I’ve discovered this past week that the “after-holiday shopping and returns” is almost as bad as the original holiday shopping. On an ordinary day, the mall is a place where an introvert like me can go to blend in. There are people, yeah, but not mobs of people… just enough that no one stands out. I can shop in peace, unnoticed, buy a soft pretzel, and slip back into the trickle of shopping traffic without drawing any attention. But this past week, whew! There were gads of people. More than there were pre-holiday, I think. Forget about going unnoticed… that will just get you run over as you try to jump back into the rush of shoppers surging through the corridor while leaving a store.
Even if I’m not squashed by fellow mallgoers, there are bigger problems afoot at times like these: unexpected social interaction. Usually caused by… wait for it… Kiosk Hawkers.
I think I’m safe in saying that we all try to avoid them. I mean, we know they’re out there, with their “magic” lotions and creams, and their eyebrow threading stations, but if we’re careful, we can avoid being targeted. The strong and resolute can make it through the gauntlet without being harassed – I don’t know how, by virtue of their aura alone, I suppose. Some of us have strategies, like pretending we’re on the phone (that one’s my favorite). Or walking closely behind the group of people in front of us so that solicitors won’t see us. You know, strength in numbers. Or we just avoid eye contact altogether and with our heads down and ears closed, desperately keep moving along.
I know that the Kiosk Hawkers are just doing their job, but I’ll be honest. I loathe them. I could recount numerous encounters to validate my point of view. Like the time the perfume lady sprayed me without asking first and, being sensitive to many smells, including, apparently, the one she sprayed me with, my throat started to close-up and it required a quick trip to the ER. That was fun.
Oh, but here’s a better story. One unfortunate day, too distracted by my soft pretzel and lemonade, my guard was down, my defenses were weak. I looked up. There he was. I inadvertently locked eyes with the shoeshine guy. Oh yeah, my mall has a shoeshine guy, who will, I’m convinced, stop at nothing to snag any innocent shopper and convince them to get their shoes shined. He even shines sneakers! I mean, when was the last time you put on your tennis shoes and said, “Man, these babies could use a nice glow”? Maybe people like their sneakers with a mirror glaze. I wouldn’t know about that. Back in my day, the more dirt and scuffs you had on your Vans #95, the cooler you were! It meant you probably owned a skateboard, rode a sweet scooter, and jumped fences.
Sneakers aside, how does this man convince anyone to stand (yes, stand… not sit) – with their foot up on a crate – in the middle of the mall filled with hundreds of people so he can scrub their shoes? Does he threaten to destroy their family? Does he walk up to them and quietly whisper through his corny smile, “Come with me if you want to live?” It’s beyond me. I just don’t get it!
Anyway, on the fateful day in question, I made the worst mistake a shopper can make where Kiosk Hawkers are concerned. I made eye contact. To a Kiosk Hawker, eye contact is the equivalent of having a neon sign on your forehead that says, “Pick me!” What was I thinking?! I wasn’t prepared for this! He called to me and began eagerly insisting that my shoes were dirty, and I needed a shoeshine. He started rambling on about how a person should always look their best. Then I understood! These were his weapons. This was his tactic: tell an unsuspecting shopper that their shoes are filthy, causing them to feel insecure, making them question why they left their house, and every other choice they’d made up to that point.
Refusing to be easy prey, a boldness rose from somewhere deep within my anxiety-riddled being. “Nice try,” I thought to myself. A fairly strong “No thank you!” bubbled out, and I picked up my pace putting some distance between us. Undeterred, he followed, continuing his spiel along the way. I’m telling you, I barely escaped. But I was in the clear!
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention the most bizarre thing about this whole encounter: I was wearing flip-flops! He wanted to shine my flip-flops! Did the guy even look at my feet before throwing his sales pitch? I didn’t even think flip-flops qualified as shoes, let alone need a shine. In my mind, I’m thinking, “Is there anything this guy won’t shine?” Would he have given me a discount considering that I had almost nothing on my feet? Or would there have been an additional fee since it would’ve been more like a pedicure? And just for the record… ewwww.
It’s moments like these where I think that a Zombie Apocalypse might not be so bad. Of course, there’s the whole potentially getting eaten by zombies thing, but that’s still better than getting trapped by a Kiosk Hawker.