My first warning should’ve been the mall walkers. I’d never seen them before, believing them to be some sort of urban legend.

The old people up at the crack of dawn enjoying a brisk walk around the empty, silent, half-lit shopping malls that cover our nation like pine trees in the south.

Yes, they do exist, and there are a lot of them.

To me, shopping malls are a sort of earthly purgatory. They’re fun to visit occasionally, but only when you have money to spend ? not to hang out every day. All day. Days stretching into eternity.

Oddly enough, these older individuals proved to be my first exposure to the part of working retail that offers the intelligent mind any sort of respite from the mind-numbing experience.

You suddenly discover that all of those people that you read about in the paper, see on Jerry Springer or have never met ? but evidently exist because they vote for people like Jesse Helms and George Bush ? aren’t that hard to find. They spend their days at the mall.

If you ever forget that 50 percent of the human population is below average, just spend the day at the shopping mall.

You’ve got a few general categories of mall denizens to occupy your observations.

A good starting place is the Bon-Ton, but unfortunately, these sort of people quickly spread and you inevitably find them at every corner of the mall.

Of course, I learned to be particularly careful at the food court. Never get in the way of a 300 pound woman in a sweat suit when she’s in pursuit of the wild gordita. She needs that 1/4 pound of sour cream ? really.

Before you think that I completely hated my brief, one month stay at Eddie Bauer, let me explain. I enjoyed most of my co-workers, even though they were primarily middle-aged women and the management thought that the concept of corporate allowing the “sales associates” to wear blue-jeans, shorts or sneakers was an absolute travesty.

There were a few people around my age, some on break from school, that provided interesting conversation and even a bit of fun flirting. Perhaps the most memorable person I worked with ? beyond this really cute guy that was applying for a job with the Secret Service ? was Kelly.

She’s a high schooler that takes classes at UR occasionally and evidently reads the CT. After finding out that I was an editor here she went to figuring out if she’d read anything I’d written.

All I could recall was a review or two until she asked about a column about a roadtrip to NYC. I exclaimed “that was me!”

We began laughing hysterically as she begged me to tell her the story, which she’d already read to all her friends because she believed it to be the funniest thing she’d ever read.

It was a nice ego boost. Someone actually does read what I write that isn’t related to me or one of my friends.

So in between folding clothes, we’d get to talking and I’d learn more of the subtle dynamics of mall patrons.

Evidently there is a strong distinction between 585ers (formerly 716ers) and 315ers that Rochesterians are very familiar with.

315ers have a propensity for not having all of their teeth, wearing clothes from Deb and doing sketchy things like taking advantage of Eddie Bauer’s policy of accepting any return with a receipt no matter how old.

There’s a rumor floating around that some woman returned jeans from the late ’80s last Christmas. It became a bit of a store joke to spot them.

The other people that rank pretty high on the “what planet are you from?” scale are old men.

These quaint old gentlemen had such charming responses when I asked them if I could help them. The most common complaint was that the shirt didn’t have enough pockets and that I should change this.

I bit my tongue and refrained from letting them know that no one asked my opinion on the clothes. If they had I’d have suggested less plaid, not that there be two pockets on the front of button-down shirts, or one on t-shirts at all.

I also refrained from suggesting that they stop smoking or find someplace better to keep the cigarettes because none of us like how they made their shirts sag so we could see more of their saggy man-breasts.

In the end it all comes down to the mall walkers though.

We have things called “sidewalk sales” at shopping malls. Odd, because there is no sidewalk ? but uncomfortable none-the-less.

The mall is made with hard tile floors which offer no give. Just standing outside the store for an hour was enough to make my feet hurt more than the 5.75 hours inside ? we mustn’t give 6 hours, then they get a lunch break. Why they don’t find someplace better to walk, I don’t know, but I don’t think the jump start on the White Sale at the Bon-Ton is really worth it.

I realized that this place was not for me ? thank God. Anyone who it is for probably has already had a full-frontal lobotomy or is in that lower 50 percent that I mentioned earlier.

In the end, I found my escape. I was needed at home and I could take a job there and make three times more in the same period of time than I would’ve made part time at Eddie Bauer.

Best of all, being a systems administrator means you can be somewhat rude to people when they ask dumb questions and get paid nicely for it and never, ever have to try and get someone to open a store credit card.

Paris can be reached at

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