“What is a Mell?” you ask? Well, if you’re fairly new to my rants then you may not know that “Mell” is a cross between the words “mall” and “Hell”, which I consider to be synonymous.
I hate shopping. I just had this exact conversation with my sister-in-law. I hate shopping. I like new stuff, but I don’t like the actual procurement of new things. I avoid the mall like I avoid roaches, and Chardonnay. But it’s Homecoming Week, and Eden needed New Stuff, so I found myself there yesterday at approximately 5:30 p.m. It was literally the only time this week Eden and I could coordinate our schedules.
At 5:30 p.m. on any given day, I have generally run my ass off and am ready for a glass of wine. 5:30 p.m. is not my “patient time”, and the Mell is not my “patient place”. So after half an hour in traffic and half an hour in the Macy’s shoe and accessory departments with a handsy 4 year-old clamoring for snacks and touching Every Damn Thing, I was irritated that we hadn’t found exactly what she needed and were racing to the other hemisphere of the Mell. It was during this frantic march that I was approached, nay, accosted (!) by one of those trolls of the mall…A Kiosk Person.
I know the rules. Lower your head, avert your gaze, hasten your speed. I did all of those things, even going so far as to pretend to fumble with my cell phone, but this guy turned out to be an evil genius.
Here’s what happened:
We’ve made it a good 20 feet past his bridge kiosk, when he starts yelling at me.
Him: “Ma’am! Blah blah blah?!”
Me: Startled look of confusion.
Him: “Ma’am! Blah blah blah?!”
Me: Startled look of confusion, now stopped in my tracks, I turn to Eden, “What did he just say?”
Him: “BLAH BLAH BLAH?!”
Now here is where I make a mortal error. Because when someone addresses me, particularly in an alarming fashion, I assume there is a problem, so I turned around and approached him. (Why, God?)
Him: (Smacking of smug glee.) “Ma’am, when was the last time you washed your hands?”
He is suddenly perfectly intelligible.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” I say. “I didn’t understand you.”. And then I think, what business of his is it when I washed my hands last? I’m not planning on feeding him or touching his children or anything. He looks down his nose at me, smiling, and says, “It must be my Israeli accent.” Right. Make it so I can’t understand you and then speak the King’s English to me when you’re in my face. Evil genius.
I start to turn away, explaining that I don’t have time to stop, when he backs quickly toward his kiosk with his hands out, imploring me to wait. “I have something for your car! Just let me give you something for your car!” I pause. I think that maybe he will let me go if I just take the free sample of whatever it is he’s giving me to keep in my car, even though I really need to be taking crap out of my car, not putting more crap into it. But I relent, because I have GOT. TO. GO.
I walk over to his kiosk, around the back side, into his lair. He’s got me.
“Hold out your hand,” he commands. The girls are looking nervously on from behind me. I’m starting to get irritated. “Look,” I say, “I really don’t have time for this!”
“No, I don’t have time for this,” he says right back to me.
“Yes you do!” I say, incredulously.
“Okay, I do,” he laughs. Eden titters nervously behind me.
“Hold out your hand,” he commands once more, and so I do, because clearly I am not going anywhere, now.
I hold my hand out and he produces a flat stick with a grainy, white lump perched atop the end. He smears it into my palm and says, “Rub your hands together.”. Gingerly, I do so. “Harder!” he barks. I rub harder. The grit is painful.
“What is this?” I ask. It is obviously an exfoliant and I’m not enjoying it. He picks up a spray bottle and motions to a bowl sitting on the kiosk. I hold my hands over the bowl, and as he sprays them he says, “Do you know what the Dead Sea is?” “Of COURSE I know about the Dead Sea,” I say crossly. “Oh? What do you know about the Dead Sea?” He sounds as if he doubts me. “It’s really salty!” I exclaim grumpily. He’s still spraying. This is taking forever. And I’m wondering if truly his sales tactic is to argue me belligerently into his product.
He hands me a paper towel and explains (in a tone meant for condescending to children) that people visit the Dead Sea for it’s therapeutic properties and Dead Sea salt is a healthful exfoliant. He shows me the little tub of Dead Sea stuff. Then he asks me again, “Ma’am, when was the last time you washed your hands?”
“Right now,” I reply. He rolls his eyes. “BEFORE now,” he says. His patience with me is to be commended, as I am obviously quite stupid. I think back. I washed them before I left the house. “An hour ago,” I say.
“Look down,” he tells me, and points to the bowl. There, in the bowl, is a puddle of gray, dirty water. “See?!” he crows triumphantly, as if I have been living in filth until that moment, and he has just introduced me to soap for the very first time. My hands sting.
He turns to the kiosk and grabs a different container. Produces another stick, scoops out a bit of lotion from the pot, and asks for my hand. I hold it out and frown. Another product might mean another dressing down and I just don’t have five more minutes to feel like an idiot. As I rub the lotion onto my hands I tell him, “That’s all. I really don’t have time.” I turn to the kids, say, “Let’s go!” and we leave, quickly, listening to his cries of protest fading into the distance.
As we ride up the escalator, Eden says, “You shouldn’t have looked at him.”. “I’m a nice person,” I say, “I couldn’t understand him and trying to was my mistake!”. Then Eden makes the face she reserves for impressions of me and in the weird, caricature voice she uses specifically for her mother she says, “OF COURSE I KNOW ABOUT THE DEAD SEA!” And we crack up. Because I am nerdy and DO know about it, and what would you like to discuss? The salinity? The lack of marine life? The scrolls? Don’t fuck with me, mister.
When we go back across the mall we stay upstairs and ride the escalator down inside Macy’s. We’ve escaped his harsh siren song and make our final purchase. I tell Eden to take Lucy to the car while I pay, to speed our way to supper, and as I stand at the counter waiting for the clerk to ring up my items I wring my stinging hands.
They feel greasy. Somehow I feel like I had physical contact with the kiosk man, even though we never touched. I think of other innocents lured into his hut of horrors and their sticks and sprays and puddles of dirty water. Suddenly I feel gross. I can’t wait to wash my hands. All I’ve been hearing about on the news is Ebola and irrationally, this floats to the surface of my mind.
I make my way out of the store, head hurting from the recycled Mell air, and as I step into the sunlight I look down at my poor, abused paws. In the bright, natural light they look splotchy. And then it hits me. That murky water wasn’t colored by dirt! It was pigment! I have literally scraped the color from my hands! I get into the car, fuming. That asshole tried to shame me over my dirty digits when truly, he was the dirty trickster! Meanwhile, Eden is laughing and there are choruses of “OF COURSE I KNOW ABOUT THE DEAD SEA!” ringing through the car.
I did finally get my glass of wine. Earned it, I’d say. And the first thing I did when we got to the restaurant was wash the Dead Sea off my hands. Nothing ever felt so good.