Afternoon refugee; Gnat has a loud friend over, and between the two of them the plaster tends to crack and drift down in fine, easily-inhaled granules. So I’m at the suburban coffee shop, where I am experiencing Dismay. They changed the set-up. It’s better now, I suppose – instead of long rows of tables, they’ve broken up the tables into small clumps interrupted by groups of chairs. But this has the effect of reducing the number of tables with nearby power outlets by half. Usually on a weekday afternoon, especially one as inclement as this one, all six tables would be occupied with typists; today there are only two people plugged in, and the other table near an outlet has been usurped by a man who is reading a book. A book! Just a plain old low-tech book. I am tempted to walk over, draw myself up to my full commanding height of 5 feet four inches, and kindly request that he betake himself to a comfy chair, and free up outlet-adjacent real estate for those of us in the 21st century.


Him, I mean. Me, I’m perfect.

I asked the clerk if they’d changed the configuration to cut down on the campers, and he said no, and y’know, I never thought of that.

Not a lad who spends a lot of time typing, I think.

Went to the mall to see if they had any shirts I wanted to put on and wear around in public. They did not. Well, no summer shirts, anyway; it’s either polos, which I don’t like and never have, or T-shirts, and I have enough of those. Last year’s hues appear to be this year’s hues as well. It’s not like they gave up trying.

No, that’s not quite right; they try very hard. Too hard. I walked into Eddie Bauer, for example.

“Hi!” said the greeter. “How are you?”

“Very damp,” I said.

“Great! We have shorts on sale today, ten dollars off the second pair.”

I explained that they didn’t carry my size, and I was here for the shirts, and she said I could get them online, and I explained they didn’t have the size either. This was the 94th time I’ve had this conversation in this store because of the official policy of the retail world that no customer shall be allowed to pass through the portals unmolested, but must be braced with a flash of teeth and a cheery salutation. I swear, there are days I consider lurking outside and slipping in behind taller, wider people. It’s not that I don’t always want to say hello; sometimes I like to be cheerful right back in return, because there’s no harm in increasing the quantity of social lubricant in the world. But sometimes I get locked into exchanges the conclusion of which has been long ago foretold, mainly because I cannot shut up. I cannot just say “I’m fine.” No, I have to say “I’m damp,” in the hopes we can talk about something other than the shorts, which are ten dollars off, and thanks for pointing that out, even though I am STANDING IN FRONT OF, AND STARING STRAIGHT AT, A SIGN THREE FEET HIGH THAT SAYS EXACTLY THAT.

And then you have to leave! Then the round of goodbyes begin! Irish wakes break up faster! The minute you hit the end of the store, back in the deepest regions, and start circling out, they’re on you: did you find everything? Were you looking for something? I know they mean well, and it’s their job, and if I was looking for something I’d find them quite handy, but some days you just want to leave the store without filing a report.

It was worse at Express Men, which sells dress-up clothes for the Abercrombie and Fitch lads who finally got a job. (At Express Men, as it turns out.) At least the Eddie Bauer lasses are cheerful; the Express guys are sullen and hip, and if I have an umbrella I generally cane the first one as I enter, and the rest leave me alone. I did buy a shirt, albeit a long-sleeved one in a dusty rose hue. As usual, the clerk asked for my phone number. WHAT IS THIS, THE NSA? I wanted to shout, but I’ve learned my lesson. I said “no thanks,” which of course is not a proper reply, but they get the message and type in “REFUSED” or “CUSTOMER IS A DIPWAD” or whatever default entry they have for cranks.

Off to the Apple Store to get some DVDs. Busy, as usual. A few savvy guys by the laptops, feeling them for heat, bending over to check for The Whine. I goy my DVDs and queued. There was one person ahead of me in line. Unacceptable! The Apple code apparently dictates, so a guy materialized with a hand-held device and rang me up on the spot. Swiped my card, got my email for the receipt, and that was that.

Come to think of it, I really do hope he worked there.

Next, Crate and Barrel, where I mentally furnish the 50s-style house I do not have. Then Hallmark for a Mother’s Day card. My Mother’s Day present will not be soap or candles or perfume; it will be Time in whatever format she wants: time with her daughter, or time to relax. If I know my wife, it’s the former; she’s in the middle of a case, and you could drop a safe from 20 stories up on her head and it would have no effect. (Why were safes always falling out of windows in the old cartoons? Did they lack service elevators in the olden days, and have to winch everything up  20 stories?) Even though Gnat made a card, I bought one for her to sign, and I think I made a mistake. Maybe. It may strike Gnat as too baby. She’s at the age when she’s caught equally between cutesy-cuddly-little-things and all those alluring grown things that ten year-olds so freely enjoy. But the kid stuff is like comfort food.

Final stop: Bath and Body Works. I ran out of the fragrance bulbs I use to keep the family room bathroom smelling like apples. They don’t have that scent anymore. They have cinnamon apples, but that’s a fall aroma, isn’t it, now? ISN’T IT? WELL? Since I didn’t want anything floral, I got a tiny spray bottle of something with a crisp citrus scent. Went to the check out.  Cute clerk, very cheerful, big American teeth again. She noted that they also had the fragrance bulbs for this scent on sale. I explained that I was not prepared to commit to orange-mango yet. Had to live with it for a while. See if the rest of the family didn’t gag. She understood completely. “Do you want the receipt?”

And something flipped; something clicked, and for some reason I was thrown back 30 years to the record store, where you always kept the receipt in case there was something wrong with the record. That’s the only possible reason. Because I said:

“Sure, in case it’s warped.”

Which makes no sense to anyone 19 years old. Or maybe it does. I used to say that in the early days of Cds, because it was funny, ha ha, because Cds didn’t warp like records, get it?

“In case it’s warped!” she said, and laughed.

 I left the mall, feeling, as usual, that everyone is normal, and I think too much about things that do not matter.

Update: the card was a hit! Child and mother went all goopy. Wife chose free time, and spent it . . . at the office, working. Gnat and I went to the Mall to get the fragrance bulbs for Orange Mango, since everyone agreed they could live with the scent.

So I’d call the weekend a success. 

  c. j. lileks 2006. Email may be sent to first name at last name dot com.