Kiosk Hawkers vs Zombie Apocalypse

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.

Mall Madness

So I had to go to the mall this past week to see Captain America with my kids (awesome movie by the way!).  I hate going to the mall.  I don’t think I can overstate that.

Something about going to the mall always gives me anxiety. I think it’s all the people mashed together on a collective shopping high that usually winds up being a chaotic mess of kids and adults zig zagging, rushing, and leapfrogging past each other as they try to reach their shopping meccas. Back in the day it was bad enough to have this cesspool of the unorganized ricocheting off of each other as they barrel down the concourse not paying attention to who they step on or cut off. Now with smart phones taking over, they essentially put a blindfold over their eyes as they drunkenly stumble across the linoleum looking down at whatever alert is oh-so-important to check out right that second.

I hate participating in this game of human bumper cars, but it is a hell of a lot of fun to stand back and take it all in from a safe distance. The people-watching at a mall is top-notch. You’ll see all sorts of personalities intermingling in a way that you’d never see on the street. The droopy pants thug from the shady urban neighborhood on his way to Foot Locker rubbing elbows with the pencil pushing accountant heading to Tiffany’s. Or the awkward tweens boys taking their first stabs at flirting, failing miserably, but able to disappear into the crowd after suffering the embarrassment of being turned down by a cute eighth grader. Hipsters, goth kids, nerds, soccer moms, geriatric fast walkers, they’re all here under one roof.

Shoppers at Brea Mall, Brea, California

Shoppers at Brea Mall, Brea, California

One other incredibly annoying part of the mall has to do with the idiots who spray perfume in your face when you walk by their counter in the various department stores. I seriously think Congress needs to pass some legislation and make this illegal. At the very least it should be law that they ask your permission first. What if someone is allergic to the scent (ummm, me!). That could be a serious problem. Those ladies in the supermarket giving away free samples of Jimmy Dean sausage have it right. You walk by and they ask, “Would you like to try a sample today?” They don’t jump over the table, hold your nose, and shove it down your throat. Is it too hard to ask the perfume pumpers for the same courtesy?

The incomparable Mr. Bean running the perfume gauntlet (click photo for video)

Hilarious Mr. Bean running the perfume gauntlet  (click photo for video)

Same with the ever popular kiosks set in the middle of the aisles armed with high-octane sales people who are pushing you to try their new fat burning device, sample an organic lotion, get an eyebrow pluck, or test drive a remote helicopter, etc. They practically accost you as you walk by, all in the name of sales.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy looking at the kiosks and all of the interesting things they sell…I just don’t like being grabbed as I walk by and dragged in when all I want to do is make it to the Starbucks on the other side of the mall before my caffeine deficiency causes a scene. It’s gotten so bad at our local mall that most people just avoid the kiosks all together. The shoppers making their way down the aisle resemble a flock of birds smoothly evading a predator as the crowd seamlessly veers to the right as they desperately try to ignore the frantic catcalls of the various barkers touting their wares.

Between dodging the zombies glued to their cell phones, the poisonous clouds of synthetic scents, and dodging flying toys, the mall feels like an obstacle course from American Gladiators. I just want to get out alive and still properly breathing people!! And you wonder where the anxiety comes from.