Well, I made it to the mall as an observer on Black Friday. The place was the teeming boulevard of hysterical bargain hunters. 30 pct. off! 50 pct. off! BOGOS! Everything in the store half-price! With long lines, Starbuck's was gushing coffee like Texas oil wells.
Nearby, a sound system was blasting "Grandma got run over by a reindeer." A downer, I know, in this maddening most frantic day in the retail science of discounts for survival. But I should warn you that a reindeer is far less perilous to grandma than the iPhone shoppers who dash in and out of stores dumbly oblivious of maiming living beings in their path.
iPhones are a relatively recent phenomenon of Planet Mall, increasing their intrusion into the old shopping spirit when people were content to carry a small list of things-to-buy for grandma and family. (The good news, I assume, is that she somehow survived the encounter with antlers and hooves.)
As a small-town lad, unless there was a sooty coal mine eruption, I can report there was no thought of a Black Friday. There was only a laid-back Main Street, half the length of a mall, with Penney's, a dime store, several shops and a small enterprise that its owner, George Saloom, decided to call a department store.
My mother would drag me into the store and tell George (the use of surnames in small towns was not that common except in police reports) she wanted a shirt for me with such-and-such size and color.
George would wheel around to the shelves of boxes behind him, carefully examine the labels and pull one out. "Here, Helen," he would assure her, "this is nice." On some days, if your were lucky he might put on a fresh pot of coffee.
Grandma never went shopping, unless I walked her to Hagan's for her fully satisfying 25-cent lunch: A hot dog and a Coke. And that was how she managed in good health through Christmas Day. She lived into what we guessed had to be her nineties.
My push through the mall on Friday also recalled memories of being tear-gassed by an unruly soccer crowd in Italy as I stepped out of a restaurant. The revelers meant no harm - to me, at least. It was just my misfortune to step into the path of an Italian-style high-risk soccer celebration.
No teargas at the mall. But after being bruised and spun a couple of times by hordes with iPhones in one hand and plastic shopping bags in the other, I can say that the teargas was no worse.
If it's true that life is just one learning experience after another, I can now return to the boulevard fully prepared for the melee with a helmet, chest protector and a pocket calculator to instantly tell me the bottom line of 30 pct. off 50 pct. To be honest about it, that's the hardest part.