The Full MOA

Think Black Friday was bad? Try living at the Mall of America for a whole week

I emerged from the salon whistling—that's how good I felt—but it wasn't long before my playful little ditty was drowned out by a much more declarative beat. The music could only mean one thing: Abercrombie & Fitch was lurking just around the corner.

DMX Music, Inc.—an Austin, Texas-based company that packages music for retail stores—has a term for the clubby, piercing melodies I was hearing: "Foreground music." For years, the firm has provided Abercrombie & Fitch with tunes, or, as they put it, "proprietary technology and systems that deliver the desired experience." Think of it as a hipper, more obnoxious version of Muzak. I thought DMX's motto was, "Where my dogs at?" but according to the website it's: "To some people engineering consumer behavior is weird science, to us it's an art."

The high-decibel music does a damn good job of killing one's ability to think. Never in the history of human folly have two people debated international trade policy within 25 feet of an Abercrombie & Fitch. To check out the effect for myself, I took a step inside and recorded my thought process in my notebook. Here's what I wrote: OOMCHA, OOMCHA, OOMCHA, BA-DA-DA, OOMCHA, OOMCHA, OOMCHA, BA-DA-DA, SHOP! (WHAT?) BUY! (WHO?) BA-DA-DA, YELLOWCARD RULEZ. (This goes on and on for many pages.)

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Day Four

I spent the better part of today occupying the Amusement Park Formerly Known as Camp Snoopy (the moniker was abandoned in 2006 due to a dispute between the mall and United Media, the owner of the Peanuts brand). There I partook of the disorienting madness of the Mighty Axe, the centrifugal vertigo of the Timberland Twister, and the sheepish "God-I-hope-no-one-I-know-sees-me-riding-this-fucking-thing" rapture of the Tree Swing. Unfortunately, Paul Bunyan's Log Chute was out of commission because of a logjam that left one poor sap with a massive headache.

During the afternoon, I worked my way along the mall's south side, a.k.a. South Avenue, toward the east side, a.k.a. East Broadway. I figured it was time to check out Underwater Adventures, which at 1.2 million gallons is the world's largest underground aquarium. Although I was disappointed to learn the place lacked an aviary (no pteranodons), I did get to hang out with Sharky, the aquarium's toothy mascot.

John Sullwold, a lanky, good-natured "PR specialist" for the aquarium, introduced me to the two guys who portray Sharky, the coupon-dispensing mascot. Sullwold asked me not to use the names of Sharky's alter egos, so as not to sully the mascot's mystique. "Just go with Sharky #1 and Sharky #2," he advised.

Sharkys #1 and #2 sat in the break room at opposite ends of the table. Sharky #2 thoughtfully ate his roast beef sandwich. Sharky #1 sat to my left and did most of the talking.

"I'm usually very laid-back and shy," Sharky #1 said. "And I have a bit of a stuttering problem. When I'm Sharky, I'm a totally different person. I can be wild and animated and run around just being a huge dork."

"So how is that different from your day-to-day life?" quipped Sharky #2, taking a sip from his Arby's cup.

"Ha, ha," replied Sharky #1 sarcastically.

"What's the worst thing about being Sharky?" I asked.

The Sharkys turned, and silently consulted one another. "It can be physically grinding, especially when you're working off-site in the summer heat," offered Sharky #2.

"One time, some punk kid tackled me from behind," added Sharky #1.

"We get that kind of shit a lot," confirmed Sharky #2.

"I guess when people see mascots, they forget that an actual person is inside," mused Sharky #1. "Or something."

With that, I left the Sharkys and decided to sample the mall's various relaxation services. This was hump day, so I figured I'd get myself physically replenished. Unfortunately, MinneNapolis—the store that rented mall-weary customers private sleeping quarters for 70 cents a minute—closed last year, so a powernap was out of the question. Aqua Massage seemed like a reasonable substitute.

I crawled inside the coffin-like enclosure and lay on my stomach. Eight bucks got me ten minutes, during which powerful water jets blasted incessantly against the thin, waterproof tarp protecting my back. It's a bit like being in a car wash.

Next up: Oxynate, an oxygen bar-slash-massage parlor, complete with painted cumulonimbus clouds adorning sky-blue walls. The store's lone employee, Cynthia—a rotund black woman with a penchant for calling customers "Sugar"—led me to the back of the store, where an array of plush chairs lined the wall.

"All right, Sugar, you're going to sit in this chair with this in your nose," Cynthia said, handing me a tube with two tiny spines to be placed up my nostrils. "This will give you 95 percent oxygen. You can choose a different scent if you'd like."

The tube led to a bong-like water tank divided into three segments, each labeled a different scent: Ocean Mist, Tropical Watermelon, or Original. I went with Original. Cynthia left me alone to relax.

But I couldn't. Maybe it was because of the six coffees sloshing around in my belly, but I found the massage chair fiercely uncomfortable. Blunt machinery relentlessly prodded and kneaded by back, neck, legs, and hindquarters. I briefly considered crying out for help, but decided to try to fight through it, transcend the pain, find nirvana.

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