On the sixth day of Christmas, the mall gave to me, six angry sales teams, five new languages, four aroma pillows, three tubs of sea salt, two hair straighteners, and a partridge in a pear tree.
As the refrain from “The Twelve Days of Christmas” echoes through my head, I wander the mall avoiding eye contact with kiosk employees. Who hasn’t been stopped midstream by perky cell phone employees begging, “try our service” or “switch today”? Who hasn’t had fragrant lotion squeezed onto their hands while taking cover from flying helicopters or tiny, motorized cars zipping around their feet?
But while I tried to avoid their seduction, the magnetic attraction is too strong.
Companies like Rosetta Stone consider Christmas to be the ideal time to learn Polish, Latin or Pashto, the language of Afghanistan. Sure, with all my spare time shopping, preparing perfect meals for an endless parade of relatives or making the 10th batch of sugar cookies, no problem squeezing in some time to brush up on foreign languages.
As I hesitate near the kiosk, a snooty, suit wearing assistant manager asks, “Are you interested in learning a second language?” There are no high-pressure tactics here, but I can’t help but feel incompetent listening to the long computer demo extoling its virtues. Walking away I hear the tiniest whisper, “your loss,” spoken in English -- or was it Arabic?
Wedged between Hollister and Express, Comfort Spa is poised for action, with workers slowly massaging their aromatic pillows, coaxing shoppers with lavender and mint scents. I noticed the staff conferring between themselves as I approach, as they determine who will pounce first. Moments after making eye contact, an employee wraps me in a gentle hug of 100% all-natural hot scented products.
My next assaulter is tall and confident, striding up in a bold manner, massaging his pillow with large, fleshy fingers.
“Would you like to smell this?” he asks, pressing the soothing scents under my nose before I have a chance to answer. Within seconds, I look like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. What starts as a gigantic shoulder wrap, progresses to a weird body belt encasing my torso in low heat. Next, he covers my face with a lavender eye mask.
“This next pillow has a very strong mint smell,” Fat Fingers whispers. “Take a ‘small’ whiff.”
Ignoring his warning, I suck in a huge whiff. My eyes tear and I get a brain freeze-style head rush. After seducing me with his hot wraps, he calls in the big gun to complete the sale, the store manager. She catches my negative vibes and watery eyes. Realizing I’m a lost cause, she brushes me off. On to finish my shopping.
“Can I ask you a question?” asks Temani from Israel. Manning the Dead Sea kiosk, he attempts to form a close friendship, immediately confiding that he arrived in the United States yesterday and his English is a little rough. After rubbing dead sea salt into my hands and topping it off with a thick crust of lotion, he asks if I am ready to buy. For around $49.95, I could purchase the salt only. He stares in disbelief when I say, “This stuff hurts. If it’s for dry, cracked skin, why is it so painful to rub in? I’m bleeding.” His demeanor changes to irritation as I gaze hopefully at the nearby Starbuck’s.
I can’t take the pressure. I need caffeine.
But not yet. Like a car wreck you can’t look away from, I feel the pull of the next kiosk. I sample Herstyle, the hair straightening flat iron experts. At temperatures exceeding 400 degrees, I’m a bit nervous experimenting with this fashion accessory. Throwing caution to the wind, I saunter up and willingly become their latest victim.
After “Natasha” straightens half of my head, I notice waves of smoke with a slight charred odor surrounding me. Sensing my panic, she says, “Don’t worry. Your head smoking is normal.” What a relief!
Alas, the kiosk is here to stay. I hope your self-discipline is better than mine. You’ve been warned.
Now if I can only find a way to make my hands stop bleeding.
It's a Wonderful Kiosk Christmas was originially published in the Tri-Valley Herald in 2008.
Stacey Gustafson can be reached at www.staceygustafson.com.