This one cost me a reader, but that was not such a bad thing.

* * *

December 3, 1997

It was raining on Sunday morning, a cold rain, and so I decided to delay my walk until later in the day, when I could join Laurie for a dry, non-slippery indoor mile or two at a nearby mall. I hadn’t been to Shoppingtown for several years; my malling had been confined to the new one, The Carousel Mall. It’s huge and airy and has nice stores on several levels. Even for one who hates crowds, it is tolerable.

Shoppingtown, however, has fallen on hard times. The once spacious aisles, now filled with kiosks and islands, are narrow and crowded. The store ceilings are low, the color schemes ill-advised.

The shoppers of Shoppingtown are not taking good care of themselves; in particular, they are challenged by the concepts of healthful diet and exercise. Nor are they dressing in the best of taste. We had watched The Fifth Element the night before, and I felt as though I was back in the movie.

A leather-jacketed tough holding a shopping bag stood waiting impatiently while his leather-jacketed toughness idled over cheap jewelry. He glowered at everyone who dared to notice his pain.

A child lay face down on the floor while its father said, “get up,” in an unconvincing tone and the mother walked onward holding a second child’s hand and chatting into a cell phone held attentively to her ear.

Somewhere nearby, a child wanted a gum ball, and said so repeatedly.

Dazed old people in wheel chairs, left outside stores by their children, stared at people and walls and ceilings in a manner at once angry and confused.

Whereas the Carousel Mall food court has sparrows in its lofty atrium, the Shoppingtown food court featured a pigeon who paced the floor; I narrowly avoided stepping on it.

Laurie and I did two complete circuits of the mall, so I could see all the cheap and useless merchandise twice, zigging and zagging through the holiday shoppers, and I breathed a huge sigh of relief as we approached the exit. But there awaited the icing for the cake. In the vestibule, a large man with baggy jeans bent over to assist his daughter; his posterior loomed into our path, broad and pale, and filled my unwilling gaze with three plunging inches of deeply shadowed butt cleavage, accented, for the holidays no doubt, with reddish hairs.

Outside, as we drove away, I saw a sign that said, “Loathing Zone.” Laurie insisted that I had misread it. I’m not so sure.


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