When I was a kid, my mother and I were at Northtown Mall in Blaine, Minnesota. One of its anchor stores was a Woolworth's, and it had a restaurant attached to it that served the best chicken tenders on Earth, mostly because they served them with a white, pasty gravy.
After a fine lunch, we were approached by a woman with a clipboard. She asked if we had time for survey, and I thought it would be fun, so we followed the lady. She showed us pictures of boxes of cereals aimed at children and asked questions about names, flavors, and read a series of phrases we were asked to respond to about whether or not we would buy such a product. I thought it was fun.
I was also 10 years old.
I am a nostalgic fellow, so when the older woman with the clipboard gave me the once over and asked me to take a survey, I jumped at the opportunity.
However, it wasn't only nostalgia that lead to my decision; I had been watching the survey lady from my table at the Starbucks in the center of mall. She was a middle aged woman with bottled mahogany hair. Burgundy lipstick clashed with her bright red suit outfit and matching shoes. She was an apple with a clipboard.
Imposing, muscular men would spot her and cross to the other side of the mall, women with children would pull them a little closer to them as they passed, and individuals walking by themselves would appear to look busy on cellphone or looking at other items in the center kiosks. For some, those Sea Salt exfoliants never looked so appealing.
So, it was mostly out of pity that I meandered past her, looked at those eye lashes that amazingly did not stick together with the clumps of black embedded within each lash, and I gave her a smile.
"Excuse me, Sir, would you like to take a survey?"
"Yes, yes I would."
Every mall has a corridor that few people travel down. Usually it is the corridor that has a nail salon, a store for buying nursing uniforms, a tuxedo rental store, or some sort of arcade (at least back in the 80s). In this abandoned corridor there were a series of glass panes that were covered with black horizontal blinds. I always wondered what was behind those blinds.
I was about to find out.
Before going in, the woman sat me down and asked some preliminary questions: "Are you the main shopper in your household?"
"And you are how old?"
Her pencil stopped, and she looked at me with a playful little grin. "Oh, no, honey, for this survey you are 32. Right? 32?"
What an interesting turn of events, but I was along for the ride on this one: "Yup, silly me, did I say 35? 32, that's what I meant."
She nodded her head and chewed on the eraser of her pencil: "Honey, you are gonna do just fine." And then she took off her red, shiny pumps and rubbed her nylon encased feet.
"Sorry, hun, my dogs are barking..."
With her clipboard in one hand, shoes in the other, she lead me inside the hidden office rooms. She lead me toward the back cubicle and logged me onto a computer. Set things up, told me to follow the directions, and when I was done I should go up to the main front office and have a seat.
The survey was a typical consumer survey, nothing exotic. However, as I was finishing up a ruckus began toward the entrance.
"I was told to come today, so here I am! I had to take a taxi!" A deep bass bellowed like thunder across the room. I almost re-logged onto to the computer to avoid some impending conflict, but those back cubicles were dark and the carpeting was spotted in odd places with some sort of dark substance that looked suspiciously like blood.
Turning the corner, here stood an emaciated boy of about 22. With a baseball cap turned backwards, chains around his neck that I haven't seen since "Yo! MTV Raps!" and pants that were hanging down to his knees. I looked quickly around to see if there were a mountain of a man hiding in the corner somewhere.
But then the boy opened his mouth, and out came that booming voice: "I'm here for my vodka, and I'm not leaving 'til I get it."
The red haired woman, whose name turned out to be Shirley, fluttered away to the back of the room while I sat down in one of the 5 seats that were near the entrance. The boy started beating his hands on the counter and breaking down his own beat--loudly--without any sense of rhythm.
Shirley returned with a blonde haired woman who was carrying a brown bag. She put the bag on the counter and started explaining to the boy about keeping a journal of when the vodka was consumed, with whom, and the responses to it. He stared at that bag like it was the Holy Grail, and he didn't listen to a word.
He mumbled something, swiped the bag off the counter in the middle of his beat-box routine which hadn't stopped the whole time he was spoken to, and he flew out the door--chains slamming against the metal frame of the door to punctuate his exit.
Shirley and blonde lady hardly batted an eye at the experience; instead, they started talking about evening plans. Shirley's car had broken down, so she had to take the bus, and she had a date after work; the blonde woman complimented Shirley on her new hair color, apparently an improvement from the previous brown that made her look like Sally Fields.
"The boys like red heads, and Shirley is feeling frisky tonight," and she cackled as she picked at her what I suspected were Lee Press-On nails.
Thankfully, they noticed me sitting there with my purchases from the day as I pretend to be very interested in a Sports Illustrated from 2009.
Shirley called me over and had me sign a piece of a paper in a three-ring binder, told me I couldn't participate in a survey over the next 30 days, and then she handed me three, one-dollar bills as she gave me a little wink and said, "You come back and visit us, doll; we always have a survey going on."
I could only nod my head since my mouth was paralyzed, and I turned to escape the survey cubicles behind the black glass. With $3 in my hands, I couldn't help but feel I had cheated them by taking their money--I probably should have paid them for such a show.