I remember it like it was yesterday, as seared in my mind as it has remained. I was just coming out of Dick’s Sports Store, with loads of camping and hiking gear in my arms. I felt great! If ever a man looked the part of an intrepid hiker it was me. I had it all. A miner’s flashlight to wear on my head, a new Bunsen burner for overnight cooking, and just the right scientific wicking formula for my windbreaker so as to deflect and keep the rain from soaking me. So while I may have resembled a normal, potbellied suburban shopper, on the inside of my bag was the real me, ready for adventures too large to be contained by the largest mall in the civilized world.
Not only was I proud from the perfect combination of camping gear I had bought (on sale too), my brain seemed to be firing on all cylinders with great clarity and vision on everything to do with my life.
I was plainly in full glory as an empowered multi-tasker this evening—very boldly taking a detour on my commute home to shop, while picking up dinner and still getting home to get the dog outside while not missing the 7 oclock tip off for game 4 of the NBA eastern conference final playoff series. I even expected to mow the lawn in between and take out the trash on the eve of trash pick-up.
Clearly, life was smiling at me and I was smiling back.
All that was left, was to head over to Chick Filet to buy a sandwich for my wife and I, and then pop over to the hobby store to get a toy for my grandchild.
And these last steps I considered to be a guaranteed success, and a performance I could pretty much just mail in. For I had carefully found a mall directory and picked out the sequence on the map beforehand.
All of these places were on the lower level in the Macy’s 1 direction I was headed so the odds were “ever in my favor” as they like to say in the Hunger Games books. I just had to go down stream and let the gravitational pull of Macy’s 1 reel me in.
As most of us know however, especially those of us raised in the magical heyday of the local, double decker, well insulated, indoor mall, there are ALWAYS 2 diametrically opposed department stores anchoring the north and south ends of any mall. All I needed to do was notice my bearings and head the proper direction past the usual landmarks. The big directional tip was the Starbucks kiosk located smack dab in the middle of the mall by the information desk and all the round café tables meant for lounging shoppers. This Starbucks was not to be confused of course with the one upstairs inside the drug store or the free standing one outside in the parking lot. Nor was it to be mixed up for the Caribou Coffee kiosk which competed for customers by the Sears store.
But alas—this darn local mall of my youth always had deceptively curvy hallways obscuring the north and south ends. It still does. It must have been ingeniously studied by marketers and mall mathematicians. IT also has department stores that if you are bold enough to enter from your parked car, can maddeningly deflect you into a Twilights Zone of partitions and sadistically detouring merchandise to keep you guessing until the minutes turn into hours.
As a fresh faced kid, it is always fun to fantasize being left at closing time with a buddy in the mall to freely run around these department stores, trying out ottomans and various electronic devices, with endless games of hide and seek. But as a grim faced adult, with lots of deadlines, the obtuse angles and camouflaged exits only spelled trouble and humiliation.
But back to my almost finished performance at the mall. After zig-zagging and people surfing past seniors, clueless teenage girls on their cell phones, and anxious store employees on lunch break, I finally reached the point where the contour of the mall revealed all of its secrets and emptied into the mother ship of department stores—Macy’s 1.
But after noticing that there was no hobby store or Chik-Fil-A just before the cul-de-sac, I stopped dead in my tracks and reconsidered my orientation. This was actually Macy’s 2—(the sequel).
I was stunned. Stunned I tell you. All I could figure was that my internal equilibrium must have gotten momentarily displaced, and IT (my internal equilibrium) must have assumed I should turn left at the Starbucks instead of right.
I decided to be more conservative and careful in my return trip back to Macy’s 1. So instead of watching people and pretending to be a roller rink skater darting past others, I decided to slog ahead very deliberately and watch for any treachery in my direction. I took baby steps.
It took me longer, but I finally legged it past mid field, where the Starbucks kiosk was. Daring not to look backwards or sideways too much, in case this was some type of Devil’s Triangle, I charged forward with a speed that surprised me towards Chik-Fil-A and the hobby store.
As I was tired, I went to Chik-Fil-A first and ordered the sandwich meals for me and my wife. In fact I decided to eat and drink my combo while I was still there, just to recuperate. But as I sat down and took the first bite, I noticed with horror that I had accidentally taken my wife’s chicken sandwich WITH pickle and NO condiments. Such simple errors have been known to completely upset the apple cart of domestic bliss and even trigger off wars. I tried to wrap it up but it was too late. I even thought of switching the pickles and swapping and repackaging the sandwiches, but my wife was too sharp to not notice such a ploy.
Shoulders slumping a bit more, I then headed to the nearby hobby store to get my Grand kids sought after action figure game. But just as I entered and was directed towards the right shelf, I noticed a Mother with her son pick up the last box ahead of me. I was informed by the clerk that new ones would be arriving next week—too late for my Grand-kids birthday.
So I walked away empty handed, still with my Dick’s Sporting Goods bag of outdoor camping supplies and a TO GO bag of chicken sandwiches with a major flaw inside.
By now I was fully discouraged. And as the last contour gave way in the luxuriously decorated hallway, I finally saw for my own two eyes the final destination on the end.
“This can’t be!” I thought. But it was. It was Macy’s 2 all over again.
This was some cruel hoax by now. Or was it April’s Fool’s Day?
Perhaps Macy’s 1 and Macy’s 2 had flip flopped on this exact day while I was shopping. Some devious sign boy had flipped the signs on me in the middle of my walk no doubt.
But I soon learned the truth. In the fog of my frustration, I must have zoned out and completely lapped myself all the way around and back to the opposite end where the Starbucks kiosk pointed to Dick’s Sporting Goods which led to Macy’s 2. (Macy’s too?)
I now doubted everything about myself and felt counterfeit. Not only was I not good enough for Yellowstone National Park or even the Blue Ridge Parkway, I was not even competent enough for my local 2 level shopping mall.
So I decided there and then, to return my camping gear at Dick’s Sporting Goods, and get my money back.
Feeling vulnerable about finding my car in the parking lot, I asked for and received a ride in the mall security car until I could point out my car to the officer. As I climbed into my car and prepared to start the ignition, the last thing I remember was my cell phone ringing and seeing my wife’s name on the screen.
At this point, my story comes to an end, and the writing was on the wall.