Mall People

Bill was right. All the mall’s a stage, and all the men and women are merely bit players in this comedy. Each has a role, and everyone is a punchline. So it’s not Shakespeare, but it is as I like it.

Here comes the rosary lady, arms swinging, head bobbing, and lips mouthing silent prayers as she fingers the beads on her rosary. She walks as salmon swim—against the flow. Today, like all days, she sports her Green Bay Packers jersey. She smiles and nods. Once, between Hail Mary’s, she growled, “Morning” in a whiskey-throated burst that was too deep for her slight frame. Oh boy, look out.

They streak past me like I’m rooted in the tile floor. These Lululemon moms are fit, firm, and fast. Three abreast and marching in cadence, these quick-stepping, long-striding fashionistas push their strollers, locked in a synchronous display of youthful stamina. Like a flight of geese, they adjust quickly to single-file formation as they prepare to pass the white shoe people.

With shoes as white as their hair, they amble around the mall. I’m not talking about the Nikes or Brooks or Asics that the fashionistas wear. These faux leather foot wrappers fit like a toga. Since they must house bunions, hammer toes, corn pads, arch supports, and compression socks, they come in two sizes—generous and very generous.  Were it not for the Velcro strap with SAS logo emblazoned on them, they would shuffle right out of these shoe boxes. I admire their enthusiasm as they inch-worm their way around the mall. They smile as the young ones take over their lanes. They are not in a hurry, unlike the scavenger.

Oh, how this guy amuses me. He darts from one coin exchanger to another. From vending machines, to massage chairs, to pay phones, to seat cushions, to arcade games, to ATM’s, he searches frantically for mintage. He squats as quickly for a penny as a quarter. One of his circuitous routes equals two laps for the rest of us. He completes one zig-zag lap upstairs and one downstairs every day. I’ve often mused how entertaining it would be to super glue a half-dollar to the floor and lie in wait to watch him engage in a tug-of-war with the floor. He would win of course. What is that racket?

I’ve heard that tonal, monosyllabic clucking before. It sounds like a choking duck. It’s the Vietnamese woman standing outside of her nail salon squawking into her cell phone. I feel like I’m back in the Nam hearing mamasan bark orders to the bar girls. A quick glance in the window of the salon and there she is, one of the white shoes getting the barnacles scraped off of her feet. Soon, she will emerge in flip flops with cotton bumpers stuck between her crooked toes. I’m grossed out, just as I’m coming to the food court.

The food samplers. Don’t they know by now I don’t eat their stuff? It doesn’t help that the guy who works at Subway never washes his hands, and I’ve seen him two knuckles up his nose before. If I ate their stuff I’d have to do another lap and frankly the calories aren’t worth it. Now, if they were giving away doughnuts, I’d eat one as long as the Subway guy didn’t hand it to me. But at least these folks hawking their food are reasonably polite, not like what’s waiting for me around the corner.

These carnival barking kiosk operators are the most annoying people in the mall save for the mall rats on Friday evenings or snow days. They all go to the same foreign language accent school. “Do I look like a hand cream guy to you, buddy?” Do you know how many times I’ve had to say this? Can they really earn a living selling knock-off sunglasses, cell phone cases, and massage magnets? Once, I told the magnet chick that the Chinese guy who runs the massage parlor down the hall might be a prospect for the magnets. I’ve seen that Asian masseuse work.

He had a middle-aged guy in his torture chair, and the Chinese guy was performing some kind of Kung-Fu maneuver on him—jabbing, rotating, and pile-driving a sharp elbow deep into the man’s spine. The poor guy screamed so loud that it startled the old creepy guy who sits in the massage chairs to watch the Lululemon moms walk by. Even mamasan stopped screeching into her cell phone and looked over. That yell echoed so loud throughout the mall that the security people showed up.

Mall cops are the Rodney Dangerfield’s of the mall. The few. The proud. The disrespected. They all wear the same black orthopedic shoes and tactical gear with a name badge that says, “Not authorized to carry a gun.” That’s like telling the shoplifters that all they have to do is to run a little faster than paint dries and they’ll get away. Mall cops come in every size, age, color, gender, and sweat pattern. I actually saw a mall cop break a sweat riding his Segway around the mall. I thought those things had a weight limit. If you need to find a mall cop, they hang out in the food court the way real cops hang out in doughnut shops. The young mall cop with the buzz cut is a straw. With a 24-inch waist, his only shape comes from the wallet in his back pocket and the cell phone in his shirt pocket. I know he has a crush on the girl who works at the coffee shop.

I should say the “coffee moochers” shop because most of the people I see in there are old folks like me who get their senior-discount coffee and sit for two hours draining the bottomless pots. I asked the shop manager one day if he resented the moochers and he said, “Not really, but it does bother me when they bring in food from other places, eat at our tables, and fill their travel mugs.” Every once in a while I see a real shopper eating there at lunch time.

It’s too bad that there are so few of them these days in this mordant merchandise mall. Generally, it’s the look-alike, dress-alike mothers and daughters, one trying to look older and the other trying to look younger. Sometimes when I’m feeling frisky and flirtatious I might say, “Are you two twins?” The daughters roll their eyes, and the mom’s adjust their hair. The cleaning lady thinks it’s funny.

That poor ol’ gal pushes and pushes and pushes her cleaning cart. Sometimes, it even moves. The only time I’ve ever seen her clean anything was when I hot-footed to the restroom, and she had already barricaded the door with her “Piso Mojado” sign. I try not to use public restrooms for all of my needs because men are as disgusting in public as they are at home. At home, we leave the seats up, but in public restrooms we leave the seats down, and it’s never a pretty sight. Buzz cut saw me dancing by the door and laughed. He said, “Man, every time.” I ran to the downstairs restroom by the exit. That’s where the smokers hang out.

Those poor discriminated against smokers. They cluster in cumulus clouds with the bus people and the outdoor mall cop. He’s the one that sweats; smoking and sweating is a bad combination. Sometimes mamasan goes out for a smoke, too. It doesn’t matter how bad the weather is, they are out there, those dedicated inhalers. Draw in; hold it; hold it; a little longer; blow out; and cough up a lung. They’re at every entrance. It’s like I’m back in Nam, popping smoke for the choppers to land. Damn flashbacks. Damn Mamasan. Time to go.

I only did one lap today on the upper level. I spent too much time observing and not enough time walking. Tomorrow I’ll come back and do a couple of laps downstairs. I haven’t told you about the ground-level people: exhausted playground moms sanitizing everything with germ-killing wipes; inconsiderate loud talkers adding their noise pollution to the cacophony of mall music and train whistles; tone-deaf earbud singers who gyrate to Bruno Mars; way-too-many jewelry stores, sports memorabilia shops, and candle places; the vision center that requires all employees to wear glasses as part of their uniform; the art shops for starving artists who must be emaciated by now since I’ve never seen a customer in there; the karate place with all those screaming kids and gushing parents; the fancy, ladies undergarment shop and the guys that hang out in the massage chairs waiting for their wives because only single guys go in those places. And then, there’s the winking hair dresser. I don’t know if she’s flirting or just has a tic. It doesn’t matter to me, but I think the creepy old guy likes it. I saw him wink back once.

There are more, so many more to tell you about. There’s nothing quite like a trip to the mall to awaken my muse. It’s a-musing.

Just Another Day on the Road

By Tom Reilly, former road warrior

For this road warrior, the days are longer, the bags heavier, and the lines slower. The traveling public has what it wants—cheap flights. Now, they are paying the price. The security line is especially slow this morning, as it snakes its way around the TSA traffic lanes and back through the concourse blocking the entrance to the gift shops and restrooms, providing enough congestion to stop time. The Road Warrior in a hurry. In front of him, the cheerleading team that is heading to Orlando for the national championships is practicing their cheers while their hyperactive cheer moms clap and look around to see who else is watching. Behind the manic teenagers, young families, attached to their strollers and weighed down by carry-ons, head for Disney World while the snow birds behind them are busy asking everyone questions and looking confused. Airline crews sail through private check points.

He’s antsy, this Road Warrior.

He has fifteen minutes to board his flight. This is why business people hate to fly South West Airlines. It caters to the slothful, not the fleet of feet.

Of course, I’m going to miss my flight, he thinks.

He inches his way to the screening equipment.

Five minutes.

Damn, don’t they know I have a plane to catch?

“Step back, we need to recheck these bags,” the TSA agent tells the family.

Of course, diaper bags and carry-ons full of electronics for the kids. How many iPads does a family need?

“Ma’am, do you have a note from your doctor for your artificial knees? Please step to the side. We need to wand you,” the TSA agent says.

“What did he say?” The old woman shouts to her husband.

“He said something about bees warning you.”

Of course, hard of hearing, too.

Four minutes.

“Step forward, sir. May I see your boarding pass?”

“Sure. Damn, where did I put it?” He checks every pocket of his cargo shorts. “Here.”

“Okay, have a nice day, sir.”

Three minutes.

You’ve got to be shitting me. They need to re-screen my bag?

He grabs his bags from the conveyor and begins his sprint to the gate. The wheelchair brigade is parading three abreast like a military unit in perfect formation while the drivers casually chat with each other.

Two minutes.

He moves like a track-and-field star, juking around the coots riding their rollers, hurdling carry-ons the cheer team has littered about, and dodging strollers that serve as pre-flight entertainment for the children.

One minute.

There’s my gate.

Out of breath, he rushes to the door way as the gate agent prepares to close the door.

“Boy, you just made it, I’m closing this flight. Boarding pass?”

He has it in his hand this time.

“Okay, you can board. There’s only one seat left. It’s an extremely full flight.”


Of course, extremely full. Why do they always say that? If it’s full, it’s full. Extremely sounds like people are sitting in the aisles. Oh well, airline jargon.

“Sir, there’s one seat in the back of the cabin,” the flight attendant says. “It’s a middle seat on your right.”


Of course, it’s a middle seat. Probably between two people that need three seats

He throws his bags into the overhead bin atop the row with the open seat and points to the vacancy without saying a word. The woman who is sitting in the aisle seat and spilling into his seat struggles to stand. The first thing he does is to put down the arm rest. He doesn’t care how it looks to the woman. He paid for the seat, the whole seat. He sits down and notices a travel cage under the seat in front of her. It’s her dog, a Chihuahua.

Of course, it’s a lap dog.

The door closes and the pilot powers up the engines. As they begin to push back, he hears a strange noise coming from the window seat on his left. He turns to the twenty-something sitting there. The young man is attached to his smart phone via ear buds, wearing a tie-dyed “Feel the Bern” tee shirt, dragging a ponytail, decorated with enough ink to write a short story, and looking like he fell face-first into the nuts-and-bolts bin at Home Depot. They nod at each other. He looks to his right, and XXXL smiles. They taxi to the run-up area.

This really sucks. I’m telling our travel coordinator never again on this airline.

As the pilot throttles up for the take-off roll, the road warrior hears the noise on his left again. It is a clucking sound.

What the hell?

The clucking begins slow and picks up speed as the plane accelerates. As they lift off, the clucking becomes hysterical.

He turns to the Millennial and says, “What is that, man?”

The young man removes his ear buds. “Huh?”

“What is that noise?”

“You mean the clucking?”

“Yes, the clucking.”

“That’s my service chicken.”


“My service chicken. I’m afraid to fly, so I paid the $65 to get this little guy certified as a service animal.”

“You’re shitting me?”

“No, for real. He’s a rescue chicken. I got him from the farm. They were going to slaughter him and I saved his life. I’m a vegan, you know.”

“Congratulations,” the Road Warrior dishes up a heaping portion of sarcasm.

For the twenty minutes, the neurotic chicken clucks uncontrollably. By this point, XXXL has the Chihuahua on her spacious lap. It’s whimpering and she’s baby-talking it the way the young mothers on their way to Disney World talk to infants.

I can’t take this. The world gone nuts and I’m the last sane person on earth.

Now, the Millennial has the chicken on his lap stroking its back. The dog is snapping at the chicken and the chicken is pecking at the dog. The Millennial is rocking to his music and XXXL is smiling.

This clucking is driving me crazy. I want to choke that chicken.

He laughs at the idea of his choking another man’s chicken. This comic interlude gives him momentary relief until the chicken frantically flaps its wings, which startles the dog and it pisses on XXXL’s lap.

“Oh man, this chicken hates to fly. Makes him nervous, you know.”

“No shit,” the Road Warrior says.

He asks XXXL if he can get up to get his Bose noise-cancelling headphones from his bag in the overhead bin. As he stands, the dog bites him on the ass. He jumps, startling the chicken.

XXXL says, “You scared him. He’s so delicate.”

By now, the chicken is out of control. The Millennial is trying to calm it down, but the flapping and the flying feathers won’t stop. In an act of defiance, the dog jumps out of XXXL’s arms and shits on the Road Warrior’s seat. Then, the bird shits. The cabin reeks of shit. The lady in the row in front of them gets sick and throws up on the man next to her, which starts a chain-reaction pukefest.

Of course this is happening.

The Road Warrior calmly walks to the back of the plane and asks the flight attendant, “May I have something to drink?”

“Sure, what would you like?”

“How about a diet Coke?”

“Can do,” the flight attendant says. “How’s it going today?”

The Road Warrior says, “Just another day on the road.”


Cell Phone Addicts

By Tom Reilly

I’m neither a technophile nor technophobe, but what’s up with all these cell phones and their symbiotic owners? Don’t get me wrong. I like the convenience, accessibility and safety that cell phones offer. But enough already!

Everywhere I go I encounter cell phone addicts polluting the air with their noise. It’s the high-tech equivalent to unrestrained flatulence. They’re both noisy and offensive to others.

I was in a public restroom and the man in the next stall was talking to his boss while taking care of his personal business. I flushed often to make a point. During a tender scene in the movie Titanic a cell phone beckoned and a woman rushed from the theatre promising not to be late for car pool. Even in church we’re not safe from these high-tech demons. During mass a cell phone wailed and without missing a beat the priest stopped the ceremony and said, “Sir, if God wants to talk to you, He doesn’t need a phone.” The congregation cheered as the demon was exorcised.

I’m no techno-prude. I like technology but like millions of other people I do not want to witness your slobbering baby talk on the phone to your children while standing next to me in line. Call you girlfriend and whisper those sweet nothings in her ear when you’re not sitting next to me on a plane. And if you must call your boss, keep it out of the public restrooms. Some places ought to be a refuge from high-tech gadgets. Read a newspaper. I’ll pass you one under the stall.

If you are a cell phone addict have pity on the rest of us. Put a cork in it. Use your “off” button from time to time. Give the airwaves a rest. Visit your mother in person. Spend more face time with your customers. Play golf the old fashioned way—make the pro shop track you down when your wife calls.

This ran in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on 8/23/2000.