It’s an odd mixture of hipsters and strippers at this new mall, sprinkled liberally with saggy-pantsed gangstas, rich white ladies, and classic four-piece nuclear families.
Is he old enough to drive? I can’t tell anymore. Maybe his mother dropped him off. But no, she was waiting for him on a nearby bench while he bought cookies to cram in his mouth by the handful. He brushes the crumbs from his fingers onto his shorts and helps her carry the Dillard’s bags.
He’s mall walking age, but the three piece suit tells me that’s not what he’s here for, as does his pose, leaning against the ladies wear storefront. His daughter comes out of the store, bag in hand, and they set off together. Perhaps she chose the flower for his lapel.
Rhinestones sparkle from her neck and wrists, and the clear acrylic platform heels click against the floor tiles as she rapidly walks by, holding a loud conversation via speakerphone. Oh no, honey, she got to get her hair did.
She drags two school aged children along behind her, scolding them each time they pause to explore some shiny distraction. She’s in a hurry; she has to be out of here by eight, she keeps repeating, whether to herself or to passersby or to me, I’m unsure. The children plead for escape with their eyes.
He sits next to his expensive girlfriend, texting on his expensive phone and wearing his expensive shoes. She talks without pause for breath, gesturing broadly with both hands. He continues to text, ignoring her.
Black button up shirt, black bow tie,black slacks that stop just shy of his ankle bone, black socks, polished black shoes. His face is stern and his beard neatly trimmed and sharply outlined. He stares straight ahead, no matter who he passes.
He looks her up and down as they pass each other, licking his lips before he loses himself in his phone again, She is oblivious to his lasciviousness, bags bumping her leg with every step she takes.
His stride is an easy stroll. The metal cane he carries may be an affectation, something he uses because of his calendar age and not because of necessity. He doesn’t seem to be leaning on it for support or balance. His head swivels back and forth, back and forth as he walks, peering into each and every store.
She clasps her wallet tightly against her chest as though the slightest release of pressure will cause it to leap from her arms and into a stranger’s. She wears running shorts and tennis shoes, but that wallet is too large for her to have been exercising while carting it along.
Mother and child, carrying lunch. Mother holds the bag of food and her large styrofoam cup. Daughter struggles to keep up with both chubby arms wrapped around her own small styrofoam cup. Short legs begin to fail, and mother now holds food, cup, and daughter.
Sweatpants, sweatshirt, hoodie–and flip flops. His thumbs flash across the face of his phone as I wonder what weather he dressed himself for today.
Y’all. I worked 3.75 hours today (my second favorite shift after 3.25 hours) and I dealt with all these people.
- The girl who looked in the case of keychains, money clips, and card cases and then turned to ask me if we sell any rings we can engrave on. We do not, because we can’t engrave on rings. She asked me why not. This is the response I get every. Single. Time. So I told her the same answer I always give: because the engraver is not equipped for it. Put that in your pipe and smoke it. It irritates me to no end when people argue with me when I tell them what we can and cannot engrave. Your ring? Nope. Your $600 watch? Nope. Your $20 watch that you won’t open up the band or remove the back? Nope. Your giant plastic souvenir wrestling champion belt? Nope. And yes, I’ve been asked that.
- The lady who wanted a contact number for the hair straightener kiosk next door. I do not have one, nor would I give it out to a random shopper even if I did. You’re the one who spent way too much money on a no-name hair straightener from some good-looking smooth-talker at a mall kiosk, you figure it out. She got pretty upset that I didn’t have a phone number. Bet she didn’t even save her receipt.
- The old lady who called to ask how long it would take to get something engraved. People, unless you are walking towards me while you’re on the phone, I could have a fifty-piece order between now and the time you decide to show up. All I can give you on the phone is a rough estimate, which is, it depends what you get and what you want engraved on it, but usually same day. So she asked if I came right now, how long would it take? There’s about a two hour difference between one word on a plate and four different monograms on a set of red wine glasses. I told her an hour, and she said she would be there in a few minutes. When I left two hours later, she hadn’t shown up yet.
- The guy who keeps calling for my super-part-time coworker. I’ve talked to him four times this week. But at least today he identified himself and didn’t badger me with questions about when she’ll be in, which I won’t answer.
- The man looking for a flask. He may have a memory problem. He’s stopped three times in the past two months while I’ve been at work to look at flasks. He’s always forgotten his glasses, and asks if the same one is stainless steel and how many ounces it holds. Yes it’s stainless steel, but I have to look up the volume. He always argues that it should be stamped on the bottom. It’s not, on the one that he likes. He always gets excited about the price of the flask but leaves without a word when I tell him the price for engraving.
- The woman whose husband told her there was a Scentsy store in the mall. Now, I’m pretty sure we had a kiosk last Christmas, but other than that, no. But I don’t know. So I told her I don’t know. I don’t know why she got mad at me because I don’t know. So that’s now two things I don’t know, withing two minutes.
- The woman who asked me why this mall doesn’t have an Abercrombie. Now, nearly all of you have never met me, but if you’ve seen my Instagram feed on the right there, you could probably guess that I do not frequent Abercrombie. Possibly because it’s not my style, but mostly because their clothes would not fit me. Also, I work in a kiosk. I do not have a backdoor on the ins and outs of mall management’s tenant plan.
New assistant manager starts next week, fingers crossed.
The scowl on his face would say hit man in a movie; here, he’s simply old and tired. The department store bag he carries swings softly at his side. His tennis shoes are falling apart.
His tan, his swagger, the fall of hair in front of his face: they all scream River Phoenix. Does this kid even know who River Phoenix is? Probably not. He knocks a shoe from the display and briefly juggles it before it gets away from him and hits the floor. He sheepishly replaces it, and I look away to save him embarrassment.
She hangs on his arm, letting him swipe his card at store after store. She wears sequins and lipgloss; he wears scrubs and bags beneath his eyes. Their footsteps stay in sync, the bags swinging from her hand and his hand in unison.
From the look on her face, the size of that coffee in her hand is not nearly large enough. From the speed of her walk, the comfort level of those shoes on her feet is not nearly high enough. From the longing in her eyes at the shop windows, the amount of money in her wallet is not nearly enough.
He dresses like a hipster, but his grandchildren are old enough to be hipsters. I’m proud of you, grandpa. Age shouldn’t dictate fashion. Personality should. Good on you.
He’s very tall; I imagine him hitting his head on door frames and ceiling beams–at least, when he was a younger man with straighter posture. His voice is warm and thick and soothing: and auditory bath in caramel sauce. Square, even white teeth smile at me. Talking to him makes me miss my grandfather.
He smiles at the world as he walks by; none of the shitstorm of life touches him. I see him every day I work. He’s always the same–big, bright, beaming smile for everyone else. I wonder if he cries at night.
I hear him making empty promises even though he failed to show up today. I don’t know how many days his kiosk has been left untarped, the TV he was so proud to play demo DVDs on looping through the sales pitch over and over and over again. Do you have back problems? Trust me, I’m a doctor. He isn’t a doctor. Trust me.
Her mouth moves steadily as she walks by, one hand holding the department store bag high aloft, the other waving aimlessly at her medium length blonde hair, freshly pressed at the salon. She could be counting steps, or she could be practicing a lecture, or she could be tasting the excuses she’ll give her husband for maxing out the credit card yet again.
The baby in the stroller chirps like a bird as her mother pushes ever onward towards the food court. The salvation of dinner is at hand.
Long sleeves, leggings, knee boots: she carries an umbrella hooked over her arm as she walks across the squares of bright sunshine that come in the skylights. Her expression says determination, but her gait screams fatigue.
His left hand clasps the waistband of his jeans. His belt is caught on the lower curve of his buttocks and refuses to let the pants rise any higher. At least his navy shirt matches his navy briefs.
She walks slowly, eyes searching, searching for something happy and far away. The bag of goodies barely swings at her side. Her skin is clear and smooth as an unpopulated lake on a windless day.
Her arms are folded, and her mouth is smug. She know that she is right and everyone else is wrong. The snap in her tone as she speaks to her companion is confirmation enough.
The tail of his shirt is not quite long enough to conceal his carry, but he strides on, confident in the self-protection his ability can provide him. Or is it as-yet untested; will he freeze up or drop his weapon as he fumbles through his first opportunity to brandish it? May he never know.