You know what I don’t get? Mall kiosk salesmen. Why do they exist? Why can’t they just build malls with narrower aisles so you don’t have to come up with anything to fill the space in the middle? Problem: solved.
Usually when you walk into a store, depending on where you are and what kind of store it is, you aren’t approached by anyone. If it’s Wal-Mart, there might be a friendly retiree to greet you, and if it’s Bath and Body Works, someone may try to give you a shopping basket and ask if they can help you with any of your lotion needs. As if my lotion needs are so numerous that I need a shopping basket. But in general, sales people working on commission are pretty tame. They know when they’re not wanted, and they’ll respectfully leave you alone if you don’t want their help. Plus, they can tell if you’re a cheapskate, so they tend to leave me alone for the most part.
Mall kiosk salesmen, on the other hand, are a whole different breed. They want your business at the expense of their dignity, and thus will do anything to get your attention. I’ve made the mistake of actually looking at goods being sold at a mall kiosk before. (What can I say? The guy was selling slippers made to look like gym shoes. How could I not look?) The kiosk owner swooped down on me like a vulture on Nic Cage’s career.
“Oh sorry, I’m just looking.” I took my hand away from the slippers and started walking away.
“Wait! You want slippers for yourself? Or your daughter or son? Or a friend?”
“Oh, no, really. I was just looking.”
“Or your parents? Boyfriend? Neighbor?”
“Thanks, but I gotta go.”
“These slippers make the best gifts for anyone!” he said. “Anyone at all!”
“No thanks!” I kept walking.
“Try them on. Please. Just…try them on.” He thrust a pair at me.
“Sorry, I’m late!” By now I was a good two or three kiosks away from him, and other kiosk owners had begun eyeing me greedily.
“Wait!” he yelled after me. “They’re on saaaaaaale…”
And that was the last time I ever willingly browsed at a kiosk. But it wasn’t my last run-in with the infamous kiosk salesmen.
Several years later, I went to the mall with my boyfriend, and we were having one of those rare shopping days where everything is on sale and you don’t get buyer’s remorse. It was a good day. I think kiosk salesmen can sense when you’re having a good day, so they can swoop in and profit off of your happiness.
A kiosk salesman made eye contact with us and motioned us over. As a human being, it’s a natural reaction to walk toward someone who is beckoning. I truly wish that I had had the consciousness to not walk toward this salesman — it is my biggest regret in life thus far — but I reflexively did as I was told and entered his sales territory. He was selling hot aromatherapy rice bags — you know, those bean bags filled with scented herbs that you heat up in the microwave to cure miscellaneous ailments.
He showed us different size, color, and scent variations we could choose from and explained what the different herbs were for. One was to put you to sleep, one helped you wake up, one cured the common cold, one cured cancer, one helped you lose weight and get a better career, etc. He even had different shapes for different body parts, like the U-shaped scented neck pillow and the long, thin snakelike pillow for your spine. Jesus, how old and decrepit did he think we were?
I gave him the “We’ll have to think about it and come back” let down, and began to turn away.
“Wait, I haven’t shown you the aromatherapy mint extravaganza pillow yet!” he said.
He grabbed a tiny rice bag off the kiosk, about the size of the palm of his hand. “Smell it,” he ordered me.
Well alright. At least buy me dinner first. Geez. I took a small whiff. “Smells nice,” I lied. My boyfriend did the same thing and nodded his agreement.
“And now, witness the magic!” He put the bag in a microwave that was part of his kiosk (these people think of everything!) and heated it for several minutes. When he took it out, it was hot and moist, and I could smell the pungent mint odor from six feet away.
He took my boyfriend by the shoulders and leaned in close. “Close your eyes,” he said. He did as he was told, which just shows you how obedient and subservient the two of us really are. We both really need to grow a spine, but then again, we’d probably end up buying the snakelike rice bag for arthritic spines then.
Next, the man took the hot rice bag and held it right up against my boyfriend’s face so it was touching his nose. “Now take a giant breath in.”
He inhaled deeper than I’ve ever seen anyone inhale before. Mid-inhale, he started choking and violently coughing. His eyes watered and tears streamed down his cheeks. His whole face turned red as he gasped for air. Embarrassed, he eked out a laugh in between coughs and said, “Wow, that was strong.”
The kiosk salesman was pleased with himself. “Now, your turn!” He looked at me menacingly. Dear Lord, no. I had seen what had just happened to people who smelled that stank, and now I had to go through the torture myself! I looked at my boyfriend for help, but he was too busy coughing and crying like a friggin baby to care about me. I was on my own.
He reheated the pillow in the microwave and made me close my eyes. As soon as the microwave dinged, I started sweating. My heart was pounding as he brought the bag up to my nose. “Now, take a big whiff,” he instructed.
I decided I would just sniff it ever so slightly to give the illusion that I was cooperating. I sniffed, proud of myself for tricking the salesman, but then an intense burning sensation overtook my sinuses. It was as if I had breathed open flames into my nostrils, and they were traveling through my entire head and chest. My eyes also watered, and I too began coughing.
At that, I grabbed my boyfriend’s hand and said, “We’ll” cough “have to” cough “think about it” cough “and come” cough, cough, cough “back.”
You know how, in chemistry class, they tell you it’s dangerous to breathe in random chemicals because you could be inhaling dangerous vapors that could be burning you from the inside out? Well, my experience with the aromatherapy mint extravaganza pillow is how I imagine that feels. At least I can now say I know firsthand what it feels like to be burned from the inside out. Because that’s obviously a common bucket list item. Then again, I could have told you what that felt like after the first time I accidentally swallowed a pizza roll whole. Those aromatherapy pillows should really come with a warning, and possibly an eye wash station like chem class did.
Now when I go to the mall, I make sure to avoid eye contact with all mall kiosk salesmen. I walk quickly and purposely past the rows of kiosks, head down, ignoring their pleas for my attention. And I also wear a gas mask.