Mall of the living dead

Kevin Cowherd

December 18, 1992|By Kevin Cowherd

Journal of a Christmas shopping trip:

11:30 a.m. -- Arrive at mall. Chaos. Parking lot looks like something from "The Road Warrior." All that's missing are the smoldering Humvees and a few corpses dumped on the side of the road. Thuggish woman in a Ford Taurus cuts me off and zips into handicapped parking space. She leaps out and practically sprints to the entrance.

Way to go, sweetie. Why should the people in wheelchairs hog all the good parking spots, right? Peace on Earth, good will toward men . . .

11:40 -- All I can say is, what recession? They're even three deep in the Hickory Farms Store. There's something I could never understand. Who gives cheese and salami as a Christmas gift? ("Honey, couldn't find that pearl necklace, but here's a few sticks of pepperoni . . .")

Noon -- Good God, we're all doomed! Santa has just arrived at his first-floor "Workshop." Some 200 kids, jacked up on cola and chocolate, surge forward, screaming: "SAN-TA! SAN-TA!" Put flaming torches in their hands, they could double as mob of Balkan villagers hunting down the Wolfman.

Santa's face drains of color. He manages weak "Ho, ho, ho!" but his eyes are busy scanning the exits. Last day on the job? You bet. This time next week, he'll be working the deep fryer at Sizzlers.

12:15 -- Sullen bimbo-in-training at Gap says black T-shirt I just bought is "out" now.

"Well, I need it for night work," I say. "See, I'm a cat burglar."

"Anyway," she says, "that'll be $11.03."

I ask if there's any place around to buy a ski mask.

Try Penney's, she says.

12:30 -- Lunch. The food court is packed. I grab a burger and shoehorn into a table next to ominous-looking man in camouflage jacket and cowboy hat.

Mentally, I rehearse emergency procedures for when Tex flips out and starts raking place with small-arms fire: Dive under table, scream "Don't shoot!" in both English and Spanish, assure Tex that I've been receiving the very same high-frequency messages through my tooth fillings.

1:00 -- I'm in the lingerie department at Macy's. Feeling extreme discomfort. The sales people look at me like I'm wearing a rumpled raincoat and nothing on underneath, with a river of drool running down my chin. I want to run up to the dour-faced woman at the register and blurt out: "Look, this isn't for me! I'm not like that!"

Finally, as panic sets in, I pick up a racy little teddy that looks like it belongs on a Miss Penzoil calendar. My wife wouldn't wear this thing if the whole East Coast suffered a power blackout. But, hey, it's the thought that counts.

1:20 -- Strictly for laughs, I stop back to see how Santa's doing. The answer: not so well. Santa seems extremely agitated. Noise level resembles a Saturn 5 rocket at lift-off. Hyperactive 3-year-old on Santa's lap pulls his nose and whines: "I want a Barney coloring book . . ."

Hoo, boy. I give it another 10 minutes, tops, before Santa loses it and pulls out a straight razor.

1:40 -- In the record and tape store now. Skulking through the aisles is the usual Night-Of-the-Living-Dead crowd: disaffected punkers with green hair and nose rings, gangster wannabes dripping with gold, vacant-eyed heavy metal freaks, beered-up high school drop-outs, etc.

If somebody opened a rehab clinic next door, they'd make a killing.

2:05 -- I buy overpriced sweater from scowling salesman who apparently feels he should be CEO of Time-Warner and can't believe he's fallen so far as to actually be working in a men's store.

I ask if he has a box for the sweater. He says no, might have some in next Saturday. As gently as possible, I point out that next Saturday is day after Christmas, at which time box will do me absolutely no good unless I punch holes in it and use it to keep a turtle.

2:15 -- Kids are like dogs: They can smell fear in a man. I'm in a toy store and three of the little monsters have me backed in a corner as they close in with plastic Terminator-style rocket-launchers. It's like looking at three budding John Hinckleys. I grab a toy off the shelf and bull my way to he register.

2:30 -- Nerves shot, hands trembling badly now. It's time to go. Scene in the parking lot is even more chaotic now. Car engines revving, brakes screeching, stereos thumping, people cursing, all under a swollen purple sky.

All we need are a few helicopter gunships dropping napalm and the Doors intoning: "This is the end . . ."

If it's not the end, it's damn close.

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