Today I found myself at the mall, taking care of holiday returns. Before I could take a deep enough breath, I was inside the shadowy bass-pumping confines of Abercrombie & Fitch Kids, a cross between a lair and a late-night lounge in the business of selling tween clothing laden in the pungent smell of cologne.
Was I really here to get a credit on some not-so-skinny-skinny jeans for my daughter or was I stepping back in time to the middle school party where I kissed my 8th grade crush in someone’s cramped and dimly lit basement?
I was promptly met halfway into the cavernous maze by a young kid who looked like he was about seventeen and hadn’t shaved in at least two weeks. “Hello, ma’am,” he offered, in a polite-enough-voice whose tone also suggested I was a middle-age woman who had made a wrong turn somewhere between Talbots and J. Jill. “What can I help you with?”
There were so many directions I wanted to go with his question.
Noseplugs. Get me some STAT to make this awful smell go away. I’m having so much trouble breathing right now that I might have to head home and take a few hits from my son’s inhaler. If Phoebe from FRIENDS had licensed a cologne for Smellycat, the scent enveloping your store right now would hands-down nail it.
A flashlight. Get me a flashlight because I can’t even see my own feet right now. I wear contact lenses, and it’s so blurry in here that I feel like both of them are stuck somewhere on the back of my eyeballs. Seriously, who does business in a dark room besides drug dealers and prostitutes? Lucky for you, you probably don’t have to shut down the store when the rest of the mall loses power because your regulars are used to shopping where they can’t see.
Earplugs. You can help me with some ear plugs because the music is so loud I am going to lose my hearing. Dude, (if you can call you ma’am, I can call you dude, or I may even call you little man if I feel like it), I only want to make a return. By the way, I can only see your lips moving right now. I am not looking to go night-clubbing at 10:30 a.m. in the North Shore Mall. Your (awful) music is on full blast right now. In fact, it’s making the entire room shake so much that it must measure at least 5.5 on the Richter scale. So either turn the whole god damn system off, or I can wear ear plugs and we can conduct my entire transaction using sign language.
Next, the young man politely asks me if I’d like the money back on my debit card, or a gift card so I can come back to shop again. I almost laugh out loud right in his face that I (think) is six inches from mine. I can’t even see you, I can’t hear you, and your store smells so dreadful that I am hallucinating and seeing a nasty version of Antonio Bandaras when he had hair longer than mine. In a nutshell, I’m a modern-day Helen Keller drowning in cologne just trying to get the $75 I’m owed before I hopefully can escape this store-disguised-as-a-disco in one piece without suffocating.
“A refund will be perfect,” I say,fumbling for the light on my phone so I can see where I need to type in my pin on the keypad.
He kindly finishes up and hands me my receipt. While I’m tempted to ask if the scent in the air is something they’ve derived from a skunk, I hold back, turn in my Merrills, and sprint out of there as fast as I can.
I’m way too old for Abercrombie, and I’m willing to bet that the feeling is mutual. For one of the first times in my life, aging never felt so good.