On a recent weekend, I agreed to take my daughter and three friends to the mall. One of the things parents do for their children is to spend much of their lives in the car. We take kids to school. We ferry them to soccer, field hockey, and basketball games and practices. We chauffeur them to and from friends’ houses for birthday parties or to hang out.
As girls get older, parents will be asked to drive a group to the mall. Of course, it would be shockingly uncool to be seen with a parent in tow at the mall, so the parent may have to hang around for an entire afternoon. Periodically our charges will phone in, with lots of giggling and shrieking in the background, announcing that they will need at least another hour or two.
Now let us imagine taking things to the next level: they don’t want to go to just any mall, but to Metrotown.
Metrotown: I quail at the thought. Wandering lost through the maze of commerce that is Metrotown is my idea of purgatory. The stores are the same as at any mall, but there are more of them. But I am a mother and my child has asked me to drive them. I will gain valuable parent points. I agree.
Here I am in Metrotown. The girls have taken off. What shall I do for the next three hours? The stores are full of flimsy crop tops and mini skirts, or flashing, beeping electronics, or mediocre prints on canvas. I breathe out—out—out as I pass over-perfumed soap shops. This is not my kind of shopping experience. Perhaps I could have coffee somewhere? I walk through the food court, but the atmosphere repels me. The noise level approaches the unbearable; the lights, colours, patterns, crowds and food smells are intense and overpowering.
Fleeing from the food court, I find temporary shelter at the café in the Bay department store. The café is not a slick, urban space but has a small-town feel to it, with its formica-topped tables and granny clientèle. I have a cup of coffee and read a little. I feel stronger. I can wander some more.
In a distant corner of the mall, I notice a store with a sign advertising acrylic nails, manicures and pedicures. I walk past. Then I turn around. I need a pedicure. Why not?
I go into the store. It seems to be full of people speaking Cantonese and acolytes wearing masks applying glue and ultraviolet light to set acrylic and gel fingernails. I feel I have entered a temple in another country where I am not sure of the customs.
My pedicurist is a tiny, young Asian woman. Her English is limited. We have difficulty communicating at first. She has to take me by the arm and gently push me in the direction of the chair. I put my feet in the foot jacuzzi at the base of the reclining chair. The bubbling water is very warm. She takes my feet out, one at a time, to minister to them. As always when I have some kind of personal service performed, I spend at least half of the time worrying that it is demeaning for the person performing it. I worry about how much to tip. I wonder what she thinks of my feet, which, although normal-size Canadian feet, seem to me to be twice the size of hers.
She has long acrylic fingernails with blue and white flowers on them.
She scrapes, clips, and massages. She looks up and smiles at me, says something unintelligible, and gestures for me to relax. She encourages me with hand signals to pick up the remote control at the side of the chair. I realize that it is a massaging chair. The icons on the remote control are difficult to interpret. I push a couple of them. The chair starts moving around underneath me and goes through a cycle of strange rocking and pummelling motions. I turn it off and finally lay back and rest.
The pedicurist ends by putting four coats of nail polish on my toenails. I choose a colour that my friend L would call strumpet red.
Going out into the mall once more with my splendid feet on display, I am quite pleased with myself. I have infiltrated the store and passed as a customer.
I meet the girls outside Guess. They have shopping bags. They have had a great time. They don’t ask what I have been doing. And of course they don’t notice my toenails.