Donald R. Brown
I woke up at 5:30 a.m. Friday to the dulcet tones of Bixby, the artificial intelligence lady who lives inside my phone.
“Hey … There …” Bixby said in her usual, emotionless monotone. “It’s Black Friday today.”
Just like that, I was in the shower, slapping myself in the face and purposely stinging my eyes with Old Spice shower gel to wake myself up.
By early Friday, I already was 12 hours late to the start of many retailers’ Black Friday events. That meant I was late to make good on the following marching orders—the first from my editors at The Gazette, the second from my wife:
“Catch the early (and we mean
I edited both edicts for clarity and brevity my wife’s because she was staying with her folks in Illinois overnight and I didn’t want to wake her with a predawn phone call to check over her quotes or admit that I hadn’t written down any of the shopping instructions she gave me.
What I said to my work bosses and my household boss was this:
“Yeah! OK, Sure! I’ll join the 114.6 million Americans who the National Retail Federation predicts will shop on Black Friday this year—although the same retail trade association estimates about 50% of those people won’t leave the house Friday and instead will shop from home, using a computer.”
Actually, I didn’t say any of that. But my bosses like news stories to have some kind of news peg in them somewhere. It would be disingenuous of me not to deliver some news in this news story.
I’ve written about Black Friday plenty of times before, but I’ve never actually set foot in a retail store on the big day. Not because I’m a supposedly brick-and-mortar retail-averse millennial or a curmudgeonly “boomer.” I’m a Gen-Xer. Which means I often shop for Christmas presents whenever the mood strikes. This might be a day or two before Christmas or even in mid-January.
On my first-ever Black Friday shopping excursion, I arrived at the Janesville Mall at 6:15 a.m.—15 minutes after the doors opened—but many of the local big box stores opened Thursday evening. Heck, Walmart started Black Friday sales around Halloween. That’s a newer trick big retailers use to try to spread out holiday spending and set themselves apart from the legions of competing storefronts in a given market.
Whether that strategy actually works, it meant that on Friday, I was running at least half a day late to gather a news story on the Black Friday throngs.
That also put me behind the eight ball when it came to finding any of the items on the shopping list my wife had handed me. Worse, everything on the list was described as a “doorbuster” item. That’s supposed to register with the consumer as “highly sought after” and “you better hurry.”
OK, I’ll hurry! But wait. As soon as I arrived at the mall, guess what I realized I left sitting on the kitchen counter? If you guessed “All the glossy store flyers detailing what my wife asked me to buy, including her mascara (with extra notes and details written onto the flyers)” then you are good. Very good.
Crowds at the mall were on the sparse side at 6:30 a.m. Friday, so there weren’t many people to grab to interview or ask how their shopping escapades were going.
I ran into Julie Cubbage, the mall’s manager, at the mall’s center court. There, a full-fledged DJ was playing “Build Me Up, Buttercup” through loudspeakers at 6:20 a.m.
A bakery business had catered in muffins and coffee, gratis for all shoppers.
As I was eating a muffin and pouring a quart of hot coffee down my throat with an automotive funnel I keep handy for early-morning news assignments, Cubbage told me she thought the early-morning crowd at the mall was thinner than normal.
She figured that was because local big boxes like Walmart, Best Buy and even the mall’s own anchor stores—Dick’s Sporting Goods and Kohl’s—had opened at 5 or 6 p.m. Thursday night, a time when the mall itself remained closed.
Some late-night Thanksgiving shoppers, Cubbage guessed, likely were sleeping in early Friday morning.
Things did get better later on. For one, the crowds at the mall started to beef up around noon Friday. The mall’s parking lots along Milton Avenue were filled.
Even before that, things were starting to shape up, at least for me.
At Kohl’s, one woman, Robin Schwartz, was still in a holiday elf costume from a late-night stint working at another retailer. She was off work, but she was shopping. Then she was scheduled to go back to work later.
I had gotten a whole lot more sleep than she did, or likely will the next few days. So you know, Robin, I consider you a warrior in a bright-red, elf-on-a-shelf costume.
One friend offered me encouragement in my early-day shopping excursion via Facebook: “May the Force Be With You.”
I eventually tracked down every single item on the list, including the exact brand of kid’s flannel sheets I was instructed to get.
I found sheets emblazoned with classic “Star Wars” characters. My wife did not specifically mention Yoda and Chewbacca in her instructions, but one must take certain latitudes.
Especially when the Force is with them.
Later in the morning, I walked into Dunham’s Sports on Humes Road in Janesville.
There, in a side aisle, was the 14-foot trampoline on my list. The second-to-last one.
As for my earlier claim that I never shopped on Black Friday before, that’s not entirely true. I went to the now-defunct Janesville Shopko a few years ago at about 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving.
Mission: to grab a full-sized trampoline that was advertised as a doorbuster.
That night, I couldn’t find any trampolines. Either they were sold out or they weren’t where they were supposed to be.
I called my wife from the store, perplexed. It was my first time hunting doorbusters on Black Friday.
“Listen, I’m at Shopko,” I said. “I’m standing right inside the front doors here, and I don’t see any trampolines or any other doorbusters. Aren’t the doorbusters supposed to be right by the doors?”
It was a serious question. That night, I learned retailers put the doorbusters throughout the store—not right next to the front doors—Because the retailers actually want you to move around the whole store to shop.
Kind of the point of shopping.
I went into this Black Friday at least knowing that tidbit. Which helped.
The point of all this, if there is one, is that I’m learning. My editors, and my wife, might make a consumer of me yet.
Two apparently starving dogs were found in the parking lot of the Delavan Walmart on Thursday night and Friday morning, the latest examples in a bad year for animal neglect cases, an animal shelter official said.
Police brought the dogs to Lakeland Animal Shelter, which found them in such bad shape that they were taken to a veterinary clinic where they could be monitored over the weekend, said the shelter’s director, Kristen Perry.
Perry said the male dogs appeared to have used up all of their fat and muscle reserves and were very weak.
“I’m sure having to wander around in the cold and dark and try to find someone to take care of them was not easy on their systems. They were pretty exhausted,” Perry said.
Delavan police were not available for comment, but they stated on their Facebook page that the owner faces charges related to maltreatment and abandonment of animals.
Police later announced they had identified a “person of interest” in the case.
The dogs had been in a man’s home until Thursday, Perry said. Then another person who knows the owner took the dogs and dropped them off near the Walmart.
That’s not what someone should do in such cases. Anyone finding an animal in distress should bring it to a shelter or to a veterinarian, Perry said.
The dogs had to be fed in very small portions. They seemed to enjoy the warmth and other comforts of the shelter and human contact.
“They seem like very sweet dogs,” Perry said.
One is a dachshund mix, the other a Japanese chin. Their names are Blackberry and Dexter, Perry said. She wasn’t sure which was which.
The shelter receives about 1,000 dogs and 3,000 cats from Walworth County per year, Perry said, and abandoned and neglected animals are common.
“It’s been a particularly bad year,” Perry said, but she didn’t know why.
Over the past month, the shelter has received two other dogs in horrible condition, Perry said.
One, a boxer who was renamed Flynn by a family that is adopting him, had ingested a hard rubber object more than two years earlier and was never treated. That led to a perforated, infected bowel.
“That’s the textbook definition of neglect—not caring for an obvious need,” Perry said.
The full-grown boxer weighed less than 25 pounds and needed hourslong surgery to repair his bowel.
Flynn died at least once on the table but was brought back, Perry said.
A neighbor of Flynn’s had noticed the situation and offered to take the dog to a vet, but the offer went nowhere, Perry said.
The owner eventually gave the dog to the neighbor, who called police, who called the shelter, she said.
Days after Flynn was brought in, the shelter received a Pomeranian mix named Buzz.
Someone backing a vehicle out of a driveway saw Buzz in her rear-view mirror and brought the dog to the shelter.
Perry said the dog had matted hair, nails growing into its toe pads, causing infection, and more fleas than she had ever seen on an animal.
A veterinarian later discovered Buzz had an infected, broken jaw, apparently from some kind of trauma.
Part of the jaw had disintegrated, but the vet was able to wire the front and back of the jawbone together, and Buzz now can eat on his own.
“If you see something happening with animals, don’t just turn the other way. Report it,” Perry said. “We encourage the person to get them to a shelter or a vet.”
And don’t give up until something is done, she added.
A divisive leader drove the opposition to extreme measures. The political climate was toxic—with little civil debate or middle ground. The clash ended in a high-risk political showdown that captured the nation’s attention and shaped the next election.
This was the 2012 battle to recall Gov. Scott Walker, not the 2019 fight to impeach President Donald Trump. But for some who lived through the former, the episodes have clear similarities and a warning for Democrats about overreach and distraction.
“In both cases, they thought just as they were upset about something, everyone was,” Walker said, describing one of his takeaways from the campaign that failed to remove him from office. “Just because your base feels strongly about something doesn’t mean that the majority of other voters do.”
Although moderates declined to join liberals back then in voting to eject Walker, Democrats warn against presuming they’ll break the same way for Trump next year in Wisconsin, a state seen as pivotal in 2020. Voters who were likely wary of undoing Walker’s election via a rare recall face a simpler choice in whether to hand Trump a second term, they say.
“People may not like impeachment simply because it adds to the drama of his presidency, but that doesn’t mean they are on the fence or sympathetic to Trump,” said Jon Erpenbach, a Democratic Wisconsin state senator.
The Walker recall sprang from a law he signed just months into his first term that effectively ended collective bargaining for most public employees. Walker didn’t reveal his plan until after he was elected in 2010, and the move sparked massive protests that made Wisconsin the center of a growing national fight over union rights.
Angry activists gathered nearly a million signatures to force the recall. Although Democrats had fought hard against the bill, with some state senators even fleeing the state at one point to avoid a vote, they were initially reluctant to embrace the recall for fear it would hurt then-President Barack Obama’s re-election hopes in 2012.
The recall became a proxy battle ahead of the presidential election, with Democrats arguing that Walker unfairly targeted teachers, nurses and other public employees to weaken the unions that traditionally supported Democratic candidates. Walker argued that his proposal shouldn’t have been a surprise since he campaigned on forcing public employees to pay more for their benefits while capping how much they could bargain for in raises. He also argued that it wasn’t proper to use the extraordinary option of recall over a policy dispute.
Walker ultimately won the recall election in June 2012, becoming a conservative hero on his way to a short-lived run for president in 2015. In a testament to Wisconsin’s political division, just five months after Walker won the recall vote, Obama cruised to victory in Wisconsin on his way to re-election.
Trump is accused of improperly withholding U.S. military aid that Ukraine needed to resist Russian aggression in exchange for Ukraine’s new president saying Trump’s political rival Joe Biden and his son were under investigation. Trump has argued that he was within his rights to ask Ukraine to look into corruption and that impeachment is just an attempt by Democrats to remove him from office.
Both impeachment and attempting to recall governors from office are exceedingly rare. Impeachment has only been leveled by the House against two presidents, Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton 130 years later. Richard Nixon was on the brink of it in 1974 before he resigned. Walker was only the third governor in U.S. history to face a recall election and the first to survive it.
The rarity of the remedy might explain why voters are reluctant to do either one, said Charles Franklin, who has regularly surveyed voter attitudes in Wisconsin for Marquette University.
A Marquette University Law School poll conducted just as public impeachment hearings were beginning earlier this month showed 53% of voters in Wisconsin were against removing Trump for office, with just 40% in support. National polls have shown a more even divide.
Even more troubling for Wisconsin Democrats was that while 78% of Democrats supported removing Trump through impeachment, 93% of Republicans were against it. That stronger rallying behind the incumbent, with the other side not as unified, parallels what was seen during the Walker recall, Franklin said.
Walker saw his support among independent voters go from about even six months before the recall election to positive 16 points just before the election. The latest Marquette poll also shows independents currently breaking against impeachment, with 47% against and 36% in favor.
Mike Tate, who was chairman of the state Democratic Party during the recall and continues to work in the state as a consultant, cautioned against making too much of where independents are on impeachment—and where they might be next November. After the impeachment process runs its course, Democrats will move on to talk about many other issues throughout the presidential campaign, Tate said.
“Impeachment will be in the rearview mirror,” he said.
But Stephan Thompson, who led the state GOP during the recalls and went on to manage Walker’s successful 2014 re-election campaign, said impeachment is “such a monumental event in history and politics” that it will hang over Democrats the rest of the cycle and make it difficult for them to bring moderate voters back to their side.
“When the left pushes this hard and overreaches, it helps you band together with people because you’re all in the foxhole together,” Thompson said. “I think that’s something they don’t realize.”
Erpenbach, the state senator, was among those who fled to Illinois for two weeks to try to kill the anti-union bill. He argues that unlike the recall, which was motivated by a policy disagreement, Congress was forced to hold impeachment hearings because Trump is alleged to have violated the Constitution.
Democrats are taking a political chance, Erpenbach said, but they’re doing what the Constitution requires, a key distinction from the recall.
“It worries me that it could backfire,” Erpenbach said, “but that’s not the point.”