The Hard Sell

I hate shopping malls. I really do. Call me the anti-girl, and you’d be right. Whenever I set foot in one of these unholy places, I do what any sensible person would do: run for the cover the shop I’m there to visit.

Now, no matter where one parks, the distance between the mall entrance and one’s goal can be described as Route X. Sadly, as I was in no mood to deal with the twisting labyrinth of the shopping mall’s parking lot, with its variable speed limits, oddly placed stop signs, and the new sheriff’s department outpost, I opted to park quickly, and take my chances with a long Route X. Entering by an anchor store, my course took me past the stinking pit of the bath goods store, any number of mid-mall kiosks situated like hurdles, their attendants trying to lure me into a sale with, “hey, you look familiar!” and finally the burnt-espresso horror of our local international coffee giant waystation. All of this to get to the Game Stop, the one beacon of semi-geekdom in a vast sea of plastic popular culture.

But even that shroud of safety was to evaporate: Monday night, 10pm, was the release of the latest title in the Call of Duty line, and I, the lowly gamer grrrl, had forgotten. Silly me, first person shooters trump all other titles. And you know me, always late to the game, I was looking for the recently released Dragon Age: Origins. So last week, I tell you. The store was cramped, the little boys shoving and slavering like a pack of rowdy hyenas. I could not, for the life of me, get the attention of any of the clerks. Too busy answering questions and trying to control the crowd, each would make eye contact, start to speak to me, even, before having to deal with the next brewing crisis. I left, dejected, into the stark weird sterility of my Route X.

The kiosk-keepers were hungry that night. No shopping bag in hand, coming back the same way I had entered, they scented blood, thought easy prey. I passed by the one who had called out to me, “hey, you look familiar!” He stepped up to me, complimented my hat. Floppy leather patchwork, that hat has been my traveling companion for some years now. Disarmed, flattered, I listened.

Fool! He swept me into a conversation, asked my name, shook my hand, and… cringed. It was my nail polish, he said. Chipped black, I could see what he meant—culturally a no-no, but my tattered finger paint was intentional. An affectation, like the floppy hat, the sun dress worn with jeans, and the knee-length fitted jacket. Part of the costume. Part of the image of a gamer-grrrl you could picture at a cigar shop puffing on something hand-rolled in Ybor, sipping coffee, and talking politics. It’s all me, but it isn’t.

“May I show you something,” he said, a statement, leading me by the hand he still grasped. Out came the nail buffer. “This is no ordinary buffer,” he began to work on my thumbnail right away. “I am removing the ridges from your nail, and this part, this is the ordinary part,” he said working it back and forth expertly over my nail. “Now, this is the magic– this is silk!” He flipped the four-sided buffer, and began working that. “You have to promise me you won’t scream when you see this,” he said, with a wink.

When people say something like that to you, do you brace for the worst?

“I promise?” I ventured, leery. The buffer had begun to squeak across my thumb.

“This silk,” he said, “this silk is bringing out your natural oils. This is naturally you. People ask me why this won’t go away, like a French manicure. It is because this isn’t chemicals, this is you.”

“Won’t go away?”

“No, it won’t go away. Two weeks. The nail grows, so this lasts two weeks.”

He pulled the buffer away to reveal– my thumbnail, mirror bright. It shone like silvered glass. I am proud of myself; I did not scream. I almost took off my hat and beat him. My pretty thumbnail, upon which I had worked so hard with toothpick and cotton swab to get just the right amount of chipped distress, was there scintillating in the fluorescent mall lights like a cheap plastic consumable.

The sneers of horror, shock, and disgust warred on my face as he continued his pitch, but I wasn’t listening. Product placed in my hand, I shoved it back, “No thanks.” Route X still loomed.

“I still like your hat, I’ll buy it from you,” he offered. I pulled the crowd closed behind me like a heavy winter coat.

Dragon Age: Origins I found at a Wally-World, and though I hate its corporate corpulence, bless it, and its workers, who understood my quest, every last blessed one, all women, like me, who complained of FPSs.

Four days later, though the game is good, I’ve not stopped twitching. My thumbnail is still shiny, damn him.

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