Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Zen of the Mall

I have always been fascinated by malls.

My first job, at age 14, was at a women's clothing store called Brooks Fashion in the Stamford Mall. For $5.50 an hour I learned the intricacies of the retail business, which my extroverted personality seemed well-suited for. I also discovered the rotating merry band of pranksters who made their living in the climate-controlled building. People who work in retail can be a quirky bunch, and more often than not have made a wrong turn or two in life. To a high school student, though, they are the epitome of cool. Or just creepy.

My favorite was a guy named Mike who worked at the Foot Locker on the fourth floor. I was 15 when I met him, and he was easily 25. When he saw that I liked a particular brand of Timberlands, but couldn't quite afford them at the time, he suggested Layaway. If I paid a little each week, in just a month I would have my boots. Yes, he made a sale, but it also gave him a reason to hit on me every time I came in to put $20 towards my shoes. I have never put anything on Layaway since.

Over the years I did time in several other stores. I spent two years at Tape World, a music store which was lined with cassette tapes. When I was bored, I would alphabatize the place, section by section. Except classical. I never went near classical. During one Christmas break in college I worked at Victoria's Secret and helped clueless men pick out bras and lacy underthings for their wives, girlfriends and misstresses.

On my first day a man walked in and asked me for help. He said he wanted to buy a bra for his wife. I was all of 20 at the time, and perhaps a little too eager to please. I asked what size his wife was and he replied, "Oh, she's a chesty gal. Kinda like you." Other men referred to their wives breasts as "handfuls" while others lit up when I showed them options in thongs. It was a great job.

Last night found me at the Stamford Mall again, this time looking for a deal on some new running shoes. The place has changed a lot over the year. Brooks Fashions is now BeBe, Tape World is the Limited Too, but Victoria's Secret is still up and running.

My favorite time to be in a mall is when no one else is there: early in the moring when the stores first open or on a Tuesday night when the staff is just futzing around and waiting to punch out. Perhaps this is why I gt a $170 pair of sneakers for $116. The ones I wanted, which were on sale, didn't come in my size. Instead, the sales guy gave me a pair of the new Nike 360s for $116. We bonded talking about our herniated discs. He may need surgery. Let's hope he doesn't.

Other people are obsessed with malls like me. Kevin Smith made Mallrats in 1995. Scenes From a Mall was shot in the Stamford Mall and in 1990 I auditioned to be an extra. Valley Girl has some great scenes inside a mall as does Fast Times from Ridgemount High.

See, malls are awesome. Now point me tot he nearest Orange Julius.