You’ve probably seen them on TV or in newspaper photographs. They’re called “polar bear clubs.”
Groups of grown, presumably sane adults, in the middle of winter and surrounded by snow and ice, gather to jump in a frigid lake or river and go swimming, as if they were a bunch of polar bears.
Which they are not, by the way.
Polar bears wouldn’t be caught dead in such cold water without their thick, luxurious coat of fur. They certainly wouldn’t jump in wearing nothing but bathing suits, as these fools do.
And polar bears are driven to do it by necessity. They dive into the cold water to hunt seals, which they need to survive. Members of polar-bear clubs are hunting … well, I’m not sure what they’re hunting.
The car keys they lost in the lake last summer?
Or maybe they do it for the TV time they get on the evening news, even though their faces are so contorted by the cold that they look like someone being groped by a TSA agent at Hartsfield-Jackson.
At any rate, they’re crazy, which leads me to my point:
As far as I’m concerned, the tens of millions of Americans who leave the safety of their homes today and descend on malls, shopping centers and big-box retail outlets to engage in the shopping madness of black Friday are just one small notch below polar-bear divers on the scale of crazy.
I confess, the thought of rising at 4 a.m. to do all-day battle with the teeming masses requires a Churchillian resolve that I do not possess:
“We shall fight them on the highways; we shall fight them in the parking lot; we shall fight them in the store aisles, and then again at the checkout counter!” No, not me, thanks.
Those who do are simply nuts, and I say that with the utmost respect, bless your hearts.
You’re so nuts, in fact, that I might be worried about my personal safety for writing such a thing except for the fact that I know that you’re out there shopping today, battling for bargains, and thus much too frantic to sit down and actually read things in the 5-pound newspaper that you grabbed this morning for all the coupons and bargains.
No, the only ones likely to run across this column are those sane, reasonable, contented souls sitting at home in peace and quiet right now, nodding their heads in agreement as they read this while they wait for the football games to start.
Am I right, guys? Yeah, I thought so.
Yes indeed. A nice, quiet Thanksgiving, surrounded by friends and loved ones, sharing good food, drink and memories, puts me in a sweetly mellow mood that I try to preserve as long as possible through the holiday weekend. The madness of the Christmas season will come soon enough, I figure. No need to rush it.
However, as a patriotic American, I wish to salute those hardy souls who do make that sacrifice on behalf of the rest of us. Somebody has to get this economy moving again, and it sure won’t be couch potatoes like me. When things get tough, the tough go shopping, while the rest of us sit back in awe, gratitude and relief.
Because you know, John Maynard Keynes had it right about a couple of things. According to the famous British economist, a capitalist system is driven by “animal spirits — a spontaneous urge to action rather than inaction.” So if animal spirits motivate millions of you to get out there and pick this economy up by its bootstraps, be my guest.
Dive right in, I’m sure the water’s fine.
Keynes was right about something else as well. “Americans,” he once observed, “are apt to be unduly interested in discovering what average opinion believes average opinion to be.”
In the opinion of average Americans, Gallup reported last week, average Americans will spend an average of $714 on Christmas this year, which is up considerably over the $616 they predicted in 2008, but well below the peak of $866 in 2007.
According to Gallup, that ought to translate into a modest 4 percent increase in retail holiday sales. While that’s OK, surely we — or you — can do better. Fire up those animal spirits. Give into your hunter-gatherer instincts. Grab your credit cards and get out there! Take the plunge! Buy buy buy!
I’ll be here when you get back.