City Life:

Christmas Week at the Mall

by Jesse Fask
A souvenir cup from one of my favorite movies, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” is just a bonus to this Chistmas week mall experience. The only thing that could top this is a witty fortune cookie.

Do you ever crave orange chicken from the Chinese food stand at the food court of the mall? The hustle-bustle of the mall during Christmas Week is Hell for those of us with gifts to buy for Uncle Clarence, Suzy, and holiday dog treats for Mister Wiggles, the family Irish wolfhound. But, for a Jewish kid done with my first semester of graduate school and Chanukah in my rear view mirror, I'm ready to grub on some extra sweet Oriental chicken and get high off of other people's stress.

I get hyped as I see a parking lot full of cars as I bump Jay-Z loud on my car radio speakers. The Brooklyn rapper tells me over def beats if I ain't talking about large money, what's the point. I find a rock star parking space by the entrance to Hecht's. A couple in matching designer jeans opens the door for me as I get my first whiff of the mall. The smell is somewhere between sugar cookies and bad perfume. An elevator music version of "Frosty the Snowman" plays for all to hear and I know it's time for my double order of exotic mall fowl served over white rice.

The line is not long and I place my order for orange chicken and, as an added bonus, a Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon souvenir cup to contain my 32 ounces of Pepsi. A souvenir cup from one of my favorite movies (which of course you all know from my April column from last year naming “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” as the best film of 2000) is just a bonus to this Chistmas week mall experience. The only thing that could top this is a witty fortune cookie. Alas, it's a cliché that I didn't want to hear right then: "There is no wisdom greater than kindness."

Eleven minutes after I paid, there was no poultry left standing. Now there was nothing to do but sip and sip soda. I decided to approach two women to ask them what they think about the stress level of the mall during Christmas week. The problem was, by the time I made the decision to talk to them, they had thrown away their Boardwalk fries and were on their way down the escalator.

Three more girls wave at me and compliment my hair. High school girls in Catholic school uniforms--but as the introverted journalist, I just smile. What would people think if they saw me talking to 15-year-old girls at the mall? Oh, man. I'm not a good journalist at all.

So I just walk around aimlessly, Crouching Tiger cup in hand, circumnavigating the mall, a fish out of water, looking for inspiration to write about. But I guess, that is it. There's nothing very inspiring about the mall. I didn't get high off of other people's stress. I just got stressed out myself.

The mall is not a place where people meet and greet. It's where they consume. And I myself could not be social even when approached. I was more concerned about my image than making conversation. The bad perfume smell began to overshadow the cookies. The elevator music was not conversation music. It was Christmas music to make you buy Christmas presents.

I had walked a long time. I had bought nothing. I had netted one souvenir cup. I sat alone on a bench near the door I'd come in through and felt empty. What a weird urge it had been to come here. I had never done this before. In fact, I usually beg people not to drag me here. I guess I wanted to be around people, and this is the place I imagined to be the place with the most people in the Baltimore metropolitan area on the twentieth of December.

I did one final lap around the fifth floor of the mall, my thick goose-feathered coat hanging off me gangster style. I'm about ready for happy hour. With no watch amd no clocks visible from the mall hallways, I had no idea what time it was. It could have been two-thirty. It could have been six. A Victoria’s Secret girl asked me if I wanted some sexy cologne for tonight. I told her no. I exited the mall, all the energy I entered with drained out of me.

By the time this article will come out, the holidays will be over--and I think, after this mall experience, I will drink to that.

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This story was published on January 2, 2002.