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Crawl Through the Mall

My new-as-of-January job is in an office building in Cambridge, just a quick jog over the bridge from Boston.

(Or a short swim under it, I guess, if you're the backstroking type.

Me, I'd stay out of the Charles River. That thing used to be like the Futurama sewers. And I don't need any grossly mutated fish wriggling their way into my trunks, thanks. When there's a chance of "shrinkage", fourteen eyes are way worse than none.)

Also close by the office is a shopping mall and underground garage, where the company has graciously provided me a pass for parking.

The only way out of this garage is through the mall, which is an interesting experience for me. I've spent most of my adult life avoiding shopping malls like the plague. When I absolutely, positively have to go to a mall -- on Christmas Eve, say, or an hour before an anniversary dinner reservation with the missus -- I do my own rendition of the Hokey Shoppy Pokey:

You get the hell in.
You get the hell out.
You buy a card or some gadget,
And you don't mess the hell about.

There's nothing about malls I enjoy. They're crowded. They're loud. There's Muzak and children and kiosks full of schlocky crap I don't really want to know existed, much less want to buy.

"I'm willing to 'window shop' in exactly two places: the Harvey Vinyl Double-Glass Home Emporium, and the Red Light District in Amsterdam."

(Seriously? "Kiss Me, I'm Albanian" in silver glitter on a halter top? Since when are Eastern European prostitutes moving to New Jersey and shopping in Massachusetts?)

What's more, I don't especially like buying things. And I absolutely don't like "shopping" for things -- which, according to my wife, involves a lot of looking and walking around and trying things on and fondling various bits of merchandise without necessarily making any purchases. That does zero for me. I'm willing to "window shop" in exactly two places: the Harvey Vinyl Double-Glass Home Emporium, and the Red Light District in Amsterdam. Other than that, sayonara, shoppers.

So this parking-in-a-mall thing is a little slice of weekdaily hell for me. It's not so unbearable in the morning -- I'm generally there before the mall opens, so the only buzzing throng of goofballs is packed into the Starbucks. The suits descend on the joint and screech at each other like it was some kind of Armani birdfeeder. But it's just one shop. I try to distract myself with sexy mannequins until I'm safely by.

(Which doesn't always work. The problem with sexy mannequins before opening hours is that they're often being rearranged, stripped down, disassembled or otherwise uncombobulated. There are clothes and parts and torsos all over.

I can stretch a little in my inner fantasy world. But Victoria's Secret: SVU is going too far. Stupid malls.)

The evenings are the real gauntlets, of course. I usually leave the office between six and eight pm -- prime shoppah time for the suburbanite crowd. And their kids. And the teens. And the old folks. And, apparently, the glitter-loving Albanian barely-legal tramp stamp crowd. Who knew they existed? The mall knew; that's who.

I assumed that navigating the hordes of zombie-eyed consumers would be the low point of getting back to my car. But no. There's also the crippling social rejection. That's a nice little end-of-the-day bonus. Like a mint on a hotel pillow. Or a nighty-night kick in the nuts.

The ostracism comes courtesy of a particular dead-eyed overmade girl who works one of the kiosks on the main floor. I pass her every day as she scans the throngs of passersby for victims. She wields some sort of skin care cream or paste or gravy -- I've never gotten a good look at it, but I'll sometimes see her slathering it onto some man's or woman's cheek as she coos in a soft accent about hydrolyzing moisturizers and essential oils.

Once, I got close enough to glimpse the tag on her collar. Her name was 'Matilda'.

Or maybe it was 'Magda'. 'Margalena'? 'Muffelata'? I don't know. Something vaguely exotic and fitting her over-glammed persona.

(Come to think of it, maybe she's the one buying those glitter tops. Frankly, it would explain an awful lot.)

And the reason I've never seen or heard myself about the product she hawks? Because fancy Matilda won't even look at me.

Actually, that's not technically true. She's never looked me in the eye. But she's seen some part of me. Her customer-dar seems to pick prospective slatherees up by their shoes, or maybe their knees. Some people, she'll look them the rest of the way up, unleash her blinding teeth, and offer sweetly to cream their face.

(The first face creaming is always on the house, of course. That's how they get you.)

With me, she never reaches the face. I'll watch her start to look me up, and then she stops. Maybe she doesn't like the look of my belt, or the angle of my knees, or my shirt's not tucked in enough to be "cream-worthy". Whatever it is, she'll blink, turn her head, and scout out the next walker down the line.

And let's be clear. I'm not interested in being glopped with Matilda's anti-aging cheek gravy, or whatever the hell it is. I'm quite content to wrinkle and pucker at a steadily accelerating pace, until I resemble the prunypussed Mister Magoo befitting my advanced age.

I'm just saying -- it would be nice to be asked. Just once. Then I can go back to bring the ugly-kneed ghetto-belt untucked heathen clearly not worth slathering beauty product onto. But every once in a while, even a guy like me would like to feel creamworthy.

Is that so much to ask, glittery Matilda? Slink that tube of goop over my way, lady. I promise not to take it. Let's just go through the motions, at least once. We need something. Otherwise, we're just hanging in a mall. Seriously, a mall. Jeez.

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