It was a bright autumn day. The cirrocumulus and stratocumulus were fighting a war to dominate the sky. The altocumulus and mammatus clouds stood out of the way in the western sky. It wouldn’t rain that day. I entered the Mall, full of anticipation. I loved Malls, all the stores would be bustling and the popcorn near the anchor store, J. C. Penney would have a line that stretched as far as the CVS outlet. After the great doors swung shut behind me, I knew I was home. I headed to the central part of the Mall passing the Pearle Vision Center and found myself at the video game kiosk. There were several older men sitting in vinyl couches waiting for their wives to finish their attempts to stuff there size 10 foot into a size 6 pump at the nearby Shoes Shoes Shoes outlet. I was not into video games at the time. That was for the teens, I thought. I was 31. It would be another few years before I bought Game Boy XIII. No, I was a reader and to prove it I headed to the bookstore (most people today wouldn’t believe it but bookstores were once quite common). These days it’s harder to find a real bookstore than finding a virgin in Passaic. I made a right turn and began my stroll to the Books R Us store. I passed a Florscheim shoe store, an American Eagle, an Eddie Bauer, a Ben & Jerry’s and a nail salon. I needed to sneeze so I paused at the Victoria Secrets shop. I lingered. I couldn’t take my eyes off the mannequin who was wearing a G-String and a purple push-up bra. I was transfixed. The mannequin looked just like Twiggy.
Across the ’street’ a family had stopped.
“Honey, hold onto the kids. There’s a pervert over there,” said Vic, the husband.
“Where? asked the wife, Lucy.
“In front of the Victoria Secrets store,” replied Vic.
“What are you talking about? said Lucy. ”Are you forgetting about the time I found you right where he is standing. I had to use three Kleenex’s to wipe the drool from your chin.”
Nevertheless, they gathered their family closer. Muffy, three years old was in a stroller. Brittany, five already had pierced ears. A Mickey Mouse stud sparkled in the bright flourescent light. Angus was seven and was wearing a Black Sabbath tee shirt. The nine year old was D’Artanan (he wasn’t Vic’s child. He was the result of an affair Lucy had with her Classics professor, who was her advisor when she was studying for her Masters degree in Relative Absolutism at the University of South Trenton). Vic never knew the truth. He never questioned the distinct Asian features of D’Artanan. Bucky, the oldest child was twelve. Vic and Lucy never saw much of Bucky at home. He would lock himself in his bedroom with his ’comic books’ which he kept under his mattress. Lucy once found a copy of the third edition of Playboy. She sold it on eBay years later.
The family moved slowly past me and then sped off to the nearest Burger Boy resturant. A Mickey Mouse stud fell from Brittany’s left ear lobe. I walked over and picked it up. It was pretty cool looking. I happened to be outside the Spa Salon. Maybe it’s time I got my left ear pierced, I thought. I decided I wasn’t ready. I wouldn’t get pierced until years later when everyone, including my grandfather got his septum pierced.
But I digress.
I continued my walk to the bookstore. At the next intersection I paused. There was a table and a large white cardboard sheet. A sign, taped to the table, read ”TAKE THE PEPSI CHALLENGE”. I had seen the TV commercials showing the same set up. I boldly walked to the young couple who stood behind the table.
“I’d like to take the challenge,” I said.
“Great,” said the man.
“Awesome,” said the woman. They went behind the cardboard partition and returned with two sytrofoam cups, both filled with a cola like liquid. I took cup A and sipped. I sipped again. Then I was given cup B. I drank the whole thing.
“So?”, said the woman.
“Which one is the Pepsi?”, said the man.
I was ready. ”Cup B was the Pepsi,” I said.
The couple looked at each other. ”Okaaaay”, said the woman. ”Thank you so much.”
They poured the remaining sodas into a bucket.
“Was I right?”, I asked.
The man moved close to me, invading my personal space. He took my collar in his left hand and jerked me closer.
“No! You were wrong, you loser. Now get out of my sight before I box your ears”. I smelled Tequila on his breath.
I was sweating now. Lamely, I said: ”Wa…Want to settle things out side behind the dumpsters?”
“Dumpsters? What dumpsters?”, he said, angrilly.
“Over there,” I said as I broke free and ran all the way to Ruby Tuesdays. I ordered a shot of Johnny Walker Red and a pint of Genesee. I was much calmer as I made my way back to my car. I couldn’t find it at first. There must have been three thousand cars facing me. I spotted the orange ’68 Buick.
I would find something else to do that night. “Deep Throat” was playing at the local ’art movie’ house.