It was the hottest day of the year, indeed one of the hottest on record, and by evening streets and front stoops were crowded with mostly poor people trying to beat the heat. At around 11 pm mysterious flyers began to appear in the neighborhoods, and the news spread instantaneously through text-messages, Twitter and the Internet: “At precisely midnight Central Time the doors of every Halmart Store in the country would open for a surprise ‘Summer Madness Clearance Sale!” The first hundred customers would receive free prizes including room air conditioners, fans, TVs and gift certificates worth $50! “We must be kidding!” proclaimed the three-color flyers on which thick capital letters headlined: “IT’S UNBELIEVABLE!” and “EVERYTHING MUST GO!”
By a quarter to twelve Halmart parking lots everywhere were overflowing with packed family cars and sidewalks were overcrowed with eager, perspiring shoppers jostling for places in front of the doors. And when, at midnight, the doors failed to open, the crowds went ape-shit with frustration and anger at what was apparently a cruel hoax. By 12:05, undaunted ‘shoppers’ had forced open the doors and display cases with crowbars and other implements. When everyone had got inside, the crowds’ anger gave way to a kind of euphoria (perhaps aided by the air conditioning) at the prospect of enjoying a true “shoppers’ paradise” of free goods.
Although there was a certain amount of squabbling and hair-pulling in the aisles (as is often the case at big sales), for the most part what the media described as ‘looting’ was carried out in an orderly fashion by self-appointed ‘managers’ who took charge of different departments (for example Sporting Goods and Footware), imposed rough-and-ready ‘one to a customer’ policies on firearms and pairs of boots, and made sure everyone got their correct ammunition caliber and shoe size. By twelve thirty the shelves were almost empty and shopping carts piled high with everything from baseball bats to bandsaws, flashlights to foodstuffs, running shoes to shotguns, were wending their way homeward.
The real trouble started around one am, when over-excited latecomers turned up, found the shelves already bare, and, hot, angry and frustrated, torched the empty stores. Among them were angry former Halmart ‘associates’ (workers) who had attempted to organize for a living wage and union rights and been fired for their trouble. The police, also too late for the action and in any case vastly outnumbered, looked on helplessly or attempted to pick off and arrest some isolated individuals leaving the scene. (Inevitably, a few people on both sides were shot in the ensuing mayhem – about average for the season.)
The next day pundits and prosecutors thundered about ‘subversives,’ ‘looters,’ ‘greed,’ ‘civilization,’ and the ‘sanctity of private property.’ On the other hand, the National Comedy Hour had a field day inventing hilarious sketches and fake interviews (as you can well imagine). Meanwhile in a Los Angeles courtroom, a woman arrested carrying a brand-new Halmart air conditioner and no sales slip was dismissed by the judge after she pleaded ‘temporary insanity,’ citing the heat, the mass hysteria of the crowd, and the flyers’ incitement (“EVERYTHING MUST GO!”).
Eventually five of the teenage instigators of this great hoax – all of them ‘Fishies’ – were arrested after bragging about their exploit to friends who blabbed on Facebook. The Federal Government indicted the pranksters for ‘economic terrorism and criminal conspiracy to commit arson’ under the Rico anti-Mafia laws. A secret Grand Jury in conservative Arlington VA was said to be investigating the role of both the subversive BvB gamers’ network and the Halmart Workers Organizing Committee in the terrorist conspiracy. The prosecution threw the book at the Fire Sale Five (including three juveniles), demanding 10-year sentences for each of 17 counts for a total of 170 consecutive years in prison (including three juveniles) as a stern warning to others who might be tempted to infringe on the rights of private property.
The fate of the Fire Sale Five (who happened all to be cute boys) became a controversial cause célèbre, debated on line and in every High School class. All over the country, fellow Fishies, their parents, Facebook friends, former Halmart workers and thousands of people who had participated in the free shopping event began turning up en masse at FBI offices, turning themselves in as co-conspirators and demanding to be indicted along with the Firesale Five and entering pleas of temporary insanity due to “Summer Madness.” As the case grew more and more complicated, with legal motions and counter-motions, the original Five were released on bail into the custody of their parents and the trial was postponed again and again.
Although the immediate ecological effect of the Great Halmart Midnight Fire Sale was negative (what with fires smoldering for days and adding to air pollution) the long-term effect on the biosphere turned out to be benign. More people bought their produce locally (shipping being a major emitter of C02), farmers’ markets, set up in the parking lots of the dead supermarkets, thrived, Mom and Pop stores revived in neighborhoods and villages, prices declined xand the vast acres of land covered by Halmart mega-stores and parking lots were eventually ploughed up and planted with vegetables (the ashes made good fertilizer).
However, before the case of the Five Fishies and their thousands of co-conspirators came to trials, unforeseen events in another sphere – the battle of the sexes – changed the entire political landscape.