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All sales final

by Brian Clarey

Let me tell you: I am reeling. I’m breathless. My heart is slamming in my ribcage even now, half an hour later, when I replay the scene in my head.

It was awesome. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me tell you what happened today.

It’s Black Friday, And like most other Americans I’m sitting on my couch this morning sweating out the turkey and beer — but unlike most Americans I’ve got to work today, unless we want to print blank pages in the paper this week, which we don’t.

So I travel across town, noting the traffic congestion at the shopping centers and the crazed, frenzied pace of my fellow motorists. Big “Sale” signs billow under overcast skies on Wendover Avenue and near the big-box stores all of the good parking spots are taken.

And then I start to get the itch. You need to know I’m not buying into it, this official christening of the gluttonous spree of consumption — be it eating, spending, loving, what have you — that rolls on through New Year’s Eve. I know what the holidays are about, and it ain’t what size TV you can afford. I’ve railed in these very pages about the evils of conspicuous consumption, and I recognize that the act of acquisition for its own sake is the ideology of the Mongol horde.

Black Friday is mostly just a bunch of marketing BS, designed to lure in the hooples and mouth-breathers who might be convinced that 15 percent off the suggested manufacturer’s retail price is a good deal.

Not me. I’m from Long Island, where bargain shopping is akin to religion, and though I’ve got a few loose dollars rattling around in my bank account, I’m not gonna be taken in by a $400 iPad or the early-adopter rate for the Xbox Kinect when I know damn well I can do better in six months.

But I’m only human, people. There are some fantastic deals out there, if you know where to look.

And I do. So when the itch to engorge myself on sweet holiday deals hits, I roll down Wendover Avenue and shoot into High Point, then slide across Eastridge to the Oak Hollow Mall. You need to be counterintuitive on Black Friday.

While rumors of the Oak Hollow Mall’s demise have been, as they say, greatly exaggerated, it is indeed in critical condition. More than half of the spaces are vacant. The food court is at half-staff, and I once saw an attendant at a jewelry kiosk fall asleep with his head in his hands.

Even today, the busiest shopping day of the year, I could kick a soccer ball down the promenade and likely not peg anyone in the head — which today is not necessarily a bad thing.

In the mall, all the trimmings of the sales ploy beckon from storefronts: discounts, limited-time offers, spectacular savings. Yeah, right.

But down in the lower level, amid the B-list shops and the least-busy Victoria’s Secret I have ever seen, lies a one-story Dillards clearance room where they really are practically giving it all away.

It’s a forest of bargain racks, one after the other like a field of mushrooms, organized by size and style. There are dozens of them, hundreds, each with a sign posted atop promising an additional 40 percent off the ticketed price, which is already pretty near rock bottom, and loaded with so much varied merchandise it would take a week to truly comprehend the volume.

A clearance house like this is where fashion goes to die: last year’s styles, last season’s surplus, designers’ whims that never caught on in colors that don’t quite work. And occasionally, a careful and patient shopper can make a real score.

I finger through the hangars: unwearable Hawaiian shirts, truly idiotic club wear, old-man pants, jackets that will lose their luster halfway through the first wearing.

And then…. And then I come across something extraordinary in the extra-large rack: a brushed suede jacket, Pierre Cardin, in chocolate brown with a suggested retail price of $285 but which has been repeatedly marked down and, if purchased today, could be mine for less than $25.

I know, right? I’m a little nervous as I pull it from the hangar and examine it for defects: missing buttons, odd stains, imperfections in the grain of the fabric. Nothing. I sling it about my shoulders anxiously and note that it’s a slim cut, not great for layering but perfect with T-shirts or buttondowns. I make my way over to the mirror and get a gander: It fits like it was made for me.

I bring it to the counter and pay for it, get the hell out of the store before I succumb to the buying madness that is starting to creep into my psyche. When I get back to my car, I’m breathing like I’ve just run a mile.

And just like that I’m a part of the problem, compromised by a sweet jacket listed at 90 percent off. If I can be taken in so easily, what chance do any of us have?

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