Only the Strong Survive This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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     "These are the times that try men's souls." - Thomas Paine



The summer shopper and the sunshine sale hunter were left in the dust as the holiday shopping season began. Darwin's theories are always proved true on this glorious day: Only the strong survive. I heard a woman outside Wal-Mart say "Give me a 27-inch TV for $148." A true American shopper would have said, "Give me four 27-inch TVs for me and my three children so they can hook up their Playstation 2s and leave me alone while I watch CNN and 'Survivor.'"

There is only one day a year when this American dream can come true - the last Friday in November. For most, it is a time filled with turkey and pumpkin pie, football and parades. The warmth of family and holiday cheer is soon forgotten, however, when the advertising section of the newspaper arrives. (Woe unto the naive newspaper deliverer who is late on that fateful day.)

It is my family's tradition to venture out in the wee hours of the morning and take part in what is known by retailers as "Black Friday." My aunt Lynnie, a seasoned veteran, takes her command post very seriously. She cannot be disturbed as she pores over the pile of ads, devising our plan of attack.

Once, as a rookie, I attempted to take the J.C. Penney ad from my aunt's table. She let out an angry roar. Trembling, I put it back. That's when I learned the seriousness and intricacies of the system. If I had moved it from the "Definitely, pre-7 a.m" pile to the "Good deals, 7:30-8 a.m." pile or, heaven forbid, the "Don't bother" pile, the whole mission could be ruined.

"See, they have free gifts," my aunt explained to her padawan learners.

Eager to learn, we asked, "What is it?"

"I'm not sure," she said. "But it's free."

Ah yes, it's an amazing feeling of accomplishment, being swept up by the chaotic mob into a store at 7 a.m., especially after waiting outside since 5:30 a.m. surrounded by other shoppers, some of whom are practically frothing at the mouth in anticipation of buying a 14-karat gold 20-inch necklace for just $19.97 - such a deal!

As I crossed the threshold, a paranoid greeter thrust a small red box at me and muttered an agitated "Happy holidays." My first free gift. But I did have time to relish the moment? No, I had my orders. I even had a map, drawn by our practical commander. I'm surprised she didn't make us wear camouflage. You scoff, but I saw stranger things that day. My mission was to fight my way to the electronics aisle, then find and retain possession of a five-disc CD and DVD player.

Once I finished this first phase, I had to take the shortcut through the office furniture section and act as an offensive linebacker for my uncle. I fought my way through the crowds, only to find a complete traffic jam surrounding the TV section. I pressed ahead, and then saw my uncle squirming frantically to get free from the madness.

"I can't take it anymore," he shouted, sweat pouring from his brow. He was going AWOL. I couldn't believe it. But I had to go on. I could not abandon my platoon.

Just then, a frantic little woman climbed to the top of the DVD display.

"Everybody move back! A man had a heart attack. Let the paramedics through," she yelled. I tried to move but didn't get far. The shoppers wouldn't budge. The Christmas music was interrupted and "Man down in aisle four" could be heard over the loudspeakers. Finally, a wheelchair made its way through the angry mob with a wilted old man, barely conscious, but clutching a DVD of "It's a Wonderful Life" (only $13.97). I took off my stocking cap and held it respectfully against my heart as he passed. That, my friends, was a true American.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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