In the hours when Thanksgiving’s righteous virtue gives way to the wretched underbelly of America that we call Black Friday, Wal-Mart is more than just an engine of excess. It’s a canvas for human behavior as ugly as it gets, and as uplifting, as little Arianna Scribner found out in East Windsor.
On Thursday night, 9-year-old Arianna and her grandmother, Lydia Santana, ventured from Holyoke to the Wal-Mart outlet that took the place of a Showcase Multiplex a few years ago, where a neighborhood once flourished. Their goal: A $99 Nook tablet, saving $100, or maybe $60. It’s hard to tell.
They entered the fray hours before the 10 p.m. sale time for the Nook. They waited two, maybe three hours after finally finding the right line. At last they had their prize. It would be a joyous wait on yet another long line to pay.
A few minutes in, a woman approached Arianna. “She just grabbed it out of my hands and started running,” the girl recalled.
Tears filled her round, pink face. Witnesses were aghast but no one chased the criminal down. Santana later said she told a store clerk, who said there was nothing he could do. “If I would catch up with her I would punch her out,” said the short, bespectacled Santana.
Then a woman on the same line offered her Nook to Arianna. She too had invested hours for the 1-per-customer offer. “I said ‘no, no, no’. But she said ‘here,'” Santana said, and she accepted the gift.
Arianna seemed carefree a while later, as she and Santana waited with their replacement Nook on a different line.
“This is a Christmas you’ll never forget,” said Bridget Seneca, of Somers, who was waiting for hours to get a $75 Wal-Mart store credit that came with a $399 iPad 2.
Seneca and her friends were amazed at the mayhem, caused by thousands of people frantically looking for the right lines at the moments when sales kicked in, followed by hours of quiet waiting. Store clerks and police were everywhere but there’s no way to control that scene.
“It’s craziness,” said Seneca’s friend, Meg Munson. “It’s my first time and I won’t think I’d do it again.
For Aneta Wachta and her fiance Paul Temple, from Chicopee, Mass., it was worth an investment of well over three hours for a 32-inch Emerson HDTV for $148. “You get to people watch and all that stuff,” said Wachta, who had a tiny, fake flower pinned to her ear.
Hundreds of customers had the same blue Emerson box at the same diagonal angle wedged into their carts on line. A luckier few, rumored to total 84, had a larger box, same design, same angle with a 40-inch model for $198.
It was as if the boxes were receiving signals from another planet, directing these customers — compelling them beyond their control — to come to Wal-Mart, wait three hours in a giant, fluorescent maze filled with surveillance cameras and then go home.