Love at an American Mall

The best thing a guy can do is give his wife a credit card and fake the flu.

It’s a sunny day. The 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.”

“I promise.”

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.”

Mission accomplished.

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.

14 comments

  1. James e inman - November 1, 2019 5:49 am

    I never heard the singing or saw the awesome ol guy on the carousel Sean. My second trip to the mall with my then wife I spent in a Ruby Tuesdays drinking an eleven a.m. beer with a bored bartender watching Bolivian soccer. I hate soccer almost as bad as going to the mall. Feliz cumpleanos young lady!

    Reply
  2. Sharon - November 1, 2019 6:34 am

    You forgot the most important question of all. “Do these jeans make my butt look fat?” Dude, if you don’t know the answer to this one, I will pray for your immortal soul. Mrs. Dietrich will nail your sorry hide to the wall if you answer incorrectly.

    Reply
  3. Karen - November 1, 2019 7:27 am

    Thank you for reminding us to smell the roses, Sean. You paint a true and beautiful picture of America. Thank you.

    Reply
  4. Connie Havard Ryland - November 1, 2019 11:04 am

    Another good one. Thanks for the bright beginning to my day. Love and hugs.

    Reply
  5. Susie - November 1, 2019 12:22 pm

    Thanks for the giggles

    Reply
  6. Bill - November 1, 2019 1:09 pm

    Talk about a relatable story! I think millions, maybe billions of guys (following your tendency to hyperbole) have had the exact same experience. And learned to leave the wives alone in their own shopping world. Sitting in the detention place is awkward, but waiting in the food court is a great place to “people watch” or meet other waiting guys who are eager to talk. Thanks for a fond memory of an earlier period of life.

    Reply
  7. Steve - November 1, 2019 1:47 pm

    I’m guessing the old man has Downs Syndrome. What joy and happiness they have. He’s probably in his 40’s and nearing the of his life. Exuberant joy! At least that’s been my experience with adults with Downs. I once went shopping with Mom. Dementia was stealing her from me, but she wanted jeans. We went to a huge mall. The waiting room was, no lie, next to “intimate apparel”. Never felt more awkward in my life waiting there. But after many changes we finally got jeans! When my sister saw them, she started “speaking in tongues” as well. Apparently I failed to get ones that fit right. I know this column is supposed to be funny, but there’s so much truth to it! And yes, life is beautiful.

    Reply
  8. Gene Prince - November 1, 2019 1:56 pm

    I’ve never been much of a crier. I’m more of a laugher. When I read Sean, I tend to cry. It’s very cleansing for me. Thanks Sean.

    Reply
  9. Shelton A. - November 1, 2019 2:33 pm

    The everyday miracles are just the best, aren’t they. I spent many an hour in the husband waiting area, a time, as you so correctly noted, is fraught with danger! LOL!

    Reply
  10. Linda Moon - November 1, 2019 3:27 pm

    My first thoughts when I read your title, “Love At An American Mall’ were ‘what an oxymoron’ (Love/Mall). But then….”the cute little cardigan that was on clearance” appeared. Just yesterday during one of the few shopping trips my husband attends with me, we saw two little “Princesses” dressed up in their fluffy frills. Mom was dressed up, too, and Dad wore a T-shirt that expressed his obvious pride in being the dad and husband of these “Princesses”. My husband and I both said that Sean Dietrich would make a story of this. So, because of your beautiful life story and Jamie’s love of cardigans on clearance that I share, I will notice everything beautiful today! I’m glad your story ended with ice cream!!

    Reply
  11. Mary T. - November 1, 2019 3:42 pm

    How in the world does a woman who hates to shop marry a man who loves shopping? That’s what happened to me. I can relate to your experience, but in reverse!!

    Reply
  12. Tim House - November 1, 2019 7:38 pm

    A lovely slice of life! <3

    Reply
  13. Martha Young - November 1, 2019 10:02 pm

    Sounds a lot like the Pecanland Mall in Monroe, La. I can relate to the blue jean shopping–who are the people that these jeans fit ????

    Reply
  14. Crysti Porter - November 2, 2019 2:58 pm

    This one made me cry, Sean!
    Thank you for highlighting the good that is still alive and well in our world. 🙂

    Reply

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