I’m not usually invited to my family’s Thanksgiving dinner, mostly on account of the fact that I typically use the gathering as an opportunity to peddle knock-off Mary Kay products and float conspiracy theories about what the government may or may not be pumping into our water supply.
This year, I received the rare invitation because my cousins were game-planning for Black Friday and they needed someone dumb and mean enough to intimidate the consumer zombie hoards while they snatched 900-inch flat screen TVs. Picture Sir Lancelot, minus a few inches, with a paunch, bravely wielding a small child I snatched while in line within a protective bubble wrap enclosure. If you were one of the privileged consumers willing to risk life and limb for a television you can’t fit through the front door of the house your bank is about to repossess, it’s a sight you won’t soon forget.
When I first saw people gathered at those great watering holes of democracy—Walmart, Best Buy, Target—I mistook the determined-looking crowd scurrying in and out of Coleman multi-room WeatherTec tents for Occupiers. Naturally, I looked for a baby or toddler I could fling at the filthy hippies. It’s one thing to question our country’s leadership and align yourself with lazy poor people instead of successful Americans who pulled themselves up by trust-fund bootstraps, but to pull that crap around the holidays, so close to baby Jesus’ birthday? I think not. But before I found one that was the appropriate size, Franz, my second cousin thrice removed, intervened.
“No, Shred, no. They’re not promoting social justice or change. They don’t care about making the world a better place. Trust me,” he assured. “They’re here for cheap goods.”
I should have known. There wasn’t a guitar in sight. And in the city’s cookie cutter subdivisions, policemen and women slept soundly in their beds, pepper spray sheathed, comfortable in the knowledge that their countrymen were spending more money than they could reasonably afford. Capitalism triumphs, once again! Every time you buy a half-priced washing machine, an angel earns its wings. Then washes them in a delicate cycle with fabric softener.
I realized Franz was right. It looked, for all intents and purposes, like an Occupy protest. With one essential difference: There was nary a cop in sight. Last year, people got trampled fighting the good fight. This year, a couple dozen of them were famously pepper sprayed in a Los Angeles Walmart while fighting for a cheap Xbox. Heroes all. And no one questions their right to camp for two nights outside a store or to trample one another. Quite the contrary: Businesses extend their hours to prolong the feeding frenzy. Meanwhile, the Occupy protesters in SLO have been told to limit their protests to business hours. I guess no one’s going to extend business hours for them. Maybe if it was an Xbox they were asking for, instead of social change … .
Misty-eyed, I tipped my bubble wrap hat to these consumer heroes, hummed a bar of “Made in China,” and returned home knowing that I had met true Americans that day. In the week that has followed, news reports sing out in praise of the weekend peak in purchasing. They’re saving the economy, and because American values were long ago reduced to a bottom line, they’re saving the country, the world. They knew how to save their country from corporate greed and economic devastation … by dipping further into their pocketbooks than they ever had before. And kicking a hippie along the way, just for the hell of it.
Now, I come from a long line of hippie kickers. In fact, at one point during Thanksgiving dinner, Aunt Rhoda caught my cousin Heinz squatting on the front lawn. Ever since Uncle Herbert was forced to sell the back half of the house, including the bathroom, to finance a new yacht, the family’s had a hard time figuring out where to, well, relieve themselves. It’s a delicate situation to say the least.
“Quit shitting on the lawn,” bellowed Rhoda, kicking sharply at Heinz who sprinted away while pulling up his pants. “You’re going to make us look bad in front of the neighbors. There’s a perfectly good creek out back for that!”
Now, the neighbors are what my family refer to as “fancy.” They think they’re better than us because they resolve arguments by talking; we run for the gun cabinet, and whoever’s slowest gets a 10-second head start for the door. Last week the fancy people wanted to know why Heinz was “defecating” on their lawn. Rhoda tried to explain, but the neighbors couldn’t wrap their mind around a man who would deprive his family of a toilet in order to purchase a yacht.
“What’s to understand?” my aunt puzzled. “Everybody sees the yacht and knows we have money. What’s the point of a toilet? It’s purely functional. There’s no gain in status for having a toilet. We’ll just make a point of punishing Heinz for shitting on the lawn. Problem solved.”
The neighbors countered that addressing their family’s most basic necessities took priority over shiny status symbols, but you just can’t convince people that their thinking is backward. That’s why we have walls, I guess.
Oh, and pssst: The yacht is really two gilded blocks of downtown and the toilet is, well, a toilet. I would have preferred to leave the metaphor without explanation, but San Luis Obispo city staff seem particularly dense at times and I wanted to make sure they get the point.
Shredder weaves metaphors from human waste. Send yours to email@example.com.