll collect everything I’m owed.  And before my friends find out I’ll be on the road.” I’m pretty sure that Steely Dan didn’t have the “official” start of the Christmas shopping season in mind when they wrote those lyrics. But there is a sense of entitlement captured there that rings truer with each passing annual installment of these retail follies.

This year, the yuletide injury report is evenly scattered coast-to-coast, many at Wal-Mart stores, and this year with pepper spray being used by both a psycho-shopper, and in a separate incident by law enforcement as a warning to an unruly mob.  Nothing says the season of giving like trampling others in a bid for electronic gear that will still be available in the same stores tomorrow and the day after that. And December 26, too. The obsession with material goods clouds all common sense — one shopper was shot to death by parking lot robbers when he refused to part with his purchases.

For 11 months out of the year, brick and mortar retailers are begging shoppers to come visit (and shop) and yet mall traffic continues to dwindle. Then, one stinking, heavily promoted, holiday sale day arrives and suddenly amateur productions of “Lord of the Flies” break out in unison across the US map.  It is little wonder that online and catalog sales continue to surge. Seasonal shopping is no longer a Currier and Ives moment. Darwin rules.

My son decided to brave the crush and went with friends to the Philadelphia Outlets at midnight. It turned out to be very good exercise because they had to park a mile away or risk getting in the parking lot and off-ramp gridlock that went on for hours.

In spite of the holiday horrorshow that is Black Friday, one retailer has managed to strike a balance of quirky humor and obsessive fun about the shopping frenzy. Last year, and revived this year, Target created an entire campaign centered about the loonytoon Christmas shopper lady, well dressed, but with crazy ninja skills, who encourages shoppers to prepare for the season. And for the mayhem.  If all the real world shoppers shared this lady’s off-kilter spirit and uber-anticipation, we wouldn’t need a national police blotter tallying the body count. I preferred the original meaning of “shop ‘til you drop.”

Black Friday isn’t about to go away as a sick holiday tradition, though. Early reports show that sales surged once again in spite of several years worth of sordid news stories.

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