It’s a sunny day. The Birmingham Galleria Mall is busy. There are hundreds of people beneath the tall atrium. They have places to go and things to buy.
I am here with my wife, who is shopping for blue jeans at Old Navy.
Shopping for jeans with your wife is a dangerous gamble. In the Western world, the leading cause of divorce is shopping for blue jeans at Old Navy with your wife. Ranking second is chewing your food too loud.
It goes like this:
Your wife locks herself in the dressing room with eighty-seven pairs of jeans. While she tries them on, you, the husband, go to the designated detention area with other husbands.
Intermittently, you wife emerges from her room, modeling jeans that look exactly like the jeans she wore when she entered the store.
Then, she glances at her reflection and begins speaking in foreign tongues. She asks things like: “Does this chino inseam appear too constricting?”
And: “Do you think these boot-cuts too are too roomy on the calf region?”
We husbands have no idea what our wives are actually asking. This is why we often mumble. Because we know our words don’t really matter when it comes to blue jeans. Our wives will make their own decisions.
We know that by the end of the day our wives will have at least two emotional breakdowns, and likely leave the store without a single pair of blue jeans because they hate blue jeans and they wish blue jeans would’ve never been invented and they hate anyone who wears blue jeans including members of Congress, anyone below age thirty, and Cher.
And instead of buying jeans, our wives end up getting something like a “cute little cardigan that was on clearance.”
Then everyone goes out for ice cream. The end.
The best thing a guy can do is give his wife a credit card and fake the flu.
Which is what I am doing. I am in the food court, waiting on her.
In the food court is a merry-go-round. There is a single-file line waiting to board the carousel. First in line is an older man. He has white hair, and he walks with an uneven gait. A young woman is holding his arm.
He points to the carousel and says, “Looky, Helen! Horesy! A horsey!”
The young woman says, “That’s right, a horsey. You gonna ride the horsey?”
The old man’s eyes light up. He claps. He drools on himself. She dries him with a napkin.
“I wanna ride it, Helen,” he says. “But do you think it’s safe?”
“I think it’s safe,” she says.
“But what if it isn’t safe? Will you save me?”
“I’ll stand beside you.”
“You promise, Helen? Don’t lie.”
The security guard guides the man to the horse. The man has a hard time moving his feet very fast.
The young woman helps the man into the saddle and buckles his seatbelt. When the merry-go-round starts, the old man begins clapping again.
The music plays. He is waving at people. He is laughing. The carousel turns in slow circles, and it’s hard to take your eyes off the beautiful man riding the horse.
“I love you, Helen!” I overhear him say.
Also in the dining area is a birthday party. The birthday girl is nine years old. Her name is Meredith. Her family moved here from Atlanta six months ago. She’s been homesick ever since.
This morning, six of her friends drove over from Atlanta to surprise her.
“It’s only a two-hour drive,” says one kid’s mother. “We know how hard this year’s been for Meredith, just wanted to make her happy.”
Just behind the birthday table is a family of Hispanics, seated shoulder-to-shoulder. I count seventeen of them. The people bow their heads before they eat.
A silver-haired man stands and speaks in Spanish, eyes closed. His voice is strong. His words are the rhythm of prayer.
When he says, “Amen,” those at the table make the Sign of the Cross. I have no idea what he said, but if there have ever been more reverent words, I’ve never heard them.
Then, the family is interrupted by singing.
“Happy Birthday” is the tune. It is a rendition sung by nine-year-olds. It only takes a few seconds for the food court to join the singing.
Soon, the older man who rode the carousel is singing, too. So are the Hispanics. And so am I.
Young Meredith is bright red in the face.
Our chorus is followed by light applause.
Then, I see my wife exiting Old Navy. She is carrying a shopping bag. When I ask if she found any blue jeans, she frowns.
“No,” she says. “But they had this cute little cardigan on clearance. You wanna get some ice cream?”
Life is beautiful.
I’m sorry for the times I forget to notice it.