The past weekend found me in a place that inspires terror and loathing in the pit of my stomach:
No, not the mind of Jerry Falwell.
I'm talking about THE MALL.
I wasn’t prepared for this. I left the house thinking we were only shopping for landscaping pavers. As such, I was wearing my pajama top under my sweater. Over this I wore my filthy, bell-shaped, too-large, green nylon men’s jacket that I bought at The Gap in 1993 because it was on sale. I don’t recall putting on makeup or even brushing my hair much. But when the landscape place wasn’t open, J suddenly remembered he needed new pants. Because who doesn’t associate bottomwear with concrete bricks?
So it was off to the mall.
First I got pissed off because we didn’t park in our usual place near JCPenney. Then, I was annoyed because I had to listen to an obnoxious family bicker about a sport coat while J tried on slacks. But once we paid for our purchase and were sucked into the herd of dazed shoppers, I fell into an almost-comfortable trance. The trance went something like this: “Buy nothing. You are piss-broke. Buy nothing. But I do need some jeans. And a new jacket. This one is a filthy man’s jacket, and it’s shaped like a bell. But it does hide my muffintop. Who cares. You look terrible in it. Buy nothing.
I wish I’d taken a shower.
We passed a Waldenbooks, and whom did I spy sitting at a lonely table in the front of the store? A fellow author! Staring into space…Being completely ignored by the soulless mob of shoppers beating a path to the Cold Stone Creamery…Looking bereft and pitiful with her stack of untouched hardcover books: Monkey Business, with a supporting cast of real bananas for a whimsical touch. My first instinct was to keep walking, too. It was sort of a Darwinian reaction, I think. I could almost see myself sitting alone in that same chair next year, and I wanted nothing to do with a situation that gave that mortifying vision any credence.
Plus, when you talk to the author sitting in front of that stack of books, you have to buy one. It’s only polite. You can’t just pick up a book, examine it, put it down again, and say, “Wow. I just don’t think I’d enjoy this story. The sample pages I perused contained some really tedious and mediocre language. I can tell the characters are stock, and the plot seems a subpar recycling job. Still, best of luck to you. Well, off to Orange Julius!”
So there she was, with her books and bananas. Alone. Maybe if she’d named her book “Junkie Business” and handed out samples of heroin, she’d have a few takers.
Alas, she had not.
So I drove J crazy with my hemming and hawing, but just before we hit Macy’s, I pulled him into a U-Turn. “I’m going to talk to her. I’m going to support a fellow author and buy her book.” She’s a member of the tribe! Besides, I thought I’d almost heard of her book. Monkey Business…wasn’t it a quirky mystery in the vein of Carl Hiaasen? I could read that!
As we approached, I saw her packing up, engaged in conversation with two of the Waldens clerks. I made a beeline over and scoped out the cover of her book. Well whaddayaknow: it’s a business management book. Not a novel, but something I may receive at my next agency inservice in fall, free of charge. And later, I could shelve it next to my copies of Who Moved my Cheese? and Raving Fans: A Revolutionary Approach to Customer Service. (Also gifts from my employer.)
I didn’t buy it, in the end. I just didn’t want to read about “Leader Monkey” and his “entrepreneurial exploits.”
But if it had been a novel, I would have bought it. Solidarity and all.
Update on the green bell-shaped jacket: since Sunday, I have spilled a cup of coffee on one sleeve, and I’m still wearing it. Suck it, Stacy and Clinton.