“Better you than me, gals!” I always think, on walking past them.
But if seeing the fashion posters at the mall is fun, seeing the people there is more fun, because let’s face it: people-watching is what you go to a mall to do.
The mall is the village square of modern life, the place where you’re encouraged to loiter, on the chance that you’ll suddenly be overtaken by the urge to approach one of these little kiosks and actually buy those smokeless cigarettes, that mane of fake hair, those fuzzy-slippers fashioned to look like giant bear paws.
And then there are the human interactions on display there.
Below, a scene I just witnessed at my local mall, the meaning of which I have been trying to plumb ever since.
It took place at the Nightie-and-PJs counter of a department store and revolved around an endlessly patient clerk, an out-of-sorts elderly customer and the customer’s friend, who stood four feet behind her and functioned as kind of Greek chorus to all the action.
The out-of-sorts customer was giving the clerk a hard time about the coupons she had dug from her bag, which were turning out not to be valid.
“Do you believe this?” she shouted looking up at the ceiling, as if to God in Heaven.
“Here she goes again with the coupon tantrum,” her friend said out of the side of her mouth.
I didn’t know if she was talking to me or not but I answered anyway.
“The coupons are the wrong ones? Or they’ve expired?” I asked.
But the words had hardly left my mouth before the customer at the counter started in again.
“You people MAIL me these things, I make plans to come IN here with them and now you tell me they’re no good!”
“I’m very sorry for the inconvenience,” said the clerk, kindly.
“Sheer InCOMpetence I call this!” crowed the customer.
Then she turned around to her friend beside me.
“It happens to me every time!” she shouted and turned back again to the clerk.
“She thinks everything just ‘happens’ to her,” her friend muttered to me. “She never sees what part she might have in how things turn out.”
I was nervous now about seeming to talk behind the back of the out-of-sorts customer, so I stepped up to the counter myself.
With her shoulders held high, still in a huff, she shot a quick look over at me.
“I hate to sound so worked up,” she said.
Afraid of saying the wrong thing and setting her off again, I replied, “I bet you don’t sound this way very often.”
A sharp laugh emerged from the Greek chorus six feet behind me.
The angry lady’s shoulders dropped then. “I think I’m just hungry,” she said miserably.
“Let’s go EAT!” boomed her friend, in the voice of a nursery teacher selling the idea of naptime to her weary little charges, and they began moving off.
“You ladies have a nice afternoon!” called the sales associate after them, before turning to me with a perfectly pleasant and neutral expression.
She didn’t roll her eyes. She didn’t grimace. She didn’t shake her head even slightly to shake off negative feelings.
She only greeted me pleasantly, as if the world was made new with every new person she met. Which come to think of it, may be. Which may very well may be.
Now if somebody could just convince there poor sourpusses that this is so….