March 9, 2014

An Introvert's Guide to Shopping at the Mall

If this really were a introvert's guide to shopping at the mall then I'd only have to write one step:

1. Are you crazy? Don't go to the mall!

I pretty much never do since I hate shopping in general. And if you put a bunch of stores all together in one giant building full of people then, well, that's just never going to appeal to me. But sometimes as a husband and a father I have to take one for the team. Yesterday was one of those occasions.

My older daughter will be receiving her first communion in a few weeks, and all the girls are supposed to wear white dresses. So my wife's been taking her dress shopping lately, but they hadn't found anything. Not too many stores seem to be selling first communion dresses. Since yesterday was a rainy day, we decided to make the dress shopping a family affair.

For first communion dresses someone recommended Burlington Coat Factory, a store where I've never been. Actually that's not exactly true. Several years ago I did have to go to a crime scene behind the Burlington Coat Factory, but this was the first time I'd ever been inside.

Based on the name of the store, I wondered if it would be funny to walk into the Burlington Coat Factory and ask, "Do you guys sell coats?" But then I envisioned the employee responding in a sarcastic tone, "Gee, sir, I've never heard that joke before." So I kept my mouth shut.

Anyway, once inside we walked about a quarter of a mile to the left and found several racks of girls' dresses conveniently located under a big sign that said "MENS (sic) COATS" which I found quite amusing. In fact, coats seemed to be a very small part of what was actually for sale at Burlington Coat Factory.

I don't know anything about fashion, but these aren't men's coats.

My wife found a few dresses and took our future communion recipient into the dressing room to try them on. I hung onto our (almost) 17-month-old and quickly scanned the store to figure out what section would be the most entertaining and least perilous for her to stumble around in.

The "furniture department" had about a dozen or so of those tiny ottoman/storage containers and several floor-level mirrors. Perfect entertainment for a baby and daddy.

About three hours later, my wife and older daughter emerged from the dressing room. I'm exaggerating a little bit. It was more like 15 minutes. Alas, the dresses they tried on didn't work out. My wife said someone else told her the other day that Sears had just received a big shipment of first communion dresses. Perhaps they're on display somewhere in between the lawnmowers and the Die Hard batteries. Of course, Sears is in the mall, and I already knew it was possible we'd be going there.

But first we made short detour. Both of us needed watch batteries replaced, and rather than going to one of those horrible kiosks in the middle of the mall, we swung by a store near the mall called Batteries Plus. I know what you're thinking. Nobody wears watches anymore, right? Actually, I don't; I'm already surrounded by cell phones, computers and clocks all day long. So there's no need to wear one more thing that tells me the time. But once in a while I go to a place where cell phones aren't permitted. So in that rare case, it's nice to have a watch on.

The kids were comfortable in the car, so my wife stayed with them while I took the watches into the Batteries Plus. The clerk tried to talk me into a special where for every $10 worth of light bulbs you buy, they will replace a watch battery for free. So he encouraged me to buy $20 worth of bulbs. No, thanks. Then I realized why the store was pushing light bulbs. They changed the name of the place to Batteries Plus Bulbs.

Remember when people used to wear these?

After that it was off to the mall, a place that makes every introvert cringe. There were no first communion dresses in the Sears, so the next stop was the Dillard's. My wife and older daughter spent some time in the dressing room while I tried to stay one step ahead of our little one's doom. Rather than happily standing around and playing like she did in the coat store, she kept trying to make a run for it (dangerous when you've only recently learned how to run) out of the Dillard's entrance and into the mall itself.

We planned to hit the Macy's next, but first we had to go to two of the most terrifying places in a mall for an introvert: the food court and the bathroom! There's just something about crowded mall food courts that makes me very uncomfortable. The restaruant counters never have defined lines, so it's never clear who's actually waiting to order and who's just standing around waiting for their food to come out. And of course it's nearly impossoble to find a table. Plus when you do find a table, you can guarantee that's it's going to be dirty.

However, in this case we actually found a table right near the Chick-Fil-A counter where we got our food. And after some quick work with a napkin, the table was far less disgusting than it was when we got there. We didn't talk much while eating because how are you supposed to carry on a conversation with that loud food court sound all around us? You know what I'm talking about. But if not, I recorded 10 seconds of audio for you. If this clip makes you cringe then welcome to the introvert club:

I'll give malls credit for something. Like airports, they are a good place for people watching. While eating I was observing a teenage employee of a restaurant called Wetzel's Pretzels. He must have drawn the short straw because he was assigned to standing in the sea of people and offering free samples to whomever walked by. I could tell he was an introvert like me and was not very comfortable having to be the free sample person. Poor kid.

After eating, everybody but daddy had to go to the bathroom, so I was on my own to stand around in the food court and wait for my wife and kids to take care of business. I found a good spot for an introvert: leaning against a railing on the outskirts of the food court with a lovely view of a zillion people. Actually, the photo doesn't capture the true level of crowdedness. What you see here is only about one-eighth of the entire food court.

Next up, Macy's. Surely there'd be first communion dresses there. Nope. One of the clerks who was a fellow Catholic and happy to talk about first communion dresses said they only sell them online. But she gave us a good idea. She said that there was a dress store on the first floor of the mall right outside the Macy's.

The dress shop was appropriately called The Dress Shoppe. The place was small, crowded and hard to walk around in. But there was a great selection of first communion dresses. Hat tip to the Macy's lady. My wife decided to bring both kids into the dressing room (the baby was getting cranky), and I certainly didn't want to wander around The Dress Shoppe by myself. So I went out into the main mall area to wait.

I have to give credit to the mall designers. It was smart to put a husband waiting area right outside the dress store:

However, I didn't sit. I decided to pace back and forth to impress my FitBit. My family was in the store for what seemed like an eternity. I was hoping I could "spring forward" a few hours early just to make time go faster. But it was worth the wait. They finally came out with a first communion dress. I'd show you a picture, but guys don't get excited about dress shopping, you know.

It was a good day of family togetherness, and I am very excited and proud that my daughter will soon receive first communion. God is good. (It must be true. We saw it on a license plate on the way home from the mall.)