The Mall is a Melting Pot

Let’s head to the mall, shall we?


That sentence has different connotations as you look at different times of your life. As a kid, it was at a mall where I saw the original “Star Wars” the summer it opened. Paired with stops at KB Toys and the bookstore, it made for a good day. Being dragged there to buy clothes or shoes? I was more of a tomboy so that kind of shopping never had strong appeal. Not much has changed really. I’d rather skip clothes and shoes and head straight for Barnes & Noble. There are worse ways of wasting a few hours than browsing there, and then sampling lotions at Bath & Body Works, grabbing a pretzel, sitting on a bench and watching people walk by.


As a teen, the mall was the common backdrop for a first date. Remember the butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling of holding hands for the first time at a movie, going to the arcade, and finishing the date with a sweet Slushy and kiss. Now I see teen girls carrying Victoria’s Secret’s distinctive pink bags and boys with their hats askew on their heads and their pants halfway to their knees. They adopt expressions of disinterest and disdain, showing interest in each other via texts and sideways glances. Maybe that’s their version of sweetness.


If I ask my husband to go shopping (which I usually don’t), his eyes widen in panic and I know he envisions heading into battle, ready to face crowds and parking lot kamikazes. Swerving, bobbing, picking and juking, dodging the crazies driving erratically between fast sprints and parade-pace, looking for the perfect parking spot. He probably also balks because he realizes he’s not too far away from being like the old men riding in their jazzy scooters, carrying their wives’ shit. Not his ultimate goal for a Saturday.


Taking kids to the mall is a whole different story. For this story, let’s just go by ourselves.


I like to think of walking through the mall as similar to walking the midway at the fair; smells, sights, sounds emanating from each store and freaks everywhere you look. It’s a melting pot of freaks. On a recent trip, I found myself parked between a shiny BMW and a dirty Dodge Ram with mudflaps adorned with naked-women silhouettes and a slew of vulgar bumper stickers. Back inside, a woman walked out of Hollister holding the hand of a terrified toddler; afraid of the dark and the overpriced trendy clothing. Music from my teen age years was playing as muzak which made me feel old. An Indian man lunged toward me and every other woman within reach from his kiosk to try to make us sample his placenta lotion. The smells of nail polish and perm chemicals wafted out of the Chinese spa. A frazzled-looking woman was pulled toward the candy store by her small child tethered to her by a freaking leash. (Yes, a leash. Somehow this is legal.) I turned from the Midway to the Big Top/department store.


I was first accosted by the obnoxious scent of too much perfume, so many samples sprayed in an olfactory jumble the store entrance smelled like a whorehouse (at least I imagine, having never been in a den of iniquity I can’t be sure). I tried not to look directly at the makeup ladies, since they often remind me of the clown from Stephen King’s “It.”


Unfortunately one purpose of my trip was to get a new bra. This is torturous for many reasons. Just when a bra is broken in and feeling good, it decides to let itself go. I guess my girls had been giving the underwire a bit too much stress. So to the confusing and embarrassing bra racks I went where an older female sales clerk with a hint of a mustache and a measuring tape around her neck approached me, declaring that only 1 in 10 women have bras that fit them correctly. When I explained I didn’t need help, she persisted in assisting me with the suggestion that I would look lovely in a pink and black negligee. I wanted to ignore her, but somehow being around unmentionables breeds familiarity so I told her as nicely as possible that I would never wear such an item. Maybe the red, she asked hopefully. I said truthfully that my husband would indeed laugh at such a getup and that it would be a waste of money and lace. It’s not modesty. We just don’t go in for extra props and costumes generally. Being as covered up for the world as possible and naked as quickly as possible for my husband (preferably in dim lighting) is all that’s required. So I selected a bra and headed for the jeans. This is another form of torture but I will not bitch about that now. On my way past house-wares, I saw a gay couple looking at bedding. They were arguing over some striped sheets (one of them apparently was opposed to anything straight) I wanted to sit on a sample bed and watch the show but I had to keep moving.


Too much has already been written about dressing rooms and the hell that is reflected in their mirrors. Suffice it to say, no matter how well-put together you thought you looked that morning, you basically look like shitty death in those mirrors. It turned out to be a good day, so somehow I found a pair of jeans that worked for me, which meant they did not ride down my ass or up to my armpits or flare out with rhinestones attached or cost more than a week’s worth of groceries.


I finally leave the department store, purchases in hand. I pass through the den of iniquity (the perfume counter) and breathe “fresh” mall air again.


Hands down, the best thing about the mall: great toilet options. Barnes & Noble would not be my first choice. I get too self conscious to use their facilities with clerks keeping an eye on whether you’re trying to smuggle reading material to aid your efforts in the bathroom.  The public restrooms that you can only reach by going through a maze of hallways are just too much effort to find and only good for emergencies when you happen to be near them, which is never. Olive Garden has delightful decor, with soothing pictures to ogle while you concentrate. They also include sample lotions and nice, thick paper towels. At least in the women’s room. Men’s rooms are a different animal, to be sure, with a wall of urinals and few stalls for privacy. How do they do it with others watching? Many ladies’ rooms even have adjoining powder rooms with lounge chairs and large mirrors. As inviting as they often look, I have rarely seen anyone partaking as there are still strangers shitting just feet away. Macy’s has some of my favorite facilities, very luxe with stall hooks for your bags and coats to keep them off the floor.


I have the most successful and relieving experiences in public bathrooms. There’s more privacy than at home; no kids following and talking and distracting me. There’s a carefree feeling, no worries about flush capacity, as most public toilets seem to be equipped to handle large volumes (as I’ve seen with my child’s abundant use of toilet paper). No worries about running out of TP either with the extra rolls attached to the wall, although they make you work a bit to finagle to first squares through the little slot. You also have to use more TP because they seem to only stock the thinnest transparent vellum.


I wonder what the mall will mean to me when I am old and wearing purple. Will I choose to power walk in the mornings? Will I take my grandchildren to the arcade? Will my husband bring his scooter to carry my shit? We could ride together, catch a movie, and enjoy a Slushy and a sweet kiss. Sounds like a good day.


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