In Leonard Bernstein’s 1956 musical of Voltaire’s Candide, the foolish Cunégonde sings from the top of her soprano range, “Glitter and Be Gay,” about how perfect life would be now that she had all the sparkling riches she’d ever desired. Her latest lover had given her treasure chests overflowing, and therefore she should be the world’s happiest woman. But of course, she finds the opposite is true, and ends the musical in the arms of her true love, Candide, singing of the joys of simple farming and letting their gardens grow.
That was me — though not singing — on a day spent at San Francisco’s Westfield Centre.
I’d never been before, so I went midweek, certain that there wouldn’t be too many shoppers that day, and was shocked to discover that, like a beehive in nature, a mall in a major urban area, is always busy. Buzzing with mostly women, some men slumped at the small lobby cafes, resigned to the wasting away of their bank accounts. They looked sad. But I was undaunted, for I had come to treat myself to all that glittered before me. I needed new things, even though I had no more closet space in which to put all I would surely buy.
I decided not to consult the mall guide that had been handed me by a determined customer service representative, and decided instead to trust my inner shopper gyroscope: I would go where my mind and eyes took me.
I didn’t figure on the bedazzling curves, stairways and other architectural lacunae of which this ingeniously designed mall was made. Before I could say, “Charge it!” I was thoroughly lost, a victim of customer overload, a salesperson’s dream, a shopping sitting duck, even though I was ambulatory. I was theirs to be had. And soon, Antoine, at the Pure Gold Facial Care kiosk had me.
My mistake was making eye contact.
His open arms — yes, he hugged me into his arena of facial delights — and his calling me by name every two seconds, had me from the second I drifted near.
“Evalyn, you said?” Antoine crooned.
“Yes,” I nodded, desperate by then for a place to sit and die.
“You look tired, dearest Evalyn,” he said in his charming continental accent. “Want something to make you feel really gooooood?” he seemed to sing. He smelled good too.
Right then, he could have sold me a gun to shoot myself with, and I’d have paid for it, as long as it came with a sip of cool water. And a bottle of water is what he handed me, along with a tiny jar of $200 facial cleanser.
“Look at this, feeeeeeeel this, Evalyn,” and he massaged sweet-smelling cream on my hand. I wanted to marry him. “See what happens?”
He took off layers of my tired skin with a few deft movements, and I felt somehow lighter. Of course it never dawned on me that it was probably the cream pilling up, not my skin, but hell, I was sitting, I was hydrating, and I was being rubbed by a cute, curly headed guy. I was happily at rest.
“So, Evalyn, look at this!” he said as he paraded more creams and brisk-smelling liquids by me. Before I knew it, I had spent $350 on $700 worth of products, because of all my “special discounts” (“only to my darling Evalyn … you remind me of my own mother,” a line I should have been offended by but somehow wasn’t.)
With great strength of will, I finally extricated myself from Antoine, and lasted another two hours, mostly sitting with the tired husbands, journalizing, sipping affordable coffees, only slightly miffed at all my seductive Antoine had persuaded me to buy. But don’t we all do that in a foolish romance? Buy things we ordinarily wouldn’t?
I managed to make it to a small corner of Nordstrom, empty except for a small, quiet salesman named Tim, who seemed amazed that I cared enough about his humble cotton scarves to buy several of them. I didn’t need several. Hell, I didn’t even need one, but I was so glad to buy something without being persuaded to, and so intent on coming home with a bargain, I bought four scarves at a mere $32 each.
On the bus home, I contemplated the joys of farming, letting my garden grow, and never entering another shopping mall ever again.
After all, what’s the Internet for?