A couple of weeks ago I had an idea. Okay, so that’s nothing to write home about, I know, but this wasn’t just any idea. This was the kind of idea that makes one call one’s wife up from work and tell her to get on a train. And no, I’m not talking about a train out of town, either, wise guy – I’m talking about having her actually come to me. It was that kind of an idea. It came out of nowhere, changing my mood from so-so to amazing in the blink of an eye and setting my heart a’beatin’. And if, when dialing my wife’s cell number, I wasn’t actually quivering with childlike excitement, it would not be too much to say that was filled to the gills with the stuff.
“Honey, I have an idea,” I said, and these next words were like pure joy: “Drop what you’re doing. We’re going to the mall.”
The mall. My wife, Lizzy, has never been one for malls. Her indifference and occasional aversion to the world of mass indoor retail defies some stereotypes, sure, but perhaps I’m the real anomaly here. I don’t just enjoy malls. I love them, and as we all know, guys aren’t supposed to do that. We’re supposed to look upon malls as we would a trip to the proctologist, or, even worse, to our first hypno-birthing class. Well not me. And no, I’m not gay (why would you even think that?), but then I’ve never really fit in with all the typical straight-guy stereotypes anyway: I like sports but hate competitive machismo. I like going to the gym but can’t stand the sweaty tank-topped guys there, grunting violently and lugging comically large containers of water from bench to bench (I’ve started seeing them with whole gallon jugs, and really now, that’s just silly). I love cooking, decorating the house and hosting dinner parties. Hell, I often find myself up alone in the middle of the night, drinking Skyy vodka and listening to Rufus Wainwright through my headphones while my wife is asleep in the next room.
Okay, so that last one is pretty gay. But how am I to explain an otherwise straight guy loving the mall? I hardly ever actually buy much when I’m there, but am instead content to wander from store to store, browsing products I never plan on purchasing, and watching people I’d never want to interact with, all while being bombarded with music I can’t stand. Perhaps this inclination is an old vestige of my youth, of teen years spent roaming the Pheasant Lane Mall in Nashua, NH where my friends and I would stalk girls, deliberately annoy and embarrass adults (the timeless “sneezing swear words” trick is a hoot, isn’t it?), and otherwise make asses of ourselves. Twenty years later things are of course different; I never follow girls into stores and only occasionally swear loudly at strangers, but still I wonder. Why do I find this environment entertaining?
Perhaps I should clarify: I do occasionally buy things. There’s always some ghastly birthday card to be bought, some votives that only Yankee Candle can supply, and let’s face it, that Express card isn’t going to max itself out, is it? And don’t forget the bookstore, where I’ve been known to loiter for hours around the Photography section (it’s not porn if it’s in black and white, right?), only to move on to Cooking (Hello, Nigella Lawson!) before finally taking home some random hardcover. And while the content of said New Release would most likely be of no discernible interest to me, you can bet your ass the cover art would be really, really cool.
Plus, let’s not forget the dining – well, maybe dining isn’t quite the right word for it. There’s “dining” and there’s just plain eating. The difference? Well, if you’re doing it under a big neon sign that reads FOOD COURT, then chances are you’re just eating. And if you’ve seen some of the regular mall denizens waddling around with their equally rotund brood in tow, then you know that there’s a whole lotta’ eatin’ going on. But that, too, is only part of it.
I remember a time about eight years ago, when I was living a bit west of Boston (“a bit” being about 50 miles) in a small, $300 dollar-a-month studio apartment. Suffice to say I lived alone, and suffice to say that by “alone” I mean with my cat. Her name, not that it should matter, was Egg Sandwich. Well then, as now, I loved to go to the grocery store almost every day to gather ingredients for dinner. My fridge was only a bit bigger than those dorm-sized ones, so I wouldn’t have been able to buy more than a couple of day’s worth of groceries, but I probably would have shopped daily anyway.
Anyway this one afternoon I found myself at Market Basket wandering the aisles. Up and down I zigzagged, basket in hand, waiting for the right product to jump out at me. Nothing, however, inspired me. What did I want for dinner? What hadn’t I had in a while? What did I need?
After almost a half-hour it hit me: I didn’t need a thing. I had no desire to buy anything there. I didn’t care about dinner that night; in fact, I wasn’t even hungry. I just liked to hang around the grocery store because I WAS A LOSER WITH NO FRIENDS. And that, in nutshell, is most likely why I like to go to the mall, and it’s the oldest reason there is: I have nothing better to do. Being married surely doesn’t change that, nor does being a father. And neither do the dozens of attractive, intelligent, witty and well-employed friends currently beating a path to my door just to say hi. Well, that is, they wouldn’t if they existed.
Which, I guess, they don’t.
Sigh. Now where are my keys…