Things got a little hectic this past weekend, so enjoy this tasty encore from 2010.
These are the lame duck days of 2010 and for most of us, they are just a brief and inconvenient pause between Christmas and New Years; the entremets to the double holiday, like the sorbet course before the entrée at a fancy dinner.
Workdays are sort of casual, with many people taking the week off or casually reducing their productivity. It’s hard to get anything done when the office is still awash in holiday cheer, so most workplaces just acknowledge this and let it happen.
Like many people, I had to make a post-Christmas trip to a shopping mall to return a gift. It doesn’t matter which mall really. They are all the same to me, although some are a bit fancier or have a different clientele. Shopping malls are kryptonite to modern man. If they wanted to appeal to men, they’d fill them with woodworking shops, tool stores, driving ranges, horseshoe pits and imported beer kiosks.
As it is, we avoid them at all cost, preferring to buy our clothes and other accessories out of a wire bin in a warehouse store or online, and only then if absolutely necessary. Occasionally though, fate will step in and force modern man to journey into a ten million square foot enclosed shopping atrium to conduct some business—which is how we view this. Women shop, men conduct business and this was what I had to do the other day in what was supposed to be a swift mission to exchange a pair of pajama pants.
Sadly, nothing is ever as simple as it seems.
I’m not sure who designs mall parking lots, but I hope their personal hellish afterlife is filled with narrow traffic lanes that make it all but impossible to angle a vehicle into a parking spot. I suppose that I’m partially to blame for not driving a tiny little subhuman car, but at the very least, clear out a few spots in the north forty for those of us that do need a scootch more room.
Once I did find a spot next to an abandoned drive-up bank outpost, I took a deep breath—the kind normally reserved for a trip to the dentist—and walked inside, past an actual dentist office. For the love of God, who puts a dentist office in a mall?
With one foot inside and barely acclimated to anything; I was nearly crushed by a band of seventy-five year old mall walkers. At least I thought that’s what it was. All I could make out at first was a flurry of pumping arms, tufts of silver hair, dazzlingly white Velcro sneakers and the faint whiff of peppermint.
When I turned to confirm this, I was spun around by another group of them, who were flailing their arms like a windmill in a tornado. They seemed to band together in wide goose-stepping
clutches of four, and nothing could stop their aerobic voyage to heart health. The nights at a mall may belong to the teenagers, but the daytime is clearly being ruled by wandering prides of strolling senior citizens and if you aren’t moving with them, you’re moving against them as they try to outrun the Grim Reaper.
In order to survive this pepperminty assault, I had to make my way to the center of the whirlpool. From there, I could at least look outward and assess my journey. I had to find the Gap and the mall directory was at least fifty yards ahead of me, so this was my short-term goal: Reach the directory and then the Gap. Anything beyond that would require GPS and a suitcase.
With the practiced grace of a Tour de France cyclist, I eased my way into the pack. I’m fifty-six and in pretty good shape and while I was a good fifteen years younger than most of the mall walkers, they were moving along at a pretty healthy clip. I had to step it up a notch to keep up or face being trampled and left behind as mall kill.
As I made my way up the mall, I passed one kiosk after the other, each staffed by what appeared to be immigrants from faraway lands. They have made their way to this country of opportunity with one apparent goal in mind: To set up a tiny kiosk in a suburban New York shopping mall in order to sell covers for cellular telephones.
This must be a forbidden luxury in their homeland, where young men must lay on their cots at night and dream of someday moving to America and making it big in the mobile phone accessories business. “I will send you half of what I earn, Mama!” they’ll cry as they pack their bags with stars in their eyes as big as their dreams.
There must be an entire underground community of these vendors, because it wasn’t long before I passed a man who was flying a hummingbird-sized helicopter around his head while his partner spun a radio-controlled car on its hind wheels.
“This is what America is all about,” I said to myself. “These are the future captains of industry. Somewhere in this crowd of hard-working merchants is the next Andrew Carnegie. Why, the next Gilded Age in American history could be taking root right here, next to the guy who will engrave my face on a beer mug with a laser.” I began to feel the pride of opportunity they must feel as they sit on a wooden stool for eleven straight hours playing video games on a phone.
As I made my way towards the Gap, I walked past a booth that sold “roasries” for bargain-seeking Christians at three for twenty dollars. “The Perfect Gift!” the multiple signs teased, as I settled into my pace with my elderly walking companions.
As I got closer to the store, I held up my arm to signal a right hand turn and bade farewell to my fellow walkers. “We have come far together, my friends. Safe journeys to you all and may the Reaper always be at your heels—except for Peggy over there. She looks ornery.”
Once I was in the relative calm of the store, I noticed large posters of pouty young people from TV shows I don’t watch. I looked nothing like them, even when I was young and pouty. I then looked around for someone to talk with about my exchange. They had rearranged the store since I was last here, with women’s clothing now in the front and men’s in the back. I was instantly lost until a smart looking Gap employee asked if she could help. A disoriented old guy with a crumpled bag in his hand means a return to the trained retail eye.
“Hi, do you want the whole story, or can I just swap this for something else?” I asked.
I wasn’t sure about the protocol. My wife says I never return stuff, and this is true. As much as I hate buying something from a store, regurgitating it later is even worse. I probably have several bags of unworn, ill-fitting sweaters crammed under the bed.
The young woman who approached me seemed as if she had a lot on the ball. There was a part of me that thought she just might be the one who would get on the phone to Gap corporate, and tell them that this is what is going on out here, and they had better get on a jet and fly over to Vietnam or wherever the kid-powered factory is that makes this stuff, and give them a what for. I decided to tell her the whole story.
“Well, my wife got these PJ pants for me, and the size is off. I have three other pairs of Gap pajama pants that are also “large” and they are all bigger and longer. These fit me like a pair of flannel Capri pants, which is not a handsome look for a fifty-six year old man who isn’t a ballet dancer.”
She nodded and pointed me towards the nearly empty rack of pajama pants. “Those were popular for Christmas,” she said as she looked at the meager selection.
I found a pair that looked OK and they seemed longer than the pair I was returning, but I didn’t try them on. Who tries on pajamas? I simply held them up against my legs and estimated. I just wanted to swap those for these, which involved an uncanny amount of paperwork for what amounted to taking one thing out of a bag and putting another, identical thing back in the same bag. They take their inventory control very seriously at Gap Inc. We then exchanged pleasantries and I left the store.
When I took them home, my wife had one look at them and thought they looked small. Later that night, I tried them on and she was right. I now had a pair of pajama leggings, which is not something I would normally wear without a large caliber gun pointed at my head. When I looked in the mirror, I was Laura Petrie on her way to the ski lodge.
“What the hell? I said. “Do they make these things in Lilliput? What size do I have to buy to get an actual large?”
The next day, I took them back. Again.
“Would you like to exchange them for another pair?” Gap girl asked.
“No, I don’t think my masculinity can take another pair of Gap dance tights. I’d just like to return them and get my money back,” I said woefully as I handed her the pajamas and the receipt.
“Great. You came prepared! Can I see your ID?” she chirped.
The last thing I wanted to be was one of those cranky customers that will cavil about the return policy, but the item still had the price tags attached and I had the receipt. Why did I need to show ID? Are there terrorists returning explosive clothing to department stores?
“Well, our policy is to issue a store credit that looks like a check, but it can only be used by you, so you can’t give it to anyone, not even your wife, and you can only use it, like ever, if you show proper ID and only in a GAP store. 🙂“
I had to insert the 🙂 because all the while she was telling me this nonsensical and convoluted load of donkey crap, she was smiling an adorably sincere smile that somehow crippled all of my common sense.
“Oh, OK, thank you,” was all I could say. I said this as if she was doing me a huge favor by just about sending me through an airport scanner in order to return a pair of pajama pants. It was probably easier to ship them over here from Vietnam than to return them and get my $14.00 back.
I left the store and made my way over to the left lane to avoid being trampled by a herd of ambling seventy-five year old women in fleece sweatpants and Christmas sweatshirts, and then I headed off to Macy’s. I was determined to have a new pair of PJ pants for the holiday season.
I soon passed a woman at a booth that appeared to be shooting a spider web out of her mouth. Upon closer inspection, she had the middle of a thin thread between her teeth while her hands held the ends of the string. She was feverishly (and I presume with good consent) ripping individual eyebrow hairs off of another woman. “What manner of Earthly hell is this?” I thought to myself.
I had to stop and watch for a few minutes, since I had never seen such a thing. Apparently women in America would have caterpillar-like eyebrows if they didn’t remove them in some fashion and shape them into a quizzical arch. Oddly enough, it seems like the best way to do this is to have an Indian woman rip them out of your face with a string. It wasn’t lost on me one bit that this woman’s own eyebrows were so hedge like, they made her look like a cross between Andy Rooney and a hoot owl.
I finally found Macy’s and a pair of PJ bottoms in a proper size large (and on sale) and made my way back to my truck. On the way, I passed the roasrie guy again, who was now talking intently on the phone. I imagined he was talking to the We Stock Vast Cases Of Defective Stuff distribution center, trying to expand his wares to include Bibbles, prayer candels, minimoras, crusafixers and other misspelled religious paraphernalia.
I walked past the intoxicating smell of the soft pretzel place and a display of vibrating reclining chairs as I made my way back to the exit, which was through Barnes & Noble. For some odd reason, I set off the security buzzer as soon as I crossed the threshold. I have no idea why I occasionally set off security buzzers, but nobody has ever stopped me to question it. I picked up a cup of coffee at the bookstore café, and found my way back to where I had parked.
When I got home, I tried on my new PJ’s for my wife, who said they looked like golf pants, and to that I say mission accomplished. All in all, it was an eventful journey, not unlike a lot of journeys in that it was filled with nice people, interesting things to see, exotic foods and garish souvenir stands. In fact, I plan on going back in a few days to pick up another pair of PJ bottoms and a matching robe. The robe is marked down from $49.50 to $16.00. I’m not much of a robe person but for that price, I can afford to be swanky.
©Rick Garvia 2013. This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Electronic or print reproduction, adaptation, or distribution without permission is prohibited.