SMOKE: Bargain Mobs
Originally published: 14 September 2004
I've been around; I've seen some shit.
I've been in a car with a faulty ignition during an attack by a stone-throwing crowd of enraged Muslims, I've spent long periods of time trying to convince large Nigerians that just because I'm in jail doesn't mean I'm necessarily homosexual, and I've had three barrels of three different guns being pointed at my face for three different reasons (none of them involving peace and goodwill).
Child's play. Amateur stuff.
Compared to the Ladies Of The Red Hanger Sale, that is. Those insane crowds of 200kg+ women who track sales across the city in an orgy of budgetary concern and overexcited group dynamic.
The reason they are so dangerous is that their only motivation at a sale is to get the best bargain possible, and when a crowd of females goes rushing through the doors of a store at 7am with that agenda - let's just say it puts any other horror or catastrophe firmly in perspective.
I've been in one of those throngs before, and that I'm sitting here today telling you about it is clear indication that Paul Simon was right after all - these are days of miracle and wonder.
Somehow the task of purchasing a new bed fell into my lap a few years ago. I was instructed to be at a certain furniture store on some Saturday morning in order to inspect and possibly buy one of the beds that was on sale.
Prices were crazy, crazy, crazy ("Everyone's a winner! Bargains galore!!"), and I had to be at the front doors of the store a good hour and a half before opening time, which was at 7am.
I got to the store at 05h30 and there was already a small crowd of females standing around outside the front doors. Trying to appear nonchalant (I do this shit every day) I leaned back against a wall and lit a smoke, taking stock of the situation.
These women were prepared, man - these were career professionals. One had brought a cushion to sit on, another had her thermos of coffee and a tub of muesli yoghurt, and a third had a Jilly Cooper novel with well-thumbed pages.
The rest stood around in trance mode - a skill which allows them to stand for an hour and a half without even needing to shift their weight, which is a vital skill to have when you spend your life in early morning sale queues.
Me - I was up and down, pacing around, shifting like crazy and generally being a fidgety twat, but I couldn't help it - I can't stand for longer than five minutes before general agony sets in and I have to shift.
They all spotted the amateur straight up, of course, and a faint air of disapproval at this unseemly intrusion into their ranks hung suspended in the early morning air.
By 06h00 - still an hour away from opening time - there must have been 50 women there, and the early casualness of the scene slowly started getting more tense as they wound themselves up mentally for the battle ahead.
I wouldn't go so far as to say that they started slapping themselves like weightlifters do while muttering motivational messages under their breath, but a few of them were pretty close.
I had to get into the queue now and found myself only one row back from the doors (the queue stretched across the front of the doors, and the throng formed behind that).
I could no longer sit down as the crush behind me was starting to edge ever-closer to my back, and I had to spend an hour trying to shift the agony from foot to foot, while simultaneously maintaining sharp peripheral vision to stop the behemoth on my left from edging in front of me, which she seemed hellbent on doing.
With 15 minutes to go the store attendants and security guards began appearing inside, and the cashiers started emptying their floats and arranging their cash draws. Big day for the cashiers.
Once the staff started appearing the atmosphere moved from rising tension to outright venom, and the jostling from behind got more and more purposeful.
With two minutes to go the security guards got their hands on the doors and stood waiting for the command from the hapless store manager. I craned around and being taller than anyone else (I was the only man there) I saw that the madding crowd extended down the hallway - there must have been at least 200 of them.
There was a deathly hush as the guards inside turned to listen to an unheard command, and in slow motion a bead of sweat rolled slowly down the bald pate of one, and fell slowly to the floor.
Everyone watched in fascination as time slowed down and the droplet of sweat approached the ground, and then it struck and with a click of the locks the doors swung open and a tidal wave of insane women was released.
From that point on things get a little hazy for me - I have these fleeting flashbacks to images of towns on fire as looters run riot, London Bridge burning down, Custer's Last Stand, the beaches of Normandy with the dead and dying lying scattered around under a pall of black smoke.
I saw the bloody stump of an arm rise out of a pile of corpses by way of appeal for help, but I was way beyond caring. The noise and confusion and horror was overwhelming and the light was a ghostly yellow, punctuated by the steady flashing red of a medical support vehicle.
Keeping my head down I fought the rising panic and after a few deep breaths I made a mad dash from my trench, fully expecting my chest to be torn open by a Howitzer or sten gun, and although I felt unseen claws tugging at the sleeves of my jacket as I weaved and dodged - I wasn't seriously hit.
Crawling under the crossfire I found myself next to a bed and I ripped the tag off it, checked my compass for my location, called in air support and crouching low ran for the cashiers, who were manning cannons from behind their turret slits.
I waved my tag to show them I was friendly, and I was almost at the desk - wallet in hand - when an enormous figure reared up in front of me.
I looked into the eyes of hatred right there as she snarlingly reached for my tag, but just before she could get it a sexy little 19-year old cashier on only her second day of work took careful aim with her Glock and pumped a cap straight between the bitch's eyes, dropping her.
I ran up to the cashier and we kissed feverishly in a passion inspired by the danger of our situation, and handing over the cash I turned around and didn't look back.
Somehow I made it out of the war zone with minor cuts and bruises, and as I got out of the front doors some sympathetic volunteer draped a blanket around my shoulders and put a cup of hot something into my hands.
I walked around in a daze for a while - a survivor of a bad nightmare - and when I had gathered myself enough I finally went home - a little older, a little wiser, and fundamentally changed in a way only those of us who have been on a battle ground can know.
I've never been the same since. But I've still got my bed.
All Smoked Out,