“Can I ask you a question?” the girl at the mall pagoda asked as she matched our pace for a few steps, simultaneously asking for permission and granting it to herself.
“Sorry,” I said as we walked past. I knew what she wanted to do. She wanted to squirt lotion on us, like Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs.
“It rubs the lotion on its skin!” she might just as well have been saying as she chased after us with her bottle of Exfoliating Pear-Infused Lightly Salted Cocoa Butter Extract with Vitamin E and Tuarine Pustules.
She was barking at the wrong rube. I’ve always hated lotion. Even as a small child, Mom would chase me around the beach with sunblock.
“It’s slimy!” I’d yell. Then two days later, she’d chase me around with Solarcaine for my sunburn.
“That’s slimy, too!” I’d yell, bolting out the door, a cloud of skin flakes hanging in the air where I’d been standing.
Now the tables are turned, and I have to hold down our son Evan as my wife Kara slathers lotion on his dry skin after bath time. Then it’s my job to dress him, which is like trying to put jammies on a greased pig, except with more thrashing and squealing.
We passed a few more stores before another girl jumped out from behind another pagoda.
“Have you thought about getting him into modeling?” she asked, pointing into our stroller.
I was struck by her bravery at guessing Evan’s gender after just a glance. Babies are a notoriously androgynous bunch, and guessing a baby’s gender outright is like asking your co-worker if she’s pregnant. You’d better be sure before you say anything.
Of course Kara and I had always thought our baby was beautiful, but we’d neglected to consider how we could use his looks to enrich ourselves.
According to the America’s Next Top Model episodes that Kara forces me to watch (a la Clockwork Orange, minus the eye clips, barely), the best models need to be self-centered and screechy, which is why babies make such obvious candidates.
We passed by the pagoda, politely shaking our heads, which is probably what Lindsay Lohan’s mom should have done.
Still, the question remained: When did our malls turn into street bazaars, with peddlers accosting you beside every booth? At this rate, it won’t be long before snake charmers sit outside Pottery Barn, coaxing cobras out of Havana Lidded Baskets, with their eye-catching texture and functional nesting design.
After navigating the pagoda gauntlet, we finally arrived at Sears: the Home of a Thousand Screwdrivers, and Also Zero Screws. Kara had been reading online reviews of washing machines and dryers for several days, and had memorized the model numbers of the machines we were considering.
“BDZ004A got better reviews than BDZ004,” she told me.
After a couple hours of dithering, when both Evan and our salesman were at times close to tears, we finally bought a couple of front-loading machines to replace our old appliances, which were functionally one step up from a clothesline, a washboard and swift-running creek.
We’re now the proud owners of a front-loading washer and dryer, which are apparently all the rage in Europe. Kara and I feel so European now, it seems like we should be eating baguettes at a sidewalk café under the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, pretending we don’t speak English to lost Nebraskans.
As we walked out of the mall, Kara said, “These machines use a different kind of detergent. I need to read some reviews.”
It occurred to me that there is nothing that can’t be researched online. This soap cleans better. This gum chews chewier. Someday, after people begin rating their spouses online, I hope my review reads like this: A++++ husband!!! Pleasure to do life with. WOULD MARRY AGAIN.”
You can review Mike Todd at firstname.lastname@example.org.