Friday, January 4, 2008

Get out! Get out! Get out!

Today was a black day; I had to Go Shopping. I should qualify this. I am fine with shopping in certain contexts. For example, I will gladly shop in music stores, used book stores, or grocery stores. I understand them. But today was different; I needed to shop for a pair of boots and certain other miscellaneous items that I've been putting off getting. This meant a trip to the shopping mall.

I am out of my depth in shopping malls. They terrify me. When I'm in the halls of a mall, I walk as quickly as I can, casting nervous glances at the crowds that press in on either side. After a few minutes, a little voice in my head begins to scream "Get out! Get out! Get OUT! GET OUT!" I once, in my mad panic to escape from a shopping mall, walked into a plexiglass partition thinking it was a path to freedom. When I get into a store, the situation is no better; I am now terrified that one of the clerks will speak to me. I have a hard time believing that clerks in department stores, shoe stores and the like are actually human; their realm of knowledge is so estranged from my own that I can only smile and nod when they say things, cursing my own ignorance. What kind of boots am I looking for, you ask? Errrrrrrrm, the kind you put on your feet? I laugh nervously, helplessly. Their jokes and good-hearted attempts to make conversation could be in another language for all the good they do me. Even paying for my boots is a hassle; they always want me to subscribe to some kind of loyalty card service and although there is nothing that I would want to do less, I try to turn them down gently to spare their feelings.

I'm sure these people think of me the way I think of, say, the man who once buttonholed me after a church service to ask why I played such "dirgelike" music before worship. "I'm an evangelical," he told me confidentially, "so I prefer more upbeat music." The yawning chasm between his conception of church music and mine is so vast that I can't even begin to imagine how I could have reached him, and so my only solution was to agree that fast music is nice too and escape from the conversation as quickly as possible. No doubt I, to the clerks in a department store, seem equally strange, with my lack of knowledge of the ways of malls and boots and loyalty cards. But I can't help it. We all have our own brands of philistinism.

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