an excerpt from “Thanksgiving, Thanksgotten, Thanksgone” by Gregg Sapp
Members of the executive board of Wow-Mart Inc. included major shareholders, corporate CEOs, media moguls, an investment manager, a retired four-star general, an academy award-winning documentarian, and some ex-basketball player named Magic. Also in attendance were representatives from Wow-Mart corporate headquarters in New York, Dallas, and Los Angeles. Finally, Ms. Fusco’s peers — fellow regional managers from across the country — had flown to Columbus for the event. Maude Moody, chair of the board, regally occupied the center of the head table. Ms. Fusco had studied every one of their web pages, so she knew more about them than she did about her own relatives. In fact, if she could choose a family, she’d love to have one of them for a brother or sister. She’d always wanted a sibling to rival.
“I haven’t been this excited since I got my first credit card,” Ms. Fusco began — it was always a good idea to start with a humorous icebreaker. Some in the group giggled; a few chuckled; and one person emitted a great guffaw. Ms. Fusco laughed out loud herself just to underscore the jest.
“This will be a historic day for the Wow-Mart family as we launch a new retail commerce strategy designed to take our organization into a brilliant holiday-shopping future. It begins tonight, at a local superstore, chosen because its demographics broadly represent ideal Wow-Mart customers. As the Upper Central regional manager for Wow-Mart Inc. I have personally spent hundreds of hours at this store in preparation for tonight’s big event. We have advertised extensively across the six counties of the Central Ohio region. I am confident that, after tonight, Black Friday in America will never be the same.”
Applause to that remark was subdued, for no doubt some disbelieved that she could deliver on her promise to shatter Black Friday sales records. A grandiose claim, perhaps, but the occasion called for bravado. Besides, self-aggrandizement was fun and came as naturally to her as spending money.
Ms. Fusco resumed, “As you know, in-store commerce on Black Friday has been in gradual decline for several years. Some store managers worry that, with so much online business these days, the wonderful Black Friday retail experience has lost its appeal. I disagree. But to recover that ol’ shop-till-you-drop mentality, we need a bigger and bolder paradigm. People these days expect Black Friday to provide more than just fantastic deals. To get them back into the stores, we need a larger-than-life experience that truly excites them.
“So, here in Columbus, Ohio, a city famous as a reliable middle-American test market, we are promoting this year’s Black Friday at the North Columbus Wow-Mart store as a once-in-a-lifetime, bucket-list-worthy experience, kind of like parachuting, bungee jumping, or flying in a hot air balloon. Something to brag to your friends about.”
“How?” Maude Moody interrupted.
Bitch, Ms. Fusco thought. “Thanks for asking,” she replied. “We’re going to get real.”
“What does that even mean?” Maude asked, unamused.
“People love reality. So long as it’s entertaining. Reality TV shows us what people really want. It hasn’t changed in twenty years, and still people can’t get enough of it. Put relatable people in an extraordinary environment, where they use their wits and prowess to compete against each other for an awesome prize. We plan to demonstrate how the reality TV model can work in a retail environment. Tonight, at the stroke of midnight, Black Friday begins when the North Columbus Wow-Mart opens its doors to…” She improvised a drum roll, slapping her hands on the podium top. “Wowzathon!!!”
Just like she’d practiced with the Toastmasters Club, Ms. Fusco tossed her arms wide open in embrace of the entire room. She broke out a smile so broad it strained her cheeks, then declared:
“At Wowzathon, we promise to make one lucky person’s wish come true. To win, that customer must find and solve clues contained in three specific items for sale among general merchandise on the floor. The winning contestant must present each of those items to a cashier for purchase. The third clue is a riddle revealing the location of hidden treasure. The customer who finds that item wins their fondest wish, up to but not to exceed one million dollars in value, depending on availability.
“Tonight, I enthusiastically invite all of you to join me in watching the drama unfold from a brand-new VIP loft built in the store for this occasion. Enjoy catered snacks and an open bar while witnessing this exciting event. It will be bigger than Survivor, more thrilling than The Amazing Race, and more compelling than American Idol. Just as Macy’s has the Thanksgiving Day parade, from now on Wow-Mart will own Black Friday.”
Belying these confident assertions, Ms. Fusco worried about whether Wowzathon could possibly live up to the hype. She presumed the stakeholders were skeptical, too; they didn’t get to be executives in a major multinational corporation through blind trust. Still, Orson Atlas assured her that the members of the board truly hoped for her to succeed, if only so they could claim a share of the credit. Whatever their unspoken feelings, the audience rewarded Ms. Fusco and themselves with an enthusiastic flurry of applause.
Ms. Fusco basked in the glory. It was long overdue. She still cringed to recall the unkind mockery she’d endured when as a child the other kids called her “Piss-zilla Fuck-so.” This moment felt like rubbing it back in their sneering, snot-nosed faces. She was Piss-zilla Fuck-so no more! She hoped that Priscilla Junior [PJ] was watching and learning from her example.
When the clamor died down, she continued. “Finally, before we enjoy our Thanksgiving dinner, in keeping with the tradition started by our founder, Wilbur Wow, I have a sacred duty to perform.”
Ms. Fusco spoke the words with an impish quiver in her voice, to signal levity. In truth, she hated that she had to do this thing. It was a stupid gesture, and she certainly did not appreciate sharing her moment of triumph with a turkey.
Orson Atlas strode through the double doors at the rear of the banquet hall, pushing a service cart, atop which sat a fat tom turkey in a barred metal cage. Grinning, Orson rattled the cage, and the disconcerted bird responded by pecking at his fingers through the bars. Atlas paraded down the middle of the room, turning the cart from side to side to give everybody a gander at the bird, then parked it at the head table, where Ms. Fusco waited to meet it. The turkey gulped and emitted a putt, putt, putt sound.
“Meet Butch Turkey, another victim of fowl play,” Orson deadpanned, eliciting more groans than giggles from the audience.
Ms. Fusco winced. How does a person follow an awful pun like that? She had her own dumb joke planned for that moment and didn’t appreciate being upstaged.
“That’s funny, Orson. But hey, do you know what they call a turkey on the day after Thanksgiving?”
Orson started to speak, but Ms. Fusco jumped in before he could steal the punch line. “Lucky!” she declared.
“Ha,” Orson Atlas spoke, in a word not a laugh. Others in the audience echoed him.
Ms. Fusco cleared her throat. For inspiration, she examined the turkey and tried to find it in her heart to pity it. She had never thought about it before, but turkeys were beastly ugly creatures. Butch looked like a Franken-bird assembled with leftover parts from an ornithologist’s garage sale. Its head reminded her of a poorly inflated rugby ball, and its neck a flexible corrugated pipe with feathers. Butch’s beady black eyes peered down at her from above a beak shaped like a can opener. A grotesque snood of wrinkled skin drooped over its beak, and a leprous blood-red wattle massed at the base of its throat. She could not imagine how such a ghastly creature, when beheaded, plucked, cleaned, stuffed, and then baked at 325 degrees for fifteen minutes per pound became everybody’s favorite Thanksgiving staple. It was almost too ugly to eat.
As if in response to Ms. Fusco’s thoughts, Butch unfurled his bronze-green plumage.
“I think Butch likes you,” Orson Atlas teased.
PJ snickered tee-hee and snapped her chewing gum.
Ms. Fusco noted her daughter’s impudence but picked up where she left off. “Every year, Wow-Mart stores in North America sell around five million Thanksgiving turkeys. But every year, in a beloved tradition at Wow-Mart, we also pardon one very fortunate turkey.”
“Look, the bird is pooping,” PJ pointed out.
Ms. Fusco pretended that she hadn’t heard. “This year, we have a very fine specimen of Meleagris. Butch, here, will join us as a guest for Thanksgiving dinner instead of being Thanksgiving dinner. Ha. Afterwards, he will have a front row seat for Wowzathon, from a cage next to Santa Claus’s throne, so children can pet him while waiting to sit on Santa’s lap.”
“I wouldn’t touch that smelly, ugly, nasty bird,” PJ commented.
Ms. Fusco shot her daughter a look. Your father put you up to this, didn’t he? Later, she’d deal with the disrespect. In the meantime, she kept her cool. “Afterwards, Butch will live at The Ohio State University poultry farm, where he will be pampered for the rest of his days.”
Extending her right arm in a benediction, Ms. Fusco tried to slip her hand into the turkey’s cage, but the bars were too close together. Hesitantly, she turned the key in the cage door and opened it just enough to reach in and place her hand above the turkey’s head. She then recited, “By the power vested in me by the executive board of the Wow-Mart business empire, and in remembrance of our founder, Wilbur Wow, who said ‘practice kindness until you perfect it,’ I hereby grant you, Butch Turkey, a full and unconditional pardon.”
“Here, here,” Orson Atlas called out. “Or should I say gobble, gobble?”
“Let’s eat,” Ms. Fusco said. These words elicited the heartiest applause of any of her remarks.