Morning at the mall: Before the shoppers come the walkers, workers

December 05, 2007|By Roberta Leviton

I rely on a daily walk to stay fit. But come December, walking outdoors in suburban Boston isn't fun. Nothing bores me more than walking in place on a treadmill, except possibly bicycling on a stationary bike. So I cope with winter by walking around my local mall. On these early morning walks, I see different faces than when I'm at the mall to shop.

I arrive at 8 a.m. Snowplows have already cleared the parking lot. Salt pellets are sprinkled on the sidewalk. Trucks are delivering produce to the restaurants. The mall shows no sign that gas prices are soaring or the job market is shaky. At the entrance, pots of fresh dieffenbachia surround umbrella-covered tables and rattan chairs. Farther inside, a small waterfall descends into a pool for customers to throw coins and make wishes.

The baby grand piano is silent in these early hours, but musical soundtracks play continuously. In December, I walk to "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "Jingle Bells." Soon enough, red hearts will appear and the soundtrack will switch to "Dancing Cheek to Cheek" and "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm."

At 8:05 a.m., Princeton '50 (declared on his sweat shirt) is already bounding along, water bottle in hand. Two well-dressed, well-coiffed women converse intently without missing a step. Strolling men discuss last night's football game. A few people nod and say, "Good morning."

Women are mopping, dusting, vacuuming, polishing. They speak a language I don't understand (Spanish? Portuguese?). One wears yellow rubber gloves and a black velvet hat. I wonder whether she is here legally. If she had to travel home for a funeral or a wedding, would she be able to come back here?

In a furniture store, a man straps a vacuum to his back and gingerly makes his way through reproduction French provincial sofas, beige damask chairs and faux orange trees. How many other jobs must he have to make ends meet? Can he pay his bills?

A few stores down, another man steams the mannequins' clothing, giving the jackets and chinos just the right creases. Across the way, saleswomen carefully open felt bags of jewelry.

Window cleaner is ubiquitous. Men in shirts with the mall logo polish the glass beneath the stair hand railings. A saleswoman in high heels and a black chiffon skirt sprays a dress store window. I wonder how clean windows have to be. To my dismay, I start looking for fingerprints and find a few on the entry doors. Soon a man wipes them away. How does he get to work? Does he have a car?

Gardeners prune the poinsettias that will be replaced after Christmas with pink cyclamen and purple and white cineraria. A man wheels a watering machine and patiently holds watering rods in place. What is he thinking about as he quietly stands there?

At the chocolate shop, a man dips raspberries and strawberries into molten chocolate. He's surrounded by chocolate Santas. In January and February, he'll work amid chocolate hearts covered with cellophane and tied with red ribbons. I'm glad that the shop doesn't open until 10 a.m.

A woman mops the white tile floor in the cosmetics shop with an old-fashioned rag mop. Her henna-tinted hair is pulled back in a ponytail. I'm afraid that she sees me looking at her. I avert my eyes. What would happen if she lost her job? Would she be evicted? Does she have relatives or friends to take her in?

A woman holding a mop in one hand, a pail in the other, stands in front of a toy store that's going out of business. She gazes at the sign-filled window. "Everything Must Be Sold, 30% off Thomas the Tank Engine videos, 65% off Tomy Pre-School Space Builders."

Does she have enough money to buy gifts for her kids? Or a new lipstick? Or to get her hair done? Do her kids go to a decent school? Does her home have things to polish? Is she too tired at home to care about dust or a few fingerprints?

When the mall opens, some cleaning women are still dusting as shoppers try a new face cream from France. Do they see each other?

Roberta Leviton is a writer in Newton, Mass. Her e-mail is

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