I had a function to attend this past weekend and no suitable clothing for it. So on Friday I was forced to leave the house in search of something to wear.
I was cutting through the open-air mall when I saw a new ATM installed near the Panda Express. I needed cash, so I queued up behind a man with a double stroller parked in front of the machine. Trying to be unobtrusive, I stood a few feet back and patiently waited for my turn. I hadn’t stood there long before the man spoke up. “Excuse me, can you help?” he called to me. “I lost my contact somewhere, and now I can’t really see to find it. It’s blue-tinted,” he said sheepishly. We then commenced that awkward dance between two strangers who have been thrown together in the name of a common purpose and are trying to be impeccably polite about it. Bent at the waist like cranes, we gazed at the empty space atop the brick walkway like it held the secrets of the universe.
“I can’t seem to see it yet,” I said after perhaps 45 seconds of this, a little embarrassed about my inability to perform.
“It might be on her,” he said, pointing to his daughter in the stroller. I dutifully began scanning her clothes as she stared at me in utter bewilderment. His son, peering out from behind his father’s leg, also stared me down. It seemed each of us was grappling with a conundrum we could not quite solve.
Minutes passed, then weeks, then eons. I couldn’t just leave, of course, for that would have been rude and unkind. Not to mention I still needed my cash. Finally, finally, after the last of the polar ice caps had melted and the man’s children had graduated college and Sarah Palin had been forcibly returned to her home planet, the man spotted his contact lens on the ground behind the stroller. “Thank you so much,” he said, giving a litte wave as he collected his things and pushed off with the kids in tow. “Sorry I wasn’t much help!” I called after him. We both laughed nervously. His daughter twisted halfway around in her seat, desperately straining to keep her eyes on me.
I can’t say I blame her. I wouldn’t trust me, either.
The stores were atrocious. It was like happy hour for stereotypical teenage girls, and all of them were inexplicably dressed in spandex and Ugg boots. I kept picking up clothes and putting them down, unsure of what I needed or wanted. Pop songs with horrifyingly facile lyrics permeated my consciousness. It was everything I hated about shopping amplified at top volume. My brain hurt. I was feeling weakened. In my desperation I began casting a licentious eye at the $50 sweaters, because even though they were way out of my budget, it would have been so easy to just pay for one and leave. Leave! Imagine that. No more pain, no more horror, no more suffering.
No more teenagers.
At last, at last, I found something that would work in my price range. I jubilantly paid for it and rushed towards the exit, fantasizing about the large cocktail awaiting me at home. But just as I pushed the door open I heard a keening, high-pitched whine. Out on the sidewalk, I spotted the source: a girl walking beside her father, arms folded tightly across her chest. She looked to be around eleven years old, but what was coming out of her mouth made her sound more like an unhappy toddler. “Noooooooo!” she practically shrieked. “But I waaaaaaaant it! Daaaaaad! Give it to me!”
Seriously? This was actually happening? I glanced around the crowd, looking for an ally with whom I could share my silent disbelief. She continued for another half-block, incessantly repeating her demands: “Give it to me! I want it!” Finally the father, visibly relieved, recognized the other half of his party coming towards them and flagged them down. They converged on a street corner just as I was about to pass by. Her father turned away, chatting with the adults. The kid stood fuming off to the side, arms still crossed in a tantrumy rage. My path was taking me riiiiiight past her.
I saw my chance, and I took it.
“Brat,” I hissed, and kept on walking.
Somehow I managed to get back to the house without further incident. Oh, and I made that cocktail a double.