Saturday, November 30, 2013

Black Friday

BLACK Friday in the United States (US) is anything but dreary, an aunt told me as a prelude to her story about the single lens reflex professional camera she got for less than half the regular price.

In the US, the Friday after Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 28 this year), is called “Black Friday”.

Ushering in the season for Christmas shopping, Black Friday is promoted through sales spectacles, which, according to Wikipedia, attract aggressive crowds, assaults, shootings and trampling of shoppers by throngs of people rushing to get the best deal before supplies run out.

I was agog over the aunt’s tale of how she camped on the sidewalk with a hundred other New Yorkers on Thanksgiving night so when the stores opened the day after, she got her hands on the toy of her dreams at a marked-down price any self-respecting Cebuano (read: “tihik” or thrifty/stingy) could brag about.

The aunt and I have the family posterior. Because I got carried away by her recounting of how she used her head, elbow and nails to move the crowds out of the way when the store opened, I forgot to ask her how useful (if ever) is our inherited prominence in clearing away opposition.

I might have used the tip in dealing with last Friday’s multiple obstacle course.

Nov. 29 required traveling to and fro Intramuros, the walled city, seat of power during the Spanish colonial times.

A day bookended by history is not just a diversion from academia but, as my teachers like to say, evidence that there is life after clearing away distractions.

I was aware that Nov. 29 is a Friday. A newsroom advice for public relations officers is to refrain from organizing an event on a Friday. The start of the weekend seems to be everyone’s favorite for scheduling events. Yet, it means one competes with more rivals to get the attention of editors, reporters and photographers, specially in the lifestyle beat.

To turn the screw a bit more, Nov. 29 is a Friday that’s a mere 26 days away from Christmas. Shopping is said to be the Filipino’s favorite preoccupation.

In Manila, shopping is serious, next only to breathing and commuting, in no particular order. By mid-November, when bonuses and yearend windfalls are released, if there is no sane reason to leave home, stay put in Manila. This is how to avoid the hordes or prevent yourself from turning into another barbarian.

Such aversion to shopping (“It’s more fun in the Philippines…”) is questionable in a Filipino. As a hypochondriac gains security from a self-mounted pharmacopoeia, we do our American colonial past justice by surrounding ourselves with malls and arcades.

But no mall—even with its obsessively self-flushing toilets (and eternally renewing toilet paper)— has the attractions of Divisoria. This is the grand dame that spawns her prodigious progeny: bazaars, street vendors, “biyaheras” (Filipinos who shop abroad and resell here), sellers (not to be confused with the international variety) and mall/bazaar crossbreeds (unlike regular mall locators, these mutants are found in areas with lighter traffic, lower rent and a liberal policy of encouraging haggling and wholesale discounts).

Months before Christmas, every commuter and motorist learns to respect the moods of Divisoria. When she yawns, she inhales the flow of traffic, even as far as provinces outside of Metro Manila. Only God can foretell what will happen if she coughs.

On hindsight, it was downright silly of me to expect I could slip out of Intramuros before Friday’s afternoon rush hour. At 3 p.m., my editor and I prowled for a taxi to take us back to Makati and the airport. Two hours later, we found a taxi whose driver was insane enough to take us. (Or perhaps he was sane, just terrorized by possibly two insane women who leaped into his taxi, stubbornly dropped their posteriors and locked the doors of his taxi, without giving him a chance to reject their destinations and drive away.)

Another two hours and we got out of the rational-defeating hysteria of downtown to the refined chaos of uptown. Is the season of Black Fridays due to the old historical snub that Divisoria suffered from Intramuros, where non-Christianized Chinese were forbidden to trade and live so they had to set up in Binondo, which includes present-day Divisoria?

Just before my tired old self hit the bed on Saturday dawn, I remembered the third curse haunting Nov. 29: payday. Never, as my teachers say, turn your back on history.

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* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Dec. 1, 2013 issue of “Matamata,” the Sunday editorial-page column

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