Approximately once a year, despite my better judgement, my family convinces me to go shopping at one of those big malls. Last weekend what that once.
So dutifully juice the Jeep with liquid gold so that another oil company can purchase a Congressman, blow a couple of hours driving through the fascinating frozen tundra, get flipped the bird by Christmas-crazed consumers doing 75 on a two-lane highway. Then battle minivan-wielding lunatics for the one parking spot available at The Honking Big Mall, located about six miles from the entry, and including an pothole puddle just deep enough to allow muddy water to run into your shoes and stay there all day.
Ahh, breathe that piped-in artificial air, loaded up with every germ known to mankind. Listen to that elevator version of Christmas music playing the same song over and over and over. Enjoy the festive jostling of what appears to be a frenzied European soccer crowd. Feel the walls begin to close in.
See the little kid scared for his life pee on the bedraggled minimum wage Mall Santa while screaming at the top of his lungs while his parents force him to have a picture taken.
Detour around the sullen and unmoving cliches of teenage mall rats as they loiter and leer, acne-encrusted mugs riddled with piercings, and bellies hanging out below ill-advised crop tops.
Feel your knees disintegrate as you troop mindlessly from one end of this gargantuan temple to commercialism to the other for the umpteenth time, looking for the pair of furry daughter boots (the boots are furry that is, not necessarily the kid) in a size that somehow does not exist in any of the 300 stores that sell such things, all of which have been visited at least twice.
Troop back again, looking for the restaurant that is still listed on the stupid directory sign at the opposite end of the mall, but apparently closed during the Reagan administration. Instead, settle for the "food court," which is so-named because condemned criminals should be sentenced to eat here. Spent $25 for a couple of slices of greasy petrified pizza, which you eat at a filthy table while toddy-tipsy Golden Girls endlessly ram into your chair and spill your watery Diet Pepsi down your shirt. It is only slightly more noisy than, say, the infield of a track during the final lap of a NASCAR race. Feel that stomach churn.
Scour through The Big Name Store which has 300 billion items, none of which are apparently of any earthy good to anyone. The one item you needed was on sale, you discover, but it sold out back in September. Stop back around July, says the bored sales clerk, who is sporting a tank top in December, without the benefit of having defoliated her armpits.
Stand in line for an hour or so to get a cup of coffee in an effort to recharge your flagging form, which will run you about three bucks. Actually be told by the lady at the coffee shop - and I am not making this up - that they are out of the coffee. Hey, what's the one thing you have to remember to order when you work AT A COFFEE SHOP?
Look at clothing, and realize that everything they have was seemingly designed for Ozzie Osbourne, Johnny Cash or possibly Liberace. Have some desperate housewife rip whatever you were looking at out of your hands and run off with it after stepping on your toes.
Realize that the purpose of Old Navy is to take all of your money in order to have you wear clothes with THEIR NAME advertised in stupidly big letters on it. Shouldn't they pay you?
Skid on the floor on something you belatedly realize looks like cheese soup with green Jell-O clumps. Oh, couldn't you find a restroom if you had to do that, kid?
Then, now that you're thinking about the restroom, realize that there is a grand total of one urinal hidden somewhere in a mall packed with 25,000 people. You don't want to see what that bathroom would look like even if you did manage to find it. Just hold it. Think Sahara Desert. And stay away from the fountain. It doesn't help. Trust me on this.
See the mall rent-a-cops hitting on the junior high girls. There should be a law - oh, wait a second, there IS a law. See the woman yelling that someone has made off with her purse while the mall cops were trailing Christina Aguillera lookalikes.
Wobble wearily around little stands placed right in your path every dozen steps, peddling knockoff cell phone jackets, sungoggles, George Bush Dumb Sayings calendars and every other kind of junk that people buy as gifts for people they really didn't like much to begin with.
Wonder why twenty different "Gap" type stores are needed to sell the same crummy tee-shirt. Wonder how anyone in their right mind would allow their child to wear a tee-shirt that says THAT on it! Wonder what that is that the checkout girl seems to have tattooed on her cleavage - no wait, sorry, that isn't a girl after all.
After searching fruitlessly for someone to help you with something complicated, stand in the socks aisle and have an endless parade of different chatty clerks ask every three seconds if you've been helped and whether you are having an AWESOME holidays and if you know that there is a SPECIAL SPECIAL SPECIAL on cat litter in aisle 81,632. Really, how much help does you average guy need looking at SOCKS?
Try to get out at closing time, swimming upstream against the tide of inhumanity, like a doomed salmon. Realize that you no longer feel your feet or your Christmas spirit. The daughter is grumpy and bootless. You have bought nothing all day. You still have to go to the bathroom. The same dang song is STILL playing. Hey, where did the Jeep go? What do you mean you think its on the OTHER side?
Well, that was fun. Another holiday tradition realized - and survived - the wasted mall trip.
Now, I can settle down and buy my Christmas presents at the Storm Lake stores where the people are nice, where I can go where I know they will have what I'm looking for, and where they are the ones that help support my children's school, our hospital and all the good causes that matter to me.
Now that the mall is out of our systems, I can even feel a little of the holiday spirit begin to flow back in. Or is that sanity? I'll see you downtown.