The Full MOA

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

Nirvana felt like being pummeled to death with a sack of grapefruit.

After my 15 minutes were up, Cynthia led me to the bar near the front of the store. Time for Phase Two of Operation Chillax.

I sat at the bar, again huffing sweet-smelling oxygen. Cynthia offered me a water and a highly concentrated caffeine drink, both included with the $20 fee. She proceeded to whip out an ominous-looking device with dozens of flimsy metal tentacles extending from a battery-pack core. It was a scalp-massager, and it felt good.

Details

"You know, I had an 84-year-old woman come in here one time," Cynthia said. "When I showed her this, she asked me, 'Can I use it anywhere?'" Cynthia laughed heartily. "Lord, I hope I'm still that frisky when I'm that age!"

I laughed nervously, paid the bill, and got the hell out of there.

 

Day Five

Last night, I managed to get the "spend one night at the mall" requirement out of the way when the good people at Underwater Adventures let me "sleep with the sharks." I lay on a mat under the 100-or-so-foot glass tunnel and watched the sand tiger and nurse sharks swim lazily overhead. A massive birthday party—some 40 kids ages 6 to 10—slept down there as well. The little bastards jibber-jabbered like caffeinated gibbons all night long. Which is understandable, I suppose. But sound travels well through that glass corridor and, consequently, I got less than two hours of shut-eye. At 4:34 a.m., I grew quite convinced it wouldn't be long before Bloomington police escorted me out of the mall on 40 counts of murder.

As for today's events....

I'm well aware that there are few things creepier than an unkempt, unshaven dude brooding alone at Hooters. But that was me today for about an hour.

Desperate to mend my ailing self-respect, I eventually left my table and sauntered up to the bar and asked if there was anybody—waitresses, cooks, regulars, anybody—who'd make for an interesting interview. Which is how I met Christina Sanders, the deadliest waitress ever to don orange hot pants.

Hyperbole? Probably, but let's roll with it.

With two tours of duty in Iraq under her belt, Sanders, 23, spoke and acted in the detached, world-weary fashion you'd associate less with a Hooters girl and more with...well, more with a person who's seen two tours of duty as a combat engineer in Iraq.

"If you're a woman in the Marines, you're considered either a dyke, a slut, or a bitch," she explained as she poured a beer behind the bar. "I decided I'd play the part of the bitch. It's the only way to get respect."

"Did you see much combat, or...?" I trailed off, realizing the absurdity of trying to discuss war stories with Eddie Money's "Two Tickets to Paradise" blasting in the background. "It's cool if you'd rather not talk about it."

"No, I'm fine talking about it," she said.

"Was it scary?" Stupid question! "I mean, what was the most frightening thing that happened when you were there?"

"Hmmm...a roadside bomb hit our Humvee once. I shit my pants. I didn't realize it until we got back."

"Realize what?"

She flashed an embarrassed smile. "That I shit my pants."

"No!"

"Yes."

"I'm sorry," I said. "I don't mean to laugh; it's not funny. I'm just surprised that you'd be so upfront about...that." She shrugged nonchalantly and took off to attend to another customer.

I didn't know it then, but that hour spent at Hooters would be among my last sane moments in the Mall of America.

 

Day Six

The lack of slumber and the monotony of my days were beginning to erode my morale. Everything—the bright lights, the distant drone of the shoppers' jabbering, the smell of plastic rebellion wafting from Hot Topic—meshed together and enveloped me in a hollow, dreamlike stupor. Paralyzing boredom.

I lay on a bench, my coat shielding my eyes from the unforgiving fluorescents. The thought of crawling over to a bar and just getting rip-roaring, unapologetically shitty entered my mind, but I brushed it aside. Can't drink on the job. That would be foolhardy. Maybe I'd go to a movie and try to take a nap—

Wait. Why not get unapologetically shitty? It was wholly irresponsible, sure, but maybe—just maybe—it would give me my second wind. Yes. It was settled. Having successfully rationalized the idea to myself, I ambled over to Kokomo's Island Café, a Caribbean-themed restaurant/bar featuring a garish tropical decor.

I hunkered down on a barstool and chatted up the bartenders: Kristen, a bubbly blonde; Brittany, her brunette duplicate; and Jason, a wiry little guy with a quick laugh. I was a bit lonely, so I chided the trio into drinking with me. They were hesitant at first, but eventually caved.

They served up an array of shots with peculiar names such as "Mr. Little John's" (Bailey's and Rumpleminz), "Bart Simpson Purple Squishy Pants" (Absolut Peach, Absolut Mandarin, grape Pucker, and margarita mix), and "Tequila" (tequila). The next two hours unfolded in a blur. I remember at one point asking Jason who the hell was paying for all the booze. "Don't worry," he winked. "We'll give you the writer hook-up. That's how we roll around here. You treat us right, we'll treat you right." Which, in my current headspace, I thought was just fantastic. Journalistically unethical and physically unhealthy, but utterly fantastic.

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