Sunday, May 2, 2010

Mall Rat

Beav had a Young Life thing to go today in Stepford so I took myself to Stepford Mall. I was really excited about going, too. To begin with it was a great excuse to NOT finish the laundry or clean the house or go to the gym. But it also felt like some sort of event. And it‘s not like I‘ve been sitting at home staring into space for the last week or so. Or shoveling coal in the mines. We spent a week in Texas looking at all sorts of wonderful things. And my return to work didn‘t make me want to hack up a lung or gouge my eyes out so I couldn‘t work ever again. I’m no stranger to the mall, I was there a couple of weeks ago buying something to wear for my stepmother and father’s party in Texas. And I can’t make some claim I don’t like going to the mall so I don’t shop. Wow! I can’t imagine the email Dad would send fact checking that statement. One would have thought my fourth hour class, senior year was held at the local mall. I enjoy shopping most of the time and I had such an air of expectation today because I was buying things for other people--not my kids people either--versus the painful process of trying to buy myself clothes. Once upon a time I was skinny and now I’m all doughy and middle-aged and frankly bordering on fat so buying clothes isn’t fun anymore. Besides that, all the sudden the clothes at places like Express or The Limited look trampy and the ensembles at Talbot’s are looking good. Today, a wave of depression swept over me seconds after I said: “ohhhhh I like that green dress” in the direction of a Talbot’s window display. I think this makes me officially old. I might as well get out the polyester pant suits, buy three packs of high waisted gramma panties and call myself done, right? Thank goodness Anthropologie has some cute things--palate cleansers as it were--that weren’t too precious or young and would look ok on an almost fifty year old. If the almost fifty year old weren’t bordering on fat. If the almost fifty year old could justify spending $158 on a cotton picque dress. If this almost fifty year old didn’t need to buy a silk sleep sack, waterproof walking shoes and a camera bag. I know that adorable little dress, which reminds me of something my mom would have have worn ro a barbeque in 1968, won’t keep the bed bugs off of me, protect my toes from ancient rocks, or allow me to easily access my camera in SE Asia next month. Two things I hate about being a grown up: the ability to prioritize needs and a sense of fiscal responsibility. Twenty five years ago? I would have bought the silly dress and limped through a trip with stubbed toes, prayed we didn’t have bed bugs in our hotel room and dined on ramen this week so I could have that dress.

This afternoon, I assumed the rest of the world is on a spending diet so it was an ugly surprise the parking lot looked like the day after Christmas. What the heck? There’s a recession on! Greece and Portugal just killed our stock market; we are engaged in two wars and Iran is acting goofy! Gas is about to go through the roof after a big accident off the Gulf coast! Why were so many people shopping? Maybe the weather? It’s May 2nd and we are still in sweaters and jackets with a threat of snow hanging over us, folks aren‘t working in the yard but pining after Ed Hardy shirts and shorts? I had plenty of time to think about all of this as I circled and circled and circled trying to find a place to park. I was thinking about the recession as I trekked towards the mall and remembered something my nephew (here after referred to as The Secret Squirrel) said about the economy: “When people stop buying all this useless shit they don’t need…that’s a depression.” The Secret Squirrel hit that right. But I did notice most people walking to their cars weren’t groaning under the burden of packages. While I’m hiking in from the back forty and spinning thoughts about Greece, junk bonds and the recession a young couple walked towards me. She was crying and hanging onto their toddler; he had a pained and defeated expression on his face, his body tense with anger, fists clenched as he swung his arms while he walked in long deliberate strides: “We are flat broke, that’s why we can’t do it. Broke. I don’t know what I can do to make you understand this. . .” They were dressed in modest and nondescript clothing and they didn’t have any packages or bags except a small Hallmark sack and it swung back and forth, a mocking and falsely cheerful footnote to their conversation. At first his tone and body language scared me but there was an air of reserve about him which told me he wouldn‘t hurt his wife and child. He wasn’t a big man but he had the bearing of someone in the military, muscular and cropped hair. I felt crushed inside: what if he was one of the many veterans who couldn’t find a job…Why the hell were they at the mall to begin with it they were so broke…Why are they so broke..Does one of them have a problem with compulsive spending…What did she want to buy? Was it for their baby?…They better not be buying Mother’s Day gifts because their mothers’ need to help them… Was she going to be safe in the car and at home with him?…My gut told me he wasn’t an abusive man but a man who was upset he couldn’t give his family all they wanted. My impressions and thoughts morphed into silent tears which spilled down my cheeks.

I had to sit on a bench before I started shopping so I could collect myself and have my daily menopausal weep. The young man’s desperate pain was not a foreign emotion for me; a knot of remembrance settled into my stomach and because I can’t turn the caregiver thing off, I wanted to rush after them, cramming all the cash I had on me into her hand; mumbling something about knowing what it‘s like to be “flat broke“. But I didn’t do it because the second after the impulse occurred to me, such an action felt incrediblely intrusive and ultimately embarrassing. So I opted for the Wayne Dyer solution: stopped what I was doing (except for the weeping) and imagined them both surrounded by a healing white light and then I prayed for grace and then I offered up one of those beggy Santa prayers: “Please God I don’t need a thing: give those kids everything they need and then some. Anything extra you had for me: send it their way. I have plenty.” I’m glad I didn’t force money on them because God can give them way more than the measly forty bucks I had in my wallet.

After I told God thanks for letting me treat him like Cosmic Santa, I dried my eyes and continued with my little shopping expedition: Borders (prezzie), Vickies (prezzies), Nordy’s (lippy for me) and Anthro (just for a peek, cuz I had extra time) But in each store I saw other people like those kids, while they weren’t arguing with one another they seemed a little tortured by those things they couldn’t have and going through the motions of enjoying the beautiful and amazing things at The Mall. The majority of the shoppers were joyless (except for the folks in the Apple Store). A few wore lost, vacant looks as they stumbled along their way. Brain’s numb from the excess of our world and the lifestyles of the White Suburban Middle-Class. In hindsight, it probably wasn’t my fiscal responsibility that kept me from buying an overpriced dress I don’t need but the sad and lost people cruising the mall on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

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