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“Can I ask you a question?” Um, please don’t.

October 13, 2008

Every holiday season, the thing that is the Kenwood Towne Centre sneaks up on me. In Cincinnati, we’re thick with shopping malls, shopping centers, and shopping centres, but none of them are quite like the Kenwood Towne Centre, which is a beast all its own. It boasts a Nordstrom, a Crate & Barrel, a Sephora, a Cheesecake Factory (if that can qualify as a boast), plus dozens of boutique shops including Forever XXI, Ann Taylor and Ann Taylor Loft, L’Occitane, Kenneth Cole, Restoration Hardware, West Elm, Guess, the laughably “racy” Abercrombie & Fitch, plus the every-mall-must-haves, Pottery Barn, Williams-Sonoma, Victoria’s Secret, Gap, Gap Baby, Gap Body, Gap Left Foot, Gap Tooth, etc. etc etc.

IOW, it’s snob central. You’ll find all manner of Lexuses (Lexi?), Escalades, Boxsters, and Hummers (both 2 and 3) in the parking lot. Now, I’m no fashionista, but, even still, when I go to that mall (Towne Centre, I mean, Towne Centre), I purposefully “dress down” in mediocre clothes. Not sloppy, not hip, just blah. The shop girls are snob-wannabes, so, the minute they get a load of my ironed jeans with the nerdy crease down the front of each leg and unfashionable 3/4-length-sleeved polo shirt with [gasp] snaps instead of buttons, the breeze from their practiced about-faces would knock the leaves off of our Autumn-turning trees. That’s okay. That’s just the way I like it – to shop in peace – and it’s worked like a charm for, like, ohmagawd, ever.

For the last couple of years, though, a new breed of merchant has infiltrated the walls of the Towne Centre: the specialty kiosk. Not just any old kiosk — the fake-hair hair extensions and cheap silver jewelry vendors manned by sulking relatives of the owners are as native to malls as empty soap dispensers in the bathrooms — but, rather, these are kiosks with shiny objects and whiz-bang samples and flatscreen HD TVs showing slick product demos and gushing testimonials. Kiosks owned by average people. Average people with dreams of owning their own four-walled business someday. Not snob-wannabes. My mediocre attire is *their* mediocre attire. These people don’t find me a turn-off. Good God, they not only don’t turn away from me, but they actually make eye contact and approach me (“Not sloppy, not hip: now there’s our sucker,” they think, “Ha HA!”)

I stopped at the Towne Centre over lunch break today – I work nearby – to run an errand and grab some food. My office is casual dress, so I’m appropriately mediocred-out in a 3/4-length-sleeved polo shirt with snaps. On the way to the pretzel shop (the only redeeming quality of malls, IMO), I found myself entering a gauntlet of Average Joe/Josie whiz-bang kiosks. Was I imagining things, or are there twice as many kiosks today as the last time I was here? And holy moses, these kioskonian people are accosting me. Stepping right into my path, one after the other, super-aggressive, like the I’m-going-to-empty-this-bottle-or-die-trying perfume spritzers at Macy’s, with the same opening sales pitch:

“Can I ask you a question?”

“What?” I reply, momentarily confused by the question, because, you know, didn’t you just ask one?

“How would you feel about being acne-free?”

I frown and don’t reply because I’m thinking, I *am* acne-free. I don’t even wear foundation anymore because one of the gifts of passing 40 has been clear skin. Crow’s feet, yes. Pimples, no. Average Josie is waiting patiently as this thought runs through my head, but when it seems a response is not forthcoming, she plows ahead with her pitch.

“Do you have a moment to hear about our revolutionary three-step process to perfect skin?”

I blurt out, rather rudely, “Nnooohh,” as though I had just been asked if I wanted to go key some Lexi in the parking lot. Then I do a shop-girl about-face and walk off in the wrong direction.

A mere 10 steps later, “Miss, can I ask you a question?”

Nice try with the ‘Miss.’ I wave Average Joe off with a pushing-away gesture and scurry towards the food court, but not before getting a look at the name of his booth: Dead Sea Skin Care. Yikes. I don’t even want to know that is, or how they figure the word “dead” is advantageous in conjunction with “skin care.” I think I would’ve rather surrendered my will to the ProActiv Solutions booth with its innocuous “three-step process” promise.

Every kiosk between me and the food court has two people manning the aisle – one for each direction of traffic flow – so that no one escapes. “Can I ask you a question?” OMG. Where are those snobby Ann Taylor girls when you need them?

In the safety of the food court (there’s an exit to the parking lot nearby – no more kiosk gauntlet today), I have to mentally shake off the assault, and the failure of my cloak of invisible mediocrity. I get my little chicken wrap thingy and beat feet.

It’s only when I get back to the office that I remember that while I did pick up lunch, I completely forgot to run my errand, which was the point of the whole trip.

Then, I also remembered: ah, xmas. Yes, that’s it. It’s October. The holiday shopping season has officially begun. The Average Joes and Josies have a mere three months to earn their entire year’s salary off of their whiz-bang kiosks. And over the next week or three, the Towne Centre’s parking lot will reach a point where it’s perpetually filled, until Thanksgiving, when it has to hire off-duty police officers to manage traffic within the mall’s many parking lots. It happens every year without fail, so, I breathe a sigh of relief that my mediocrity cloak has not failed me afterall, I make a mental note that the Kenwood Towne Centre is now off-limits until January 2, and head off to L’Occitane’s web site to see if they have a free shipping offer for the thing I was intending to pick up.

For anyone scoffing at my holiday-shopping-mall aversion, I dare you to go to any Toys R Us tomorrow for the unleashing of this year’s Tickle Me Elmo toy (I’ve heard it now does jazz hands) It’s already selling on eBay for over $100. G’head, I dare you.

  1. October 14, 2008 7:48 am

    I’ve actually pointed myself intentionally at kiosks twice–to buy a pair of clip-on sunglasses and to buy a watch battery. The one time I got suckered into the “May I ask you a question” trap, I found myself having my nails burnished with some miracle scrubadub that would keep nails polished past the Apocalypse, or something. The young scrubadub lady cast the whole pitch, of course, as being something my wife would love (the apparatus, not me with perfectly polished nails). I should have just done the about-face, but there was something so surrealistically comical about the whole thing that I stuck it out. Only one nail though–and it’s not polished anymore, so the Apocalypse must have passed.

    By the way, for those who don’t think that this might be surrealistically comical, you haven’t met my 6’3, graying, perpetually-grumpy-looking self.

  2. soupaddict permalink
    October 14, 2008 1:36 pm

    I’m kind of in a trap myself, as one of the kiosks in the gauntlet was selling Crocs, and I need to replace my hideously lovely and comfortable pale pink pair that I’ve worn down to nubs. Unfortunately, no matter what direction I approach it from, I’m gonna have to pass at least a dozen other kiosks. I must psych myself up for success.

    BTW, I never thought you particularly grumpy-looking. Maybe I’m just always distracted by the sparkly shine from your nails. (Admit it, you bought the Apocalyptic Scrubadubber (and then hid it in manly embarrassment but secretly use it anyway) because you were thrilled that she properly asked, “May I…” instead of “Can I…” (The Kenwood Kioskonians were, one and all, asking “Can I…”)

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