I avoid malls at all costs. Not to save money, not because of the parking nightmare, not to avoid paying homage to the Food Court God by indulging in Bourbon Chicken.
I avoid malls because of the vultures.
Rather than their circling around my head, I seem to be circling their perches. At every new turn, there's another bird.
Pretend you don’t see them, I tell myself.
Their mournful squawking begins, "Ma'am! Ma'am!” A male of the species swoops in to feast on my aging, but not quite dead, ego. We are nose-to-beak. “Let me give you a sample.”
The wares are always the same. Not cell phones, not purses in every color of the rainbow, not emoji pillows destined to be next December's white-elephant gifts.
They’re peddling the fountain of youth - skin care.
"No thank you. I already have 10 of your samples at home," I explain while sprinting away to escape his clutches. He keeps up with me stride-for-stride.
"Your eyes! What about your eyes?! Eye cream! I have eye cream! One moment…," he screeches for all the 20-something-year-old passersby to hear. He flies to his perch and returns in under two seconds. But I am gone, camouflaged by other women “of a certain age” who will be his next prey.
I run past t-shirts, shoes, jewelry, and candy, thankful for a bird-free region. The smell of Cinnabon confirms that I'm crossing over to the Sunny Side of the Mall.
"Ma'am, I have something for you!" My blood runs cold. I’ve barely had time to recover from the first assault. This one's honing in for a direct hit, armed and dangerous, ready to fire from a tube in his hand. Why is there no open container law for cosmetic kiosks?
"No thank you; I'm in a hurry."
"Wait! I have something for your eyes!"
Again with the eyes. As if they are not included in my refusal for products, and are a separate entity from the rest of my face.
He's squirting something cold and slimy onto my hand; I've been tasered with eye cream. I look him square in the eyes and speak with desperation, "I don't have much time. I'm a writer, and I've got to get home and write my next blog post."
He pulls out a rag and quickly wipes off the tinted eye cream, saying "Okay, okay."
Wow. Had no idea that would work. Vultures respect the written word? More likely, he knows he’ll be featured in my Annoying Creatures in Life article.
My husband, Flash, and my son, Cowboy, have been along for the ride, but not once has Flash been approached by the ageist, sexist vultures. When Flash is tired, his forehead looks like a relief map of San Andreas; lines are clearly visible without the aid of binoculars. I thought birds had good eyesight. Oh, what am I saying? Flash is a man; he doesn’t age. He becomes more distinguished. But I’m not bitter.
We are approaching the Far Side of the Mall, where shops are sparse. This is the phase of shopping known as where-did-we-park-the-car-I-don’t-know-it-was-near-Dillard’s-which-is-this-way-I-think. We’ve almost gone full-circle. But it’s a welcome quest; uncrowded, peaceful, no winged creatures.
Bam! A young female vulture is before me in an instant. Out of nowhere. These birds smell wrinkled-skin-cell death from miles away.
Flash and Cowboy are not stopping to wait this time. The gap between me and my family grows as the Evil Witch of Tight Skin holds out glowing nectar for my skin to taste.
“I’m sorry. That’s my family," I explain as I point to the deserters in the distance. "They are in a hurry, and I need to go, but thank you anyway.”
“What about your eyes?” Her voice drips with collagen. For hours, vultures have had a preoccupation with my crow’s feet, but this female is the smoothest operator by far.
She puts away the sample previously offered and presents her magical wand, an oversized syringe, its contents the color of skin that is the fairest of them all. Her spell entices me to slow my gait, and I see “non-injection” written on the side of syringe. I stop in my tracks as she says, “This will make your wrinkles go away forever.”
She had me at “forever.”
We stare at each other, neither blinking. Flash and Cowboy are out of sight. I contemplate taking a cab home or leaving my family and living in this Kiosk of Eternal Youth.
Forever? No way would it be forever. If that were true, it wouldn’t be sold in a mall for a price I could afford. It would be spewing from a fountain surrounded by tall iron fencing, and admittance would cost me my soul. Ultimately, I choose my family; love is thicker than eye cream.
On my next excursion, I’ll be more prepared; my artillery is loaded. When the vultures begin their constant barrage, I will respond calmly, “Aging is for the birds – nobody escapes its clutches.” Then I’ll whip out my 450x magnifying mirror and hold it up to their eyes. Complemented by the fluorescent lighting, the reflection will send chills down their spindly, scrawny spines as they run in search of food-court carrion to soothe their wounded egos.