I’m convinced my wife never would have married me if we went on our first date at the mall. It wouldn’t have been because of a lack of chivalry: I didn’t mind holding open the doors, carrying various brightly colored bags with overpriced items and helping her onto and off of escalators. No, she would’ve left me after the food court experience, but who can blame me really? If someone is going to give you free lunch, why not take it?
Now, a first date wouldn’t have been ideal at the mall for the health of my marriage, but at varying other times throughout our relationship we donned our walking shoes and had a mall day. We’d reach the food court midday with my arms already stuffed with bags full of essential items. The place is buzzing with parents corralling children or giving them ten bucks to go off to whatever vendor they want food from. We know they are all good, but Panda Express, Sbarro and Tokyo Express are my favorites. I’m still wondering if they need a thesaurus to mix up the names, but that’s a different story. The real deal are those toothpicks and the magic words, “free sample!” It’s euphoric working your way around the food court and smelling all the different delicacies. We arrive at Chinese food first and the orange glaze on that fried chicken is heaven. Of course, we each take one and I let them know that I’m between that and the teriyaki grilled chicken, so they run behind the counter and poke a toothpick into a piece for me. I tried to behave myself on that first trip and we only grabbed a few free samples before picking, sitting down and eating like civilized people.
On subsequent trips I began to really make a go of it. We rounded the clock-shaped cafeteria and I always made the joke, “it’s food-o’clock.” It made her laugh the first time and then I just got the eyeball with the next half dozen or so. One time around is never enough and I’ve found you can tell them you’re still picking between their food and a vendor on the other side and they really begin to load you up. It’s no longer one sample, but a handful and before you know it, your stomach is feeling a little full and the wife’s feet are a little sore from the extra laps.
I have to save money somewhere when going to the mall though because I know she’d get some new clothes and I’ll need some outfits that might work well for this occasion or that one. Her persistent voice reminding me, “not that Daily Drunk shirt again…people are getting sick of that one.” Anyways, the food court is where I’m in the zone. I tell her that I’ve got this portion of the day planned out, I grab a tray and bring that around. I let all the establishments know that I need to taste them one by one with water to cleanse my palate in between and they nod and hand over what they’ve got to offer. My wife has already found us a table and waits with her head down, probably weary from our day’s adventures so far and definitely not embarrassed by her husband’s behavior. I smile with the bounty as I walk up and we devour it together, the perfect meal. I ask her if she’d like me to splurge for seconds and she just shakes her head.
I think I’ve got this food court thing pinned down at this point and the next time we go to the mall will probably be with my daughter and feeding a family of three on two teacher salaries at the mall can get expensive, so I know I’m going to need a lot of toothpicks. I’m sure the mall wouldn’t mind me going around and twisting slices of pizza onto a toothpick or pinning down as many grains of rice as I could or maybe Subway would let me get behind their sneeze guard and skewer a sandwich for my famished stomach. I wonder if poking a hole in a drink cup still counts or what the social protocol is with that. I think Homer Simpson gave us a motto to live by when he said, “we’re following the rules, if it has a toothpick in it, it’s free!”
This is Matt McGuirk’s 3rd appearance in Daily Drunk and 1st nonfiction piece. Between us, let’s call this fiction though because the subject might cause embarrassment to his wife. We can all just tell her we liked the made-up mall story…thanks! Other stories + poems on Twitter: @McguirkMatthew and Instagram: @mcguirk_matthew.