Before I even got inside, the streetlights casting an eerie gloom across the silent, near-vacant parking lot, the wind blew a stray soda can right in front of me, like a modern-day tumbleweed in some forgotten Western ghost town. For some reason, this struck me as spooky. The whole thing seemed very much like entering the suspenseful portion of a crime novel.
I entered the mall proper, and not seeing anyone at first, wondered if it was later than I realized, and already closed. The common area of the mall is open weird hours (I have seen people in sweatpants power-walking at all hours of the day or night; strange in its own right, but what are you going to do?) Generally, though, the shops are pretty much only open 9 to 9.
I checked my watch, and it was only 8 o’clock. The lights were all on. I decided to proceed.
I wasn’t there for any specific purpose, just bored, so I didn’t have any particular destination in mind. I just started walking.
And for quite some time, it was just me. A lone wolf. Window shopping.
I finally did see people, but they were only shop owners, and they were a sad sight to see. As a group, I have never seen a more desperate, forlorn looking bunch. And I couldn’t help but wonder why this would be. This is what I came up with.
I think a lot of people associate The American Mall with American Dreams. Malls are often portrayed in movies and television as fun and happy and always bustling. I think this gives people the impression that if they can just scrape together enough cash to get a spot in one of these last booming meccas of domestic commerce, they will be set for life. But based on what I saw the other night, no dice.
It’s almost like I could read this on the faces of the proprietors. Like they could see their dreams sifting through their fingers like so much sand. I felt sorry for them, and almost wanted to say:
– To the owner of “Click, Click Camera Shoppe,” no one is going to roll in at 8 p.m. on a chilly February school night to purchase photographic paper. It’s all digital now. No one even prints real photos off. I don’t like it any better than you do, but you just need to pack it up.
– To the owner of the last existing mall record shop on the planet, nobody is coming in to buy Jason Derulo’s debut album because everyone that wanted it downloaded it from i-tunes within seconds of its release. Don’t get me wrong, I love music stores, and have many fond memories of them, but you’re a dying breed for a reason.
– To the General Manager of Saks 5th Avenue, I don’t know if you heard, but we are in the middle of a quasi-depression right now. No one is just going to casually stroll in off the street and buy a $10,000 mink coat. You might as well call it a night.
– And finally, to the intensely bored-looking teenage girl pretending to read Crime and Punishment behind the “Dippin’ Dots” kiosk, I know you don’t own this franchise, and it’s just a job, but (1) no one wants sub-40 ice cream when it feels like sub-40 outside, and (2) Dippin’ Dots were invented in like 1988; at some point, you’re going to have to drop the “ice cream of the future” tag-line.
I found the whole thing depressing, and it was doing nothing for my boredom, so I decided to make a break for it. Regrettably, the Dippin’ Dots kiosk is near the Dead Sea Spa kiosk, and in case you’ve never had the displeasure of making eye contact with one of these Doberman Pinschers, they are relentless.
“Can I ask you question?” this middle-aged, heavily cologned guy asks me in heavy accent.
“No thanks, I’m cool,” I answered. Which was my first mistake. You never even let these guys look you in the eye, much less respond to a direct question.
“What this mean, you ‘cool’? You have girlfriend?” he asked.
“Something like that,” I unwisely responded, allowing him to engage me even further.
“Let me show you something,” he said. And he grabbed my hand, leading me closer to the kiosk, and proceeded to talk, still in heavy accent, at about 100 miles per hour, as he buffed my nails, rubbed lotion on my arms, pushed back my cuticles, and who knows what else? It was all a blur.
Then came the hard sell.
“I give you all these product, buffers, cream, lotion, tool, $40.”
“Sorry,” I said. “I don’t have it?”
“What this mean, you ‘don’t have it?'” he asked, seeming genuinely baffled.
“I don’t have $40,” I said.
“Okay, okay, okay,” he said, “I make you deal. $40 for two. Two packages, $40.”
“I just told you I don’t have $40,” I said.
“Okay, okay, okay, $30. $30 for two,” he said.
“No, sorry. I don’t have $30,” I said, never mind the fact that I had no desire to own this product.
“Okay,” he said. “Come here. Let me whisper you something. This deal just for you. Are you ready?” And he actually leaned in. And whispered.
“$20,” he whispered. “$20 for two. Great deal, no? Just this time, just for you.” And he seemed very pleased with himself.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I don’t have $20.” And at this point he seemed genuinely exasperated.
“How much you have?” he asked.
“Nothing,” I said, truthfully. I never have cash.
He thought about that for a second, then stated “but you have credit card.” And that was true, he had me there. And I left that deserted mall with not one, but two packages of I’m not really sure what. For all I know, I may be rubbing dead sea urchin guts on my face every night. But I have to hand it to the guy, it was a good pitch.
Maybe the American dream isn’t dead after all. Maybe you just have to be a little bit more persistent.