Yesterday I was at the mall. I’m usually not very cynical, but the mall always seems to transform me into a hater of everything within its walls. Everything is made of fake, worthless, plastic and everyone’s a crook trying to con me out of money. I guess this generalization would include me, because I’m at the mall, but I’m there to purchase something necessary; just like everyone else (?).
I’m sitting at a table by the food court, enjoying a slice of pumpkin bread and a cup of coffee (no room for cream. thanks), when these two women behind me beat up a conversation. And they REALLY beat it up. I sat through the violence trying not to wince. Verbal carnage involving something about a performance and cake and some program and clothing and a new car. I couldn’t stand it any longer. I got up and walked.
Passing a small kiosk in the center of the walkway, two guys tried to sell me perfume. They were both sporting greasy spiked hair and popped collars.
“You want to impress your woman and get her some perfume?” asked the taller one.
“You want to impress me?” I asked as seriously as I could.
“Um… Sure.” he said, a little nervous crack in his voice.
I held eye contact with him and didn’t blink. He gave me a blank expression, signaling that he had no idea what to say to me anymore. My inverted questioning broke his character and left him speechless. I let out a loud belch. The corners of his mouth rose into a smile and then immediately dropped when he realized that the corners of mine didn’t budge.
“Is something funny?” I asked him.
“No. Sorry. I just thought I heard you…”
“Burp?” I finished for him.
I held eye contact and kept a straight face. The smaller guy jumped in front, cutting off my stare, and said something about perfume again.
I changed my persona, “Oh, perfume you say? In that case I’ll take three bottles of your finest.”
The taller one got excited and began blurring his words into a mesh of automated salesmanship, “Well-all-of-these-are-equally-fine-and-we-have-quite-an-excellent-collection-and…”
“Than I’ll take three of your most expensive.” I cut in, saving him breath.
“Yes sir, as you wish,” the confidence returned to his voice. It was obvious that he had just made his sales quota, and the corners of his mouth returned to the upright position along with his hair and collar.
“Box’um up fellas. I’ll be right back. Just need to hit an ATM.” I said.
“There’s one on the first floor of the Dillard’s, but we’re closing in five minutes, so be quick.” the shorter chimed in again.
“Thanks’. Give me a minute, I’ll be right back.” I said, fleeing the scene in the opposite way of the Dillard’s.
People are easy to mess with when they’re trying to sell something. They laps into autopilot, and catching them off guard is a simple task. As long as you act serious they will cater to your every whim.
Why am I at the mall again? Oh yah, dress shoes for Thanksgiving. I need to go to Dillard’s for that – Damn it! I pretend to be interested in some advertisement on the wall in order to make my smooth transition into the opposite direction. Can’t look like I don’t know where I’m going. I pass the perfume stand again and give a polite smile and wave.
“Wrong way.” I say with a shrug, trying not to break from my character.
They smile back and hold up the package that I’m expected to buy: Reminding me that I promised to spend my money on their useless commodity; an act which will subsequently help secure a reason for their job’s existence.
I enter the Dillard’s, purposely avoiding walking under the flower laden arch they have set at the entrance. Shit, more perfume. Entire glass counters of it. Women sit in director-style chairs while employees in blue aprons splash them in these liquid fragrances: Cover them in it: And then make them gargle before swallowing it. I rush past, trying not to breathe-in any air, and walk down the escalator passing the ATM to where the shoes are.
“What can I help you with?” asks a short, pale balding woman. She’s dressed in the official uniform of the Dillard’s militia.
“Nothing. Just looking. Thanks.” I say.
“Ok. Let me know when you need help.” She said. The use of the word “when” made me uncomfortable.
All the shoes looked very stylish – something I’ve grown to hate in clothing. Not only that, but many of them had big brand names and logos on the side. KENNETH COLE – ROCKPORT – SPERRY. Fashion companies make you pay them to become their walking billboards. Most people don’t find a problem with this; which is why I find a problem with most people.
“Are you finding everything alright? Can I help you with what you’re looking for?” It’s the short bald woman again. The combination of bad lighting, monotonous labor, and the smell of leather had obviously affected her short term memory.
“Yah. I’d like to try on this one, this one, this one, and this one in sizes 10 ½, 13 and 8.” I told her, “Shopping for the family. You understand.”
She was busy just long enough for me to finally find the plainest, most bland shoe I could. I grabbed a 10 ½; figuring it would fit. When she came out carrying a stack of 12 boxes, her face getting cut off around the seventh, I told her thanks anyway for the help and I proceeded to the checkout.
Finally, I had what I came for: a pair of shoes for Thanksgiving dinner. Thanksgiving is the time of year that we can all be thankful for what we have – and then flaunt it by eating and throwing away more food than we would on any other day. This is good prep for Christmas. If we weren’t thankful on Thanksgiving than we might have a lot of consumer’s guilt come Christmas. Being thankful for what you have makes room for more stuff. Corporations know this, exploit it, and have plenty of clever ways to make you think it’s not obsessively compulsive to mindlessly buy at certain times of the year – but I digress.
I made it safely through the checkout and left the store. Outside I take a breath of fresh air as if my head was held under water for several minutes. Walking to my car I spot an alley between two parts of the mall and remember that I have to piss. I walk over and look around to make sure no one can see me, place down my bag, and I water the wall. As I shake off and zip up I hear two voices behind me:
“Hey look. It’s the piece-a-shit from earlier”
“Yah. Looks like he took his business elsewhere.”
“Well I ain’t stay’en half-hour past my shift for noth’en”
“I hear that. Best make this worth our wait”
I felt a blow to the head and dropped to the ground. I tried to pick myself up, but a kick to the stomach put me on the pavement again.
“You think you were pretty funny with that burp gimmick, huh?”
Another kick sent my head into the wall and down into the piss.
“Yah. Think you’re funny?”
I felt another kick in the stomach; this one with less force.
“Next time you think you can take advantage of people do’en their job, next time you think you’re any better, you remember this.”
One last kick put me down into my own piss again. I raised my head and regained focus just long enough to see two guys with spiked hair and popped collars walk away with a bag. My bag.