On a perfect limpid summer afternoon I slunk into the Mall of America, abashed, ashamed. It’s a sin to spend such a day indoors.. But I had a mission.

Assignment: Duvet!

<jangly spy music>

There’s a duvet in the guest room; it is ripped. It was purchased from Eddie Bauer – the store, not the remains of the founder – seven years ago, and has served us well despite the fact that it has buttons instead of a zipper. See, a zipper is so modern. People like that comforting feeling they get when they hand-fasten the duvet. It grounds them. Makes them feel part of the great human tradition of buttoning, not that jangly alienated industrial paradigm represented by the soulless zipper. Fie, zipper, with your snickering teeth! Granted: it does represent some sort of dialectic, with the two parts coming together into a whole, but it’s just not as natural as the high holy button.

No duvets at the upscale department stores have zippers. All the duvets at the lowscale department stores have zippers.

Anyway. The duvet is ripped. My sensible response: turn it over. But my wife’s mother is coming for a visit, so we need a new duvet. My wife has no time to get one. I have time in overflowing abundance, it seems, so off to Southdale go Gnat and I. Several styles are available for purchase: Laura Ashley having a screaming acid fit, Clown Pelt, creepy-crawly paisley, and one sage-hued item that I can only describe as “ribbed for her pleasure.” This is the one I get, because it picks up the colors of the room, flatters them, doesn’t overwhelm the space with a nutball pattern or suck the life out of the room with some sinkhole hue. The clerk gets a duvet out of storage. It appears gray. We compare it with the one on display, spotlight by high halogen fixtures. Now it’s green.

Is this some sort of survival technique the duvet has acquired over the generations? I ask. It blends in, avoiding the predators of duvets?

The clerk doesn’t know if that’s so, but I can return it if it doesn’t work out. I take it home. It’s slate frickin’ gray under normal light. Grr. Back to the store the next day. Return. Off to another mall. Bed Bath and Beyond: nothing. Herberger’s: nothing. Kohl’s: nothing. I drive home, a failure.

I’m done looking for things for this house, I tell my wife. From now on this house is on its own.

But the rip!, she insists.

Well, that’s why God made duct tape. Or rather why He set in motion the chain of events that made inert chemicals spark with life, embark on a long process that yielded ever-complex organisms that one day would develop, market, and purchase duct tape. We’ll live with it.


I’ll go to the Mall of America tomorrow.

But first, the party. It’s nights like Saturday that make me wish I drank more. I had a great time at the Northern Alliance Blogging Bash, but I kept thinking gee, how much more fun could I have if I drank? Lots? Until I was a loud sloshy boor who couldn’t even pronounce “shh”? I may never know. I am not averse to a cocktail; oh, no. But I don’t have anything if I’m driving. So I drink coffee and lotsofit until I am so hyperamped I disappear from view and can be detected only a small, highpitched whine. (Not too different than my usual persona, I suppose.) At least this time I had a partner in overbeaning – Bob Davis from KSTP’s morning show was there, and he drinks a lot of coffee. No, that’s not the right way to frame the issue; it’s like saying “gosh, that guy breaths a lot of oxygen.” I think Bob is one of these people whose coffee intake is best described in terms of when he isn’t drinking coffee. "How much coffee don’t I drink? Well, doc, I don’t drink any from ten AM to noon, and again from three to five. And then I have a little bit of not-drinking after supper, otherwise I’m asleep all night."

Anyway, much fun, and it was a pleasure to meet readers and other bloggers. All these strangers I know so well.

Sunday: off to the Mall. Bloomingdale’s: lots of duvets, which were either ugly or $400. Macy’s: ugly or $300. But there was one Calvin Klei
n number – with buttons, of course – that looked like it was a second cousin to sage. Check the description: the color is “magnesium.” Oh, that’s helpful. Why not call it “paramecium” or “singe” or “weathered tungsten” or somesuch artful term with no connection to the world in which we live, eh? I ended up with a Ralph Laren duvet that would either work, or wouldn’t. Bought it. Headed back to the ramp.

I paused at the top of the stairs to get my bearings. A young woman approaches me, and her body language is apologizing before she opens her mouth. A lanky gamin, if that’s possible. Short black hair in a 20s bob, very lovely, lots and lots of legs. Her accessories look like they came from those tiny stores in lower Manhattan beloved by hipsters until they get a mention in New York magazine, which just spoils everything. Interesting tattoos on her forearms which seemed to say I AM A DARK AND COMPLEX PERSON. Excellent teeth, good grooming, bright eyes. Someone’s daughter. She radiates TROUBLE. She starts:

“Can I – I’m sorry to ask, but –“

“What’s the matter?”

She looked down at the concrete floor and she smiled because she didn’t really know what else to do. It was pained and abashed and unguarded and charming. “I am so embarrassed to ask, my boyfriend – he, we just had an argument and he drove off, and my purse is in his truck. Not this one -" she patted the small purse slung over her shoulder – “but my purse with all my stuff, and –"

I had my wallet out already, and I peeled off a five. “Enough?”

She just sagged with gratitude.

“Yes, yes, thank you, now I can get gas. My name’s Lisa.” She stuck out her hand.


“Nice to meet you. And it is Lisa even though this purse has an E?” She showed me her small purse, a black plastic number with a pink E sewed on the side. “It was part of a set, and I got three of them, and – well, thank you.”

“I hope it all works out,” I said, and I took my leave. As I walked back to my vehicle I wondered why she needed gas when she had driven to the mall with her boyfriend. A good scammer would have a good answer you wouldn't believe. A bad scammer would a bad answer that would sound plausible, because it was so unpolished. But I think she was lying. She’d driven to the Mall of America to meet her boyfriend, and had run out of fuel after she’d parked? No one panhandles because they’re Dangerously Low on fuel. Her panhandling script concerned gas, not a cab, which suggested she had imported it from the streets to the mall. Or not. Who knows.

Why did I give her the money? Because I’d found a duvet.

Drove home. Unfurled the duvet. I agree with wife: nnnnnnope. I packed it up, put it back in the Macy’s bag. I’ll return it next weekend.

And I wouldn’t be surprised to see Lisa again at the top of the stairs. But I’d be disappointed. I never believe people who approach me with those stories, but I believed her right away. Best case scenario: she got home. Worst case: I’m out five dollars.

Scammer or not, she had problems. The lack of duvet diversity was the least of them.


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