January 29, 2007

The Mall

The other day I did something that I hadn’t done in a long time, and was quickly reminded why I hadn’t done it in a long time. Let me tell you …

My dad’s birthday was coming up and of course he’s at that age where he doesn’t really need anything, and the only thing he wants is to be with his family for the day. I was stumped as to what to give him. Finally it dawned on me. Make him a gift! I decided to give him a t-shirt with an iron-on transfer of a design that he would simply go nuts for. Finding the image was easy. Finding the iron-on transfer paper was easy. Now, to find the t-shirt.

I was advised by Boyfriend to stop by the local mall and shop for a t-shirt. “There are tons of stores there,” he informed me, “and lots of them probably have plain t-shirts in different colors.” OK, I decided to take him up on his advice and take a trip to the mall. Oh. My. God. How much do I hate the mall.

I thought I’d go to Sears first. If Sears didn’t have a selection of plain t-shirts, no one probably would. As I walked through the store it got a feeling of nausea and pity all at the same time. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for anyone who would go to that store to buy, say, perfume. But there it was, perfume for sale. The clothes in the women’s department were gaudy or housefrau-like. The only areas in the store that didn’t make me break out in hives was the appliance section and the tools section. I ignored the spit-up in my mouth and looked for t-shirts in the mens department. Nothing.

Then I went to Old Navy. Old Navy will have something, I thought. The spit-up I swallowed in Sears suddenly reentered my mouth when I started looking around the store. Everything for sale in that store was made in really obscure countries, some I had never even heard of. Cool and hip, perhaps, but I wasn’t about to support sweatshops on the other side of the world.

Most of the stores at the mall are targeting the younger crowd, of course. So young, in fact, that I was too embarrassed to even go in and look around. One time a while ago I went into Spencer Gifts to see if I could find anything for my early-teen nephew, and the sales staff and customers looked at me as though I had lost my mind for even stepping across the threshold, much less walking clear to the back of the store. I remember shopping in Spencer Gifts when I was a teenager, but don’t remember it being so stupid. Either the store has changed drastically or I have. Maybe we both have. Anyway, my point is that I wasn’t about to waste my time on the stupidity of a clothing store targeting the angsty teen market, or the cliquey teen market, which stores occupy 85% of the entire mall.

I went into Macy’s. Nothing. Kohl’s had t-shirts. Plain black, white, and gray t-shirts. Hooray! Except wait, they have a breast pocket. Not good for an iron-on.

By that time, not only are the stores bothering the hell out of me by not having what I want, the so-called shoppers were pissing me off too. Of course most of them aren’t really shopping. It was those angsty and cliquey teenagers loitering, socializing, having their meaningless teenager lives right in front of me. I wanted to tell them all get the hell out of my way, I’m on a mission, but I knew they’d never understand. To them I was one of those old people who actually bought stuff at the mall. Except this time I was empty handed, and my patience was growing very thin. All I want is a stupid plain t-shirt, I thought. Why do I have to look at boys who can’t keep their pants above their butts and girls who think muffin tops are about the sexiest thing going? Why do I have to dodge the couple of teens who decide to stop dead in their tracks to make out in the middle of the walkway? I couldn’t stand it. I was hot and tired. I was angry and anxious.

As a last resort I went into J.C. Penney. Praise the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, they had plain, gray t-shirts. No pockets. Heavy cotton. Extra large. Exactly what I needed. I snatched up the package of two, paid for it, and ran like to wind into the dark winter night.

I hate the mall. I hate that mall in particular. That evening I kept telling Boyfriend how glad I was to be home.

As for my dad’s birthday present – I made it and it turned out beautifully. He was genuinely touched to tears. Making an old guy cry out of nostalgia, passion, and playfulness (all the things the t-shirt image represented to him) made my hellish trip to the mall worthwhile ... I think.

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