I like to avoid food-courts whenever I can. Things just tend to not go well for me whenever I’m in one.
Oftentimes during the lunch rush, food-courts in malls everywhere are mostly filled with working people who toil in the offices above the eateries located at their building’s bowel-level and/or they’re filled with students from somewhere across the street, taking breaks from all that book learnin’.
However, I find the demographic tends to change at weekends… or rather, during the mid-afternoon times, like around 3 PM on a Sunday, when more often than not, the general seating is taken up by people sipping juice and nibbling muffins while wearing their crazy-pants and matching tinfoil hats.
I accept this – It takes all kinds to make a world, yo.
And as it happens, last Sunday I was running some errands with my peckish kids in tow, and offered to get them each a slice of pizza, which made them as ecstatic as children tend to get, whenever a grown-up utters the word, “pizza”.
I held the teetering tray in one hand, and my daughter’s hand in the other, as I craned my neck, looking for a suitable place for us to sit down for a while. Oliver suggested two tables ahead, but there was a wet spill in the middle of one of them. “That one’s not clean, let’s find another.”
“How about there,” he said, pointing. It still had someone’s soupy refuse still on it. Over there was too close to the drafty doors. Those tables were too close to that lady who was asleep with her back against the wall. Over there, those slouchy kids seemed too rowdy…
“Okay here,” Oliver said, sliding onto a bench. I put the tray down and helped his sister take her jacket and scarf off. He was already taking a bite of pizza as he shrugged his jacket off behind him, chewing all the while. I sat on a chair across from them, cracking open the bottle of iced tea to share. Just as I put it to my lips, I was bumped from behind by someone’s behind. What the…
I could only see the back of a large man, shimmying sideways between our table and the one next to us, and watched him set his plethora of bags on the bench, next to my son. Some were new bags, but many of them were… recycled. Some had dirty, gummy tape reinforcing the handles. Bag after bag after bag. The last to go on the bench was a carry-on size travel bag, large and box-shaped with a square zipper on the top. It held his wallet, his comb, his water bottle, sunscreen, a banana, and all kinds of other things. I know, because he started to unpack them the minute he sat down.
In his wake, he’d jostled Oliver – I guess the man had no idea how much room he required – and my boy shot me a look that said, Hey, man! I held his gaze and lightly shook my head, willing him to just forget it. “How’s your pizza?”
“Good.” He answered, and went back to eating.
We did our best to ignore this man, chatting amongst ourselves, as he rifled through all his belongings, crinkling his plastic bags and exclaiming, “Oh!” whenever he found something he was looking for. And just as I got busy ignoring him with all my might, I heard the sound of something… spraying. Is that…? I looked up in time to see his arm waving back and forth over his head, and watched in horror as droplets of scented wetness drifted down onto us all, like a fog, onto my kids’ hair and faces, and all over their lunch.
The nauseating stench of Frebreze choked me instantly, and I could taste it in the back of my throat. And then the children both started to cough, and Ava Scarlett pressed a hand over her eyes, squinting to get the sting out.
“Holy crap, man!” I shrieked, glaring at him. I mean, really.
“Oh, sorry… I didn’t realise it would be so strong. Sorry ’bout that.” He just looked at me.
“Well, I…” I looked at their half-eaten pizza and wondered how bad things were. It’s not as if he could offer to replace them. What could I say? “That’s just… was that even necessary? Gawd.”
“I just wanted to smell it. I wasn’t sure how it smelled, and I just wanted to smell it.”
I took a deep breath and tried not to… just… hate him.
Then a woman appeared with two cups of coffee, for herself and for this man. She said, “Did you try the Frebreze? Nice, huh?”
I wanted to gag. I smelled like mountain-rain-Brazilian-linen-spice-carnival-delight. Or something. Why? WHY?! WHY DO PEOPLE MAKE THIS CRAP?!
Then she added, “I wish I could smell better… this cold has been bad and I’m all stuffed up.”
He reached into his large carry-on bag and pulled out some nasal spray and handed it to her. Before I could say, please don’t, she twist the nozzle, and insert the tip of the Otrivin bottle into her nostril, spraying and snorting three times, with all the super-loud snort-y, grunt-y sounds and facial contortions that go with such a private activity. And then, of course, treated the other nostril in turn. Because it’s only fair.
“Okaylet’sgo…” I said jumping up, proud of myself for not swearing out loud, as I hurried us into our coats and threw the last of our lunch in the trash on the way out.
And that is why I try to avoid food-courts as much as humanly possible.
Food-courts: love ’em or leave ’em?