Hard Shell 

An eye-opening trip to the mall.

Last week, I had a day off. It’s been a long time since I had one, and I didn’t know what to do with myself. The grass didn’t need cutting, the dog didn’t need washing, and the pigeons that nest in my gables didn’t need shooting.

The only thing left on my to-do list was cleaning up my office. I get all swimmy-headed when I look at the foot-high pile of paper on my desk, so don’t you know I was delighted when daughter Jess walked into the office and said, “Mom and I are going shopping. Want to come with us?”

“Where are y’all going?” I asked.

“A mall or two, Target, maybe even a Wal-Mart,” Jess answered.

“Think we might be able to work a Sharper Image store in there?” I asked. “I enjoy looking at expensive and ironic gizmos, like those ozone machines. People buy ’em to rid their precious houses of indoor pollutants, but instead, they get a machine that actually makes pollution.”

“Works for me,” Jess said. “You can wander in the gizmo store while Mom and I look in Bath and Body Works.”

A few minutes later, I was standing in a mall. It wasn’t quite what I expected. Last time I looked, a mall was just a warehouse full of the same stores that are in every other mall — kind of like a money-sucking theme park. Now, the stores are like night clubs — disco music blasting, a whole bunch of colored lights blinking, and patrons dressed in clothes that advertise their willingness to have sex in the bathroom.

The Jowers girls’ first objective was to find some blue jeans for daughter Jess. I knew things had changed since I last shopped for jeans. I was pretty sure Levis didn’t cost $4 anymore, and I figured jeans, like sneakers, would be designed to make kids covet each others’ stuff, thus keeping prices artificially high. What I didn’t know was that you can’t buy a pair of new blue jeans anymore — they come already worn out, and even the low-status ones start at about 50 bucks.

“Sweet Baby Jesus,” I yelped. “The kids who worked Saturdays killing rats in the cotton mill wouldn’t have worn jeans this worn out. Their mamas would’ve died of shame.”

Daughter Jess rolled her eyes. “Dad, you sound so old and square.”

“Sorry, baby,” I said. “Back when I wore jeans, we couldn’t afford to buy them worn out. We had to buy ’em undamaged, so we could get some wear out of ’em.”

I kept on: “We ought to try giving brand-new, stiff jeans to underprivileged children. They could wear them for three or four years then sell ’em to the spoiled-rotten overprivileged kids at a huge profit. It’s a win-win deal — clothe the needy, soak the rich. I can’t be the first person to think of this.”

Jess and Brenda hustled me out of the jeans store before I started drawing too much attention. I followed them to some other stores as they went shirt-shopping. “Jowers girls,” I said, “one of y’all explain this low-pants-short-shirt thing to me. I can understand a trim girl with a belly like the bottom of a turtle shell showing off a little belly skin. But all I see are jelly-bellied girls with three-inch-deep navels running around showing what too many Cheetos can do to a person. That kind of intractable fat shouldn’t show up until a person’s at least 40.”

And with that, the Jowers girls took me to Chick Fil-A. They figured I couldn’t get too contrary about a chicken sandwich.

After lunch, I followed Jess and Brenda as they went shopping for makeup. I’ve got to tell you, it was a surprise to me that either Jowers girl fools with makeup. In all the years I’ve know Brenda, she hasn’t used 10 dollars’ worth of makeup. Jess just plain doesn’t need it. Even so, they like to shop for it.

I thought women bought makeup like men buy beer — just walk up to the counter, say what you want, somebody hands it to you, then you pay for it. But no. I learned that everything in the makeup department is subject to tryout. Women open up perfectly good lipsticks and paint their hands with them. That way, they can compare colors. Their hands end up looking like Señor Wences’ hand puppet, Johnny. They do the same thing with nail polish — open up the bottles and start painting nails right there in the store.

“Y’all quit,” I said. “That’s stealing.”

“No, it’s not,” daughter Jess replied. “Everybody does it. See all the polish on these price tags? That’s from people trying out different colors.”

I don’t know about anybody else, but I wouldn’t paint my nails with polish that other people have been dipping in. I’d wear rental shoes at a bowling alley first. That way, at least I’ve got socks between me and other peoples’ funk.

Clearly, I’m not fit for modern shopping. Next time the Jowers girls head for the mall, I think I’ll just stay home and clean off my desk.

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