As a teenager, I didn’t often hang out at the local shopping mall. The practice had just started to become the rage at that time. It was truly the birth of “mall rats,” a modern retail evolution from hanging out ob the local street corner. Here kids could go to slurp fruity drinks, buy the hot poster, T- shirt or album, get chased out of stores, and wait for mommy to pick them up as the mall was set to close.
Not me. The closest I came to hanging there was catching a movie at the Cineplex next to the mall and occasionally stopping into the local Friendly’s for a Fribble to cap off my afternoon. To this day, mall shopping is a chore I don’t relish. Like many guys, I approach it as I would a military exercise. Go in fast, extricate the goods needed, and get out fast. From time to time, I’ll do reconnaissance (checking the local circular or asking my wife about a store that might carry what I need). But given the opportunity to spend an afternoon at the mall or cleaning my gutters, it’s the ladder, the roof and work gloves for me.
A few weeks back though I did the husbandly thing that needs to happen and accompanied my bride to the local mall. She actually enticed me saying it was about time I bought some new jeans. The old “What’s wrong with the ones I’ve got?” was getting tired as were my old jeans, ripped and torn like Old Glory over Fort McHenry. So we headed out to the local suburban shopping Mecca on a lazy Sunday afternoon. And what I discovered shocked me.
No, not the variety of specialty stores with zero customers, offering stuff that no customer would ever really want. Not the hucksters at the center aisle kiosks pestering me to apply Dead Sea sand to my face or to see how I’d look in a wig extension. Not even the discovery of a storefront offering neck, back and full body massages—for stressed out shoppers which has to be all of us. I rather like the idea of a stress reducing center right there. The mall just seems a bit out of place for one to disrobe and have scented oils applied to one’s sinewy frame. I prefer a spa with frosted windows and lots of John Tesh music.
Here’s the shocking mall story. Strolling by a storefront that caters to young folks, (selling jeans, bathing suits and T-shirts) at first I was subjected to loud grunge rock music a good fifteen feet from the entrance. The decibel level inside had to have been deafening. But if you’re a kid you don’t care, you want it even louder and I get that.
Standing on the stoop of the store’s façade were two handsome young people, a tall willowy blond female and a tall willowy blond male. The female was clad in bikini top and cutoff jeans and I believe she was barefoot, but don’t hold me to it. The male? Well he was shirtless, wearing a low hanging pair of flowered shorts and sandals. It didn’t take me long to realize that these were sales associates for this hip, happening establishment. But they weren’t assisting customers. They were living breathing ads for the shop, thinly clad models hired for one reason— to catch the eye of roaming teens. And it was working well. The young lady certainly caught my eye. But here’s the thing. Were I to decide on a hot day to remove my shirt and walk bare-back through the mall, “Paul Blart the Mall Cop” would most likely have rolled my way and ushered me out. And I can’t say I’d blame him. So now we have this store, a few doors down from “Victoria Secret” where they DON’T have THEIR ladies parading around in lacy underwear, sending young employees out front to be window dressing. These two eerily reminded me of the castaway kids from “The Blue Lagoon,” that Brooke Shields classic from long ago. And the fact that these two were better looking than any kid in the mall that day by far was a little unsettling.
Pure exploitation. What is this consumer crazy world coming to? They instruct the help (the most attractive ones) to get sexy and strip down to lure in customers. And what about the pudgy teenager with acne who might apply for a sales job at that store? Does he or she have a chance in scoring a gig, not looking anything like Barbie or Ken? I smell a future discrimination lawsuit don’t you? “Your honor, I was turned down for the job because the other kid has six pack abs and me, I’ve got hairy legs and knobby knees.”
So there you have my recent mall experience, confronting nearly naked teens and loud music, all part of the law of retail 2010 style. The whole episode left me feeling empty and actually a bit hungry. I had a hankering for chicken wings but had I acted on it and headed over to the local “Hooters” restaurant you would have every right to think ill of me. I mean that would just be so hypocritical in light of my mall experience. Too bad, they do have the best wings around.