I went to the mall the other night on a serious mission. I was determined to buy a Christmas present for my little sister. I know I've said before that I don't buy presents for adults, but my youngest sister is an exception, partly because she has no kids and partly because I keep forgetting that she is all grown up now. I would rather spend an afternoon at the dentist's than spend a few hours at the mall so the fact that I went voluntarily to this dreadful monument to consumerism shows my devotion to my sister.
Of course, I did not go alone. Shopping malls, as my architect students have patiently explained to me, are designed to be confusing so that consumers will wander around aimlessly, spending money, trapped like parents who attempt one of those corn mazes, except it's worse because there's no teenager with a megaphone to shout helpful hints about which way to go. I have no chance in such an atmosphere. I would not even attempt such a trip without my Wonderful Smart Beautiful Daughter to guide me.
And let me explain the enormity of our task. Urban Sophisticate is impossible to buy for. First, she wears trendy sophisticated clothes and lives in the city that is way ahead of the rest of the country when it comes to fashion. The only way I could buy her something fashionable is if I flew to Paris. And even then, I am clearly not up to the task. The other thing to consider is that her home looks like something out of magazine so I couldn't buy anything for her apartment without first getting a degree in interior decorating. But worse, her tastefully decorated urban apartment is damned small that she doesn't have an extra closet or drawer in which to toss "it's the thought that counts" kind of a gift I might be reasonably able to pick out.
At one store, my daughter and I were discussing the dilemma, when a salesperson overheard us. "Who are you buying for?" she asked cheerfully, "We have something for everyone here."
"It's my sister, " I said. "She's 36, sophisticated, lives in Big City Like No Other."
"She lives in Big City Like No Other?" the salesperson said. Her cheery demeanor changed to one of resignation. "You can't buy her anything in Snowstorm City."
We exchanged smiles, she shrugged, and we continued on. By then, I was already beginning to achieve that daze that I get after about thirty minutes in mall so we went to the food court (the one thing I can unerringly locate in a mall) to fortify ourselves. I do enjoy the eating part of shopping, and I like having all kinds of little food places lined up in one spot.
An hour later, we were still just sitting at a table, relaxed and talking. I was enjoying myself. It was fun to sit and talk to my daughter. Then I glanced at my watch and realized with a panic that we weren't shopping at all. We'd bought nothing.
I leapt to my feet, knocking over the plastic red tray of food, and we set off again. This time, I half-heartedly tried to look into store windows and make suggestions. At that point, I was desperate, willing to buy anything. That's why it was handy to have my daughter along. I would point to some random piece of clothing that I thought might be sophisticated, based mainly on the fact that it was something I didn't own. My daughter would say: "Are you kidding? She would hate that." And we'd keep walking. Pretty soon, I got the hang of this whole fashion thing, and I would point into store windows saying, in what I hoped was a sufficiently snobby tone, "See that? She'd hate that." And my daughter would nod in agreement. It was actually kind of fun.
Then we passed a store called Waddling Creatures, Female and Male. As we gazed through the big glass window in front, we could see all kind of country home decorations, festooned with ribbon and calico and little hearts carved out of wood. I could hardly believe my eyes. It was incredible. An entire store filled with stuff Urban Sophisticate would absolutely hate.
My daughter laughed. "You know what would be fun? Some year let's all agree to only buy presents that we know the other person would hate. That would be soooo much easier."
I think she's right.