If you wanted to put a positive spin on a trip to the mall, you could point out that it’s full of lovely young women flashing you friendly smiles. But don’t delude yourself that they’re up for the kind of water closet cubicle fun that the seasonally employed, nihilistic main character of ‘Bad Santa’ indulged in with middle-aged housewives during his lunch break. These are commercial smiles aimed at dislodging only hard cash from your trousers, and presumably it still works. For a tight-fisted misanthrope, though, the real fun part of going to the mall is to talk to a Young Flashing Smile for five minutes, buy nothing, and then watch the tortured way she will try but fail to bid you a friendly goodbye.
I was at the mall yesterday, and even though the Financial Times is claiming on today’s front page that the US economy is now in recovery, that news has yet to manifest itself in the nation’s sanitised kirks of commerce. Customers were scarce, but there was an abundance of sales people, and those on the open concourse with their market-style stands were the most desperate of all. Years of looking away from hard men’s stares in English pubs hasn’t quite trained me well enough to avoid the lurking eye of the commission-hungry, artificially fragrant, high-heeled harpie who insists on telling you that Mrs. Pop would love this revolutionary new nail varnish.
“Why is it revolutionary? Does it make you take to the hills with an armed militia and plot the overthrow of the military-industrial complex?”
“Hey, what’s the accent? Are you from Australia?” is usually the response to that kind of comment. Training taught them to keep the smile big, but the talk must always be nice and small. It’s around this point, as they guess that you might be mildly insane, that the veneer of civil discourse starts to betray its first cracks in the sales assistant’s voice. At the same time, your presumed madness might be their best chance of a sale today, so they’ll make one last effort by halving the price.
This happened yesterday when I walked into a posh chocolate shop. Following the statutory agreement that we were both doing fine, I didn’t make an immediate grab for the shop’s most expensive items, so the saleswoman told me that Halloween goodies were two for the price of one. I bought some stuff as a salve for my girls’ football team, because they’re all mewling that they have to play on Halloween. Then the saleswoman charged me full price. “Er, didn’t you just tell me they’re two for price of one?” I asked. “Ha ha, so I did,” she laughed, almost hysterically, like she’d been saying it was just a generous offer on the spur of the moment, but she didn’t really mean it. So could you pay the full price? Pleeeease?
It wasn’t so hectic in the bigger shops, where staff are possibly less concerned about the faceless parent company going bust. The reason I actually went to the mall was to buy a roasting dish on offer in one of the department stores. I couldn’t find the one I wanted, and the only person visible was a teenage sales assistant, who ignored me because she was too busy texting. One day it will occur to American retailers to train their staff to help people, but without all the oily pushiness and naked insincerity. That day will be when we’re all up in the hills having a hell of a nice day with our armed militias.