Saturday, November 28, 2009

You’ll Always Remember Your First Time...

Tracy is a hard-core shopper. She is the fiercest, most cunning bargain hunter I have ever known. Black Friday is a holiday for her. It’s my wife in her element. It’s something I have never been able to get my head around, before now. Tracy invited me to join her on Black Friday this year, an invitation that had never been extended previously. I felt honored to be asked to join my wife on her annual quest, and more than a little intimidated. My shopping skills and bargain hunting cunning have improved over the years simply by being married to this woman, and while I’m all about my beloved Banana Republic and some technology shopping, I’m no where near her league. So it was with a bit of apprehension that I accepted her offer of early morning pursuit.

After Thanksgiving dinner at my parents’ house, we’d made arrangements to leave the kiddo with them overnight while Tracy and I braved the Northeast Ohio elements and shopping denizens. After a few hours sleep in early night, our alarms went off at 10.30pm, and we were off, armed with bottles of water and snacks...

10.45 pm – Stop at Get-Go to pick up gift cards for Toys “R” Us and Home Depot.

11.00 pm – In line at Toys “R” Us awaiting its midnight opening. The line eventually wraps all the way around all four sides of the building, but we are there just before the rush of people arrives. We are located along the first side of the building, in a decent position to get in and get out reasonably quickly.

12.00 am – After an hour of standing in the light Ohio drizzle (under our umbrella, of course – remember, Tracy’s a professional), the doors open and we file in, but not before people from the parking lot attempt to get out of their cars and just saunter in among the folks who had queued up according to etiquette and form. There is some shouting and some name calling and some rude gestures around us, but we make it in without incident. Tracy has given me clear instructions: go immediately to the Electronics department and get two [REDACTED] and a [REDACTED]. Meanwhile, she will get the other two items and meet me in Electronics for checkout.

12.10 am – I have the loot I was charged with finding, Tracy has hers, and we meet up for checkout. The store is a madhouse. I’ve never seen a store so completely packed before. It is impossible to move, and heaven help the folks who are trying to navigate a cart through the aisles of crushed bodies and strewn-about merchandise.

12.30 am – We complete our checkout, make it back to our car, and are off to our next stop.

12.35 am – We head to Old Navy. Scheduled to open at 3am, we park the car and head up into line, fortunate to be under an overhang and spared the drizzle-y rain that continues to fall.

12.50 am – We begin to reevaluate why we are going to Old Navy. Do we really need anything here? Do we really need a free copy of LEGO Rock Band for the Wii when we are a Guitar Hero house? Is there a better way to spend these next precious hours of pre-store opening positioning?

1.00 am – The decision is made. Screw Old Navy. We head to Target, scheduled to open at 5am.

1.10 am – In the parking lot of Target, the rain is coming down, there are about ten people in line already. We decide to stay in the car and try to sleep until 2am.

1.37 am – The rain is coming down harder now and neither of us can sleep. I suggest that we should get out now and stake our claim in line before others arrive for a number of reasons, the most immediately pressing one being, if we’re committed to this, I want to be under the overhang in front of Target so we don’t get soaked all night. I see a twinkle of pride in Tracy’s eyes as she readily agrees.

1.42 am – We are in-line outside of Target. Where Toys “R” Us fell horribly flat with the rushing of the gates at midnight, Target deserves credit for the brilliance of their plan to keep order. They used their carts as a barrier of sorts that the line has to follow. There is no way you could walk up to the door at 5am and stroll in without being in the line, so kudos there.

2.00 am – I head over to Walgreens to use the bathroom while Tracy holds our spot in line.

2.15 am – Tracy heads over to Walgreens to use the bathroom while I hold our spot in line.

2.30 am – I sit in the car to warm up while Tracy holds our spot in line.

2.50 am – Tracy sits in the car to warm up while I hold our spot in line.

3.10 am – No one shows up after us for a long time. We pass the time chatting with the few folks already there, discovering that the guy next to us roomed at college with a girl I graduated from high school with and currently works with one of our recent neighbors. Small world in the wee-early morning hours.

3.15 am – I suggest running home to get my thermal underwear on, and Tracy readily agrees that I should so I can bring back her hooded sweatshirt.

3.45 am – I return from home, forgetting to bring Tracy hot cocoa (I'm clearly the amateur here), but one of our line-mates’ mother has arrived after having bought out all the hot cocoa available at the Speedway down the street and hands the warm cups out to anyone who wants some.

3.45 am – The parking lot fills up and the line begins to really grow.

4.00 am – Target employees distribute free “green” bags and store maps to everyone in line.

4.15 am – Lawn chairs and blankets and all the other amenities the early morning line holders have with us are systematically returned to our respective vehicles in anticipation of the doors opening within the hour.

4.50 am – Tracy and I consult the store map and review our game plan one more time: Similar to our Toys “R” Us excursion, I’m to head straight to Electronics to get [REDACTED] and an external hard drive, while she will grab a cart and pick up [REDACTED], [REDACTED], and [REDACTED]. At which point we’ll call each other on our cells and plan our attack on the registers and checkout.

5.00 am – Target's doors open, and we file in. I head to Electronics and grab [REDACTED] and then head to the computer aisle to get the external hard drive, only to find the spot on the shelf empty! And I was the first person there! Two, three, four people and more show up and aisle is a jammed up mess. I have a Target employee try to locate the drives.

5.10 am – The Target employee eventually returns with a box of five external hard drives. We all follow him up to the register area. In the meantime, Tracy has called and reported that she has everything she set out to get and was on her way to meet me in Electronics.

5.15 am – Tracy points out that I grabbed the wrong [REDACTED] and now my greatest fears are being realized: that I would screw something up on this mission. Achebe was right. Things fall apart.

5.20 am – I am off to other parts of the store to try and located the right version of the [REDACTED] I was supposed to get. It’s nowhere to be found.

5.30 am – Tracy checks out with everything else we needed to get (all the things she had grabbed plus the external hard drive). The clueless employees find multiple different versions of [REDACTED] but not the version we needed. So we wait in the checkout line at Electronics with five others who are trying to score the same item, letting others go ahead of us so we don’t lose our place as the checkout line continues to grow.

5.35 am – Here is where my wife’s patience and Zen approach is a sight to behold... Standing in that line as Target employees continue to bring out boxes of the wrong version of [REDACTED], I realize how hot, tired, and hungry I am. I look at Tracy, who looks like she hasn’t slept in days, and tell her we should just buy the wrong version and exchange it later. But she keeps telling me to wait another five minutes, to give them a chance to bring out more boxes from the back, that they will eventually find what we were after in the backroom.

5.50 am – A Target employee makes his way to the Electronics register with an armful of the right version of [REDACTED] we need! Because we had kept our place in line, we are given one from the employee and quickly pay for it and work our way to the exit. I am stunned at how long the front register lines are! They stretch from the front door more that a quarter of the way around the store!

5.55 am – Tracy stops at the restroom at the front of the store, I take our loot to the car, load it up and get the car started.

6.05 am – We pull into the Home Depot parking lot, with things looking much less crazy despite the fact the store opened just five minutes earlier. I drop Tracy at the door and find a place to park.

6.08 am – I walk into the store and hear Tracy call my name. She has the single item we came for: a new pre-lit tree for our entryway.

6.10 am – A Home Depot employee tells us we can checkout at the Returns desk and we’re in and out in a matter of minutes.

6.15 am – We’re across the street at Acme, in hopes of buying some donuts for breakfast. They don’t open for another 15 minutes. I say forget it. Let’s just head home and get some sleep.

6.30 am – Home. Quickly unload the car, get out of these clothes that feel like we’ve spent days in, and hit the sack.

An hour and a half later, Tracy got up for work and was out the door by 8.40.

Two hours after that, I woke up feeling like I’d been on an all night bender, and to find snow accumulation on the ground

I asked Tracy sometime between Target and Home Depot and the drive home, what pleasure she gets out of doing this year after year after year. Her response? The thrill of the hunt, and the ability to get some really great gifts for our family on a reasonable budget. My wife has expensive taste and high standards, and what I saw on Friday morning was a side of her I hadn’t before – she was patient and calm among some of more interesting characters you might never hope to encounter. She is naturally driven and organized, but her Black Friday mission is more akin to a surgical-strike than a shopping trip. I have new respect for Tracy after seeing her in action.

Friends asked me if there was a surge of adrenaline when the doors opened or when finding the right items. Tracy’s answer was yes. Mine was no. My only reaction when the doors opened was one of fear – not of my fellow shoppers, but of letting my wife down by grabbing the wrong item or getting shut out of the right item because of one of my mistakes. Tracy said I did good Friday morning and that I made her proud.

Friends and family have asked if I’ll go with Tracy again next year, and here is the response I gave them: I have heard that women forget about the pain of childbirth and decide to get pregnant again, choosing to go through that potentially excruciating process a second or third time. Unless, I completely forget how miserable I was Friday morning, and how exhausted I was all day Friday, I don’t think I’ll be joining Tracy on any future Black Friday adventures. But I’m glad I did it once, so I can say I’ve had the experience, and I have even more respect for my wife and what she goes through each year to help make our Christmas special.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Between the Panels

A couple of weeks ago I did an author visit at the Fairlawn-Bath branch of the Akron-Summit County Public Library. I had a really great time reading from Deus ex Comica and answering questions from the audience on a wide range of topics. During the Q&A session, the conversation turned to motion comics. Marvel is already in the game with their Spider-Woman title on iTunes, written by Brian Michael Bendis with art by Alex Maleev.

I downloaded the first Spider-Woman motion comic when it was released, but haven’t picked up any of the subsequent installments, instead opting to consume the monthly storyline in traditional single issue comic book form

There is the question of the future of comics: Will they be delivered and read via monthly single issues, collected editions, or electronically on a computer or smart phone? But that is a discussion for another time, because motion comics are not a part of that debate. Motion comics are not comics, they are semi-static movies with spoken dialog and minimal animation.

I’m all for getting new readers engaged in the medium, but Marvel’s motion comic has little to do with the act of reading a comic. In fact, I’d argue that motion comics have as much to do with gainin
g new readership for comics as the big screen adaptations or Universal Studios’ roller coaster rides featuring these properties do.

Comics have a well-documented history of being censored and banned. But that combination of reading and exercising your imagination will always be the medium’s highest redeeming quality as far as I’m concerned. The kiddo gets enough stimulation spoon-fed to him via TV and video games. I first encouraged him to read comic books to get him to read. Now that he’s reading them voraciously, I’m encouraging him to slow down with his comics and let each panel sink in, urging him to experience the comic and let his imagination twist and expand and grow as he fills in the blanks.

A motion comic takes too much away from the experience of a comic book for me. Some of it is tactile. Like the album-to-mp3 struggles experienced by every generation prior to the current one, there is something to be said for holding the comic book or collected edition in my hands and smelling the paper and feeling the weight of it, knowing it occupies physical space in the world. But there is more to it than that because I see a future for reading comics and books on smart phones and computers. The motion comic’s biggest crime is that it takes me out of the role of active participant and renders me a passive consumer of the art.

When I read a comic book (either in monthly single issue
format, collected edition, or via an electronic delivery option), I am forced to engage in the activity. By its very nature, a comic panel can’t move. It can imply motion, but I have to use my imagination move the characters or action from point A to point B. It’s what happens between the panels, which takes place completely in my head, that makes reading a comic a dynamic activity. And that is what ends up left out of the motion comic experience.