Friday, November 25, 2011

Shop till they drop

Zero hundred hours was quickly approaching, but we were ready. Still, we had a few moments for one last check. Flak jackets were a given, but we needed plenty more. Weapons, ammo, optics, navigational equipment, first-aid kit…. Elena glanced at me and nodded with a faint smile just visible from beneath her helmet. It seemed that was everything. Oh, one more thing: The credit cards.

We emerged from the side of the building in our new mine-resistant, ambush-protected all-terrain vehicle. Its V-shaped hull and independent suspension were just the ticket for such operations, though the ATV cost most of the money we were saving for Andrew’s college tuition. Especially the requirement that its specs match those intended for use in Afghanistan. But hey—we couldn’t mess around. In 30 seconds, 29, 28…we were heading in. With all our preparation plus a little bit of luck, we’d make that back and more with all the savings that lay in wait for the survivors.

It’s not called Black Friday for nothing.

With me as the driver, Elena was gunner. She peered through her scope as a line, blocks-long, came into view beneath the appropriately designed Target logo. “This is it!” she shouted over the rumbling of the engine. Fifteen seconds till the store opened. The shoppers took cover and cocked their weapons. One had an RPG, but Elena spotted her before she could load a grenade. “Nice going!” I shouted.

“She always illegally parks in Handicapped, so she’s had it coming,” my darling replied.

From the rest of the line, nothing they had was a match for our vehicle. Gunfire erupted from every crevice and landscaped hedge, but nothing penetrated our armor. Three, two, one…the doors opened. But instead of the wave of shoppers, in we went with a crash of flying glass and twisted metal. I steered right toward our first stop—where the real danger would begin. We’d eventually, after all, have to leave the safety of the ATV.

The store was already filling with smoke, so we’d have to use Bluetooth-enabled GPS at the ear to guide us to the right aisle. The red uniforms were friendly, we knew; still, we wouldn’t put it past the enemy to wear the same colors and, through the smoke, offer help as they aimed their heat-seeking automatics. I tapped Elena’s shoulder, for it was time. We exited the vehicle.

We knew our targets and ran down different sides of the lengthwise aisle toward our respective shelves. Ah…I’d found my first item already. It wasn’t every day I found a 6-ounce tube of Colgate Total Whitening toothpaste for $1.29! My second stop, at the next aisle over: Suave Professionals Shampoo Plus Conditioner, $2.09 for a 32-ounce container. It lay dead ahead, nobody else in the aisle, but therein lay the trap. I almost blundered right over a mine—a COD, for Customer Obliteration Device—that someone had painted the same color scheme as the vinyl floor tiles. I grabbed the heaviest thing handy, a big bottle of mouthwash, and threw it toward the detonator. The explosion was deafening.

“Eddie...are you okay?” Elena was calling. Still dizzy, I grabbed the last shampoo standing and yelled back. Time to regroup. Along the way I snatched my third goal, a 12-pack of twin-blade razor cartridges for $6.99, and we almost ran into one another.

“I got the white-cotton shoelaces—49 cents,” Elena reported above the blaring of the fire alarm, “and a box of six handkerchiefs for $1.99.” We had time for a quick high-five.

“Did you….”

“Affirmative!” she said, producing a Totes automatic umbrella, with case, that was selling for $5.99. “We might need it sooner if the sprinklers go off, so I got two.”

“Good thinking.”

The next five minutes were crucial, for the shoppers we hadn’t flatted beneath our continuous-track wheels now took positions behind us. Worse, they headed for the same aisles with a vengeance—and reloaded weapons. It was time for some smoke, so my bride and I together lobbed a few M-18 smoke grenades. “Let’s go!” I shouted.

A 28-ounce bottle of ketchup for a buck twenty-nine, a 12-ounce Starbucks Pike Place ground coffee for $4.99 and the best prize of all: eight-ounce yogurts, three for a dollar. The list went on, but it was too soon to claim victory. We were at the opposite corner of the building from the ATV, and that smoke wasn’t going to hang around till we returned. I sighed—we would have to leave without the 99-cent LED Christmas lights and the $2.99 angel slated for the top of the tree.

Gunfire erupted through the smoke, but it was nowhere near us. We’d taken another route to the registers, past the electronics department manned by one idle, gum-chewing clerk. Who wanted any of that? A few more steps, and we peered around to spot the registers. One was free! Elena emptied our pouches onto the counter as I watched our backs. One sniper was a little too obvious in his perch atop the greeting-card aisle.

“Would you like to donate a dollar to Operation Gratitude?” the cashier recited from behind her gas mask. Elena nodded, and swiped her credit card. We grabbed our bags, hurled two more smoke grenades and, moments later, were safely back in the ATV without too much further bloodshed.

Later that evening, our vehicle stowed safely in hiding, we celebrated our triumph with grim acknowledgment of the weeks to come. We’d made it alive through another Black Friday. Still, we’d barely get an hour of sleep before our next objective: Small-Business Saturday. So many bargains, so little time.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Say hello to my little friends

Last week’s freak storm saw our family, by the third night without power, clearing out for warmer climes. Which was probably a-okay with two of our next-door neighbors.

To this particular duo, what we might once have considered an old-fashioned polite disagreement about property lines has devolved into, two or three times a week, a shouting match. Not that we’re the ones doing the shouting; we’d look pretty stupid.

Then again, the subject never seems to come up when I’ve fired up the leaf blower.

A little clarification is in order. On one side, we’ve had the wonderful family we’ve known since the mid-nineties, when we bought the house. On the other, to the rear behind the shed, are much newer neighbors that, we've learned, prefer to keep to themselves. The humans, that is.

The Chihuahuas are quite another matter.

There are two. The one I’ll call "Tony" is actually the only Chihuahua; his sidekick, “Manny,” is another toy breed (alas, no off switch there, either) but might as well be a Chihuahua for the similar pitch and volume of his bark—not to mention his enduring reverence for borders. And, of course, there’s his penchant for following Tony out to bark at me each and every time I even open the back door. And once while I was in the kitchen with doors and windows closed.

You wouldn’t know from this situation how well I get along with most dogs—including “Omar,” ironically another Chihuahua, across the street. In one of our few conversations with Neighbor Father, he was holding Tony. The dog was shivering from the January cold and also in pain from a soccer ball that, said Neighbor Father, had hit him by accident. Without having been there (honest!) I knew there’d been no accident. I let Tony sniff me, which with most dogs meant the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Tony sniffed.

Tony growled.

The relationship has only gone down from there, mostly because Tony and sidekick Manny like to do to our yard what a few folks in the OWS crowd have been doing to Zuccotti Park. Silly me. Why walk your dogs in the rain or snow when you can let them out the door to roam the neighbor’s yard? For that matter, why wait for the rain or snow?

To be fair, I have to give Neighbors Mother and Father some credit. Once I began to chase those rodents—er, dogs—back to their yard swinging whatever yard implement was handy, Neighbor Father and Neighbor Mother took notice.

An invisible fence went up…or so they said. The dogs trotted right past the little white flags in defiance. Eventually, a metal chain-link fence followed. It’s four feet high; the dogs couldn’t jump over it no matter how hard they tried. Not that they’d need to try. Even small-brained dogs, after all, quickly deduce when a fence borders a rectangular property on only three sides.

Now that I think about it, the backyard has been strangely quiet since last week’s nor’easter. This past weekend, Elena and I picked up leaves for at least two hours with nary a yip from next door. Now I’m wondering. Could…could the storm’s high winds have carried the poor little things away?

Well, you know, it’s hardly my place to tell God where to aim His leaf blower.