The schedule they sent us told us to arrive by 7:30am. The first entry read, "7:30-9:45: Conference Center, Evergreen Room: H.R. paperwork, uniform sizing and scavenger hunt."

Scavenger hunt? I thought. Really?

The lady from H.R. kept things moving. She had glasses and a big voice. She directed her deputies well. They ran the paperwork session like a smooth machine. Forms to fill out. Copies of our IDs. Blood draw. Many things to sign.

They fitted us for our uniforms. It's not like I wasn't expecting it, having seen photos, but there was still something about the plush antlers and the blinking lights that I found disconcerting.

"Has everyone completed their paperwork?" she asked. The tables in the Evergreen Room were circular, and she was standing just behind me. There were two pretty girls and a heavyset man at the table with me. Around the room, more tables, many other people. A few nods here and there, but no one spoke. Paperwork complete.

"Excellent," she said. "Now is the time for the scavenging hunt."

I turned around in my chair. "Don't you mean scavenger?" I asked.

"Scavenging," she affirmed, her voice growing louder and more shrill. "You are to bring me a squirrel carcass, any sort of dead bird, and a smashed roadkill raccoon."

In my peripheral vision, I saw heads turning, people silently asking through flickering eye contact: Did I just hear what I thought I heard?

"Umm," I said.

She held her right hand up, index finger extended. "Bring them to me, my vultures," she cried. "You are proud, proud vultures!"

This is going to be a very, very weird job.

I Bet Most People Practicing Gratitude This Week Aren’t Saying This

I have had zombie nightmares for years, since long before zombies became so embedded in popular culture. I dream lucidly sometimes, but never once while in a zombie dream, and so the terror and horror are always profound and unquestioned, and I'll bet if you're practicing gratitude this week (and you should), you have not taken a moment to be thankful that the zombie apocalypse is not actually real.

Not so far, anyway.

More Thoughts on Black Friday: The Door to Change and Gratitude

I can't really remember a time when I wasn't disgusted by Black Friday, but it was in 2013 that I realized that the whole run-up to Black Friday was making me kind of crazy. I felt something like a sickening buzz and I felt constantly on edge. I would tell people about how I was feeling, and they would invariably say, "Just don't pay attention," which isn't bad advice, but it missed the point. "That's the thing," I would tell them. "I can't not pay attention. I feel it. It's everywhere."

That's a pretty bold assertion. The first times it came out of my mouth, it startled me enough that I had to ask, Is that true? Because if it was, it implied a different relationship with the world than I'd ever allowed myself to consider before. Could I really feel the energy of was essentially floating in the air around me? The more I examined it, the more inescapable the conclusion became: I could feel the crazy energy society was bathing itself in and it was making me feeling crazy, too.

A door opened up for me via that realization, and eventually I had no choice but to walk through.

Black Friday and #OptOutside

I first saw REI's #OptOutside campaign via a banner ad. "We're closing on Black Friday," said the ad copy. "Holy shit," I said. "Finally, someone gets it."

I hate Black Friday. I hate it. It's bad enough that it's consumerism run amok. But there's also the narrative that surrounds it, or that it surrounds itself in--at this point, I guess you'd say it's both. You see stories about Black Friday all over the news, giving the hype--GIANT SALES! GIANT DISCOUNTS!--a deeper imprimatur. Every year, we hear of the steady race-to-the-bottom of retail's earlier and earlier opening times. Every year, we see more videos of people stampeding over each other to get into stores. This is how important it is to buy things, these stories and videos imply. Because keep in mind: where are you seeing these stories but via ad-supported media? The whole idea of advertising is to create demand where it wasn't already, to create need. Which is to say that the media itself is--indeed, has to be--complicit in this madness. To do otherwise, to either cast genuine opprobrium on what they force us to witness or else to opt out entirely, would be to cast their whole existence into doubt.

Thus every year, the intensity of hype feeds back on itself and gets worse.

So when I saw a major U.S. retailer responding to the perversity of Black Friday by just opting out--closing their doors, giving their employees two days off, and thereby doing a little to fight against the deeper dissolution of the sanctity of what really should be a pretty internally-focused holiday--I was like, YES.

Look, I have no illusions: #OptOutside is a marketing campaign. I learned about it via an ad, and yes I recognize the irony. I get that REI is using disaffection with consumerism to, to some degree, drive consumption.

But nothing about that changes the fact that they aren't going to be part of the sickness that day. As marketing campaigns go, REI can count me in. Indeed, #OptOutside seems like such a positive development that I am literally going to buy in. Speaking my mind, as I am doing here, is lovely and all, but I want to reward REI for their stance, and beyond my public declaration of support, I'm going to support them with my money as well: I'm going to do my Christmas shopping at REI.

Yes, that means that I'll be battling out-of-control consumerism with consumption. But not on Black Friday. And that matters.

Maybe, just maybe, other businesses will take note, and we can begin to move away from the depths of our craziness.

Oh, and one more thing: Yes, I'll be opting outside.

How to Win the Love of Your Stripper, Part 2

Yes, true, but: what if she is someone who is simply working as a stripper?

Perhaps it is like this: she discovered over the years a talent for taking her clothes off, and so, one day, reflecting on the career choices ahead of her, decided to go pro. It was a reasonable choice: lucrative, not especially arduous (besides the small detail of needing to wall off a certain part of herself in order to maintain her sanity). It's her job, but it's not her calling.

The heart of your challenge is this: she is someone who is an expert at being looked at without being seen. This is her defense against the hardship of her job. How, then, can you win her heart, when she cannot trust that it is even truly she and not a shadow whom you wish to love?

How to Win the Love of Your Bartendress

Honestly, I have no idea.

The best available research indicates that it's impossible: she is hit on so consistently and constantly that, here at the bar, she notices flirtation aimed her way the way most of us notice gnats in summertime: just a thing that happens, of no real significance.

Not hitting on her offers you no advantage, either. Like most people with good self-esteem, she seeks the click of instant mutual attraction. Your resolute attempt to draw her attention by not drawing her attention is thus, by definition, doomed to fail.

But take heart: though she does not love you and, as best as science can tell, never will, it is very much like she loves you. For just watch her. (No, not like that. In action, I mean. Don't stare. Yes, she has very fetching cleavage, and she's not wearing that blouse by accident, but that's not what I mean.) Watch the careful-yet-assured way she holds the jigger while she measures the gin and then the vermouth as she prepares your martini. Watch how delicately the mixing spoon swirls within her fingers. Watch how she spears the olives on the toothpick just so, dead through the middle of each.

No, this isn't love. But it is done with the care of love. Enjoy your martini and accept that this is enough.