BOSTON (CBS) – At the outset, I confess that I have NEVER been nor shall I likely EVER become a connoisseur of one of America’s favorite pastimes—shopping. It ranks very low on a list of enjoyable recreational activities. Many are elated to venture out to the vast shopping expanses with credit and debit cards at the ready. It’s meaningful for our nation’s economic health and yes, when the underwear finally is holier than the Swiss cheese, it’s time to take care of business. But the thought of spending more than thirty minutes in a mega maze of designer clothing emporia and hair extension stands excites me about as much as watching soccer—South American soccer— on TV. I’d prefer to spend my time rearranging kitchen draws or cleaning gutters. Seriously, anything beats entrapment in the neighborhood mall.
A recent extended foray at our local Pentagonian-like shopping complex wore me down and nearly out. Advancing age, lack of beauty sleep (it being a Saturday following my all night radio stint) and because I’ve seen “Empire Strikes Back” too many times the sensation of forced exile on Hoth, the icy prison planet, made it all the more uncomfortable.
You see, my car was due for service at the dealership a few miles up the road. Rather than wait five hours at the dealership (the magazine selection is slightly better than my doctor’s office but there are only so many Golf Digests one can digest) I accepted the dealer’s offer of a shuttle ride to the nearby mall. I was also promised the customary return transportation when my automobile’s maintenance was completed.
There’s no offense taken when others attach a type-A label to yours truly. It serves particularly well when it comes to the dreaded adventure of shopping. Remember the old song from the 1950’s “Sixty Minute Man?” Well, they should have had one for chaps like me called “Five Minute Man.” Or perhaps the Roadrunner cartoon theme would suffice. I firmly believe that if something can’t be bought and paid for in five minutes or less, why bother? It’s a mistake to buy it in the first place. One man’s opinion, one who admittedly hates to mall shop.
So being without any means of regress for several hours was certain to be challenging. Challenging in this case is an understatement.
Within the first few minutes I was set upon by three kiosk trolls all of whom begged me to test their products—Dead Sea skin cream guaranteed to make me look younger and learn to love falafel, language learning CD’s that would have me speaking Mandarin in under an hour and those mini helicopters that serve no purpose unless you’re planning to launch your fleet of personal drones.
Having wrested myself from kiosk hell, I moved onto visiting several choice clothing establishments only to be accosted with those interminable questions: “How are we today?” “Are we familiar with our store?” “Enjoying the weather?” “Can I answer any questions?” “Help you find anything?” “Have you shopped here before?” AAAGHHH! Maybe it’s because asking questions of people is what I do every day for a living. Please, I’m begging, let me pick through polo shirts at my own quickened pace without interruption. If I need anything I’ll be certain to ask. Golden Rule—Some consumers like me will definitely buy more (in under five minutes) when left bloody alone.
Worse than the incessant chatter upon crossing the threshold is the inquisition at checkout time, reminiscent of grade-B film noir with the grizzled cop giving the unsuspecting tourist the third degree complete with naked light bulb. Hyperbole of course but this is what you get at nearly every store these days: “What’s your full legal name, address, home phone, cell phone, e-mail, Twitter?” “How about signing up one for one of our fabulous in-store credit cards?” “Want to join our exclusive shoppers club?” “Have other family members shopped with us?” “Would you like to receive the spiffy newsletter?” “Fill out this ten page survey and get ten percent off your next purchase.” “Come back on Tuesday after Arbor Day between 2 and 5 and save another twenty percent.” Are you satisfied with our selection?” “Want to enter a contest to win our store T-shirt, fanny pack and bling?”
My Jewish mother doesn’t ask as many questions in a whole day for crying out loud. I just need a pair of casual jeans, plan to slurp a Dunkin’ iced regular, sit in the magic fingers chair at Brookstone for thirty seconds and be on my merry way.
With my car stuck in the holding pen at the dealer my patience was definitely wearing thin. I opted to pay for whatever I purchased with cash to save time and avoid more questioning. But retailers look at you funny when you’re offering to pay with currency of the realm these days, have you noticed? They hardly know how to handle cash. Clerks nod to and call over their assistant managers to inspect thinking this odd gentleman might head up a huge international counterfeit ring. After all, he did just hand over a crisp fifty dollar bill. Alert mall security—stat!
Just as critical mass approached, lady luck had a hand in saving the day. Overcome by wretched perfume clouds and the aroma of oily French fries from the food court (there is indeed a restaurant that serves nothing but oily French fries, the dream of many Americans) an alarm sounded. Interestingly, not a single consumer in my field of vision (hundreds looking a lot like “Walking Dead” extras milling about aimlessly) seemed to notice or care. But the klaxon was enough of a message from the Universe that it was time to vamoose. Tearing past the makeup ladies, crying babies and purple haired teenagers covered in piercings I found a way out of the mall and ended up walking several miles back to the dealership working up a satisfying sweat along the way. Like my ancestors fleeing the land of the Pharaohs I felt liberated. And no need to part any seas, just negotiate getting across a crowded Route 9.
For the millions who love to shop, these complaints seem so very petty. I get that. Beefing about something petty without coming up with a solution is a waste of time and energy. But there is a happy ending.
Upon returning home the answer became more obvious than ever. More, if not all, of my future purchases would be made with the help of my trusty mouse—saving me time, gas, aggravation and additional sales tax for the time being. The mouse, as you know, is very much a silent little fellow who obeys all of the master’s commands and if wireless model requires nothing more than a AAA battery every few seasons. Thank you Mr. Mouse. I appreciate you so much more after this experience. When it comes to shopping for this middle aged American, silence is golden.