Monday, February 21, 2000

Close as Cotton

At the risk of jeopardizing the suave, sophisticated, street wise image you have of me, I must admit growing up I was nothing more than a mall rat. Yes I know it's an admission that borders upon confession, but the time feels ripe to reveal that I spent many of my Sunday mornings as a kid with my family at Brookdale.

For those of you who think all the suburbs are exactly the same and know I grew up in Roseville, you're probably wondering why my family drove all the way out to Brooklyn Center instead of going to Rosedale. The answer is Sears. Brookdale had one, Rosedale did not. Mom had a preference of buying most of our clothes at Sears.

At the mall my brother and I had a routine. We would make the same journey in the same order every week- from the toy store to the hobby store, from the record store to the bookstore, through all the department stores. Meeting up again with the rest of my family, my parents would buy me a cherry slush. (My brother didn't like them but I did even though admittedly they tasted like cough medicine. That probably explains more than I care to admit.) While slowly enjoying my slush (in order to avoid a headache) I would make the rounds between the pillars that held small fish tanks with exotic fish. My day wasn't complete until I said hello to each and every one of those familiar fish. Sometimes I would cap things off by enjoying a box of popcorn from Sears on our drive home.

Last Sunday as I found myself wandering the mall of Burnsville Center, the taste of cherry slush was almost palpable. Maybe it was the smell of popcorn. Maybe it was the fumes from an electrical fire. My wardrobe manager had agreed to work me into her busy schedule to meet me out there and help select out some clothes paid for by three years of unredeemed Cheapo holiday gift certificates.

The proximity of people, the varying paces from leisurely to frantic rush, brought me back to that old familiar place while at the same time serving as a reminder that some significant inner conversions have occurred. Just as the hustle and bustle was getting to be too much I sought refuge in a dollar store. Having forgotten to purchase Q-Tips during my last visit to the grocery store, I thought the dollar store probably was the one place in the mall I could find that particular item.

Close as they came was cotton balls.

So as I was killing time standing in the corner of the store my heart was lifted by a most comforting sound. "People are crazy and times are strange/I'm locked in tight, I'm out of range/I used to care but... things have... changed." It was the first time I heard Bob Dylan's new song and it couldn't have been better timed.

"Things Have Changed" is unmistakable Dylan- the reborn bluesman bemoaning the state of both the ever confusing world and his inner self. I was mesmerized. The words were perfect, the music moving. I stood suspiciously trying to feign interest in the product next to a display of laundry detergent that was underneath the store's sole radio speaker. It was hard to hear the music but what I heard was like an obsessive Sunday sublime flavored spiritual muffin.

Feeling renewed I headed off to Daytons where I was supposed to rendezvous with the kind hearted soul who agreed to help me do something that at age 35 I should well be able to handle all by myself. (I discovered I probably could if I only had a clue about color coordination.) But as usual, she did her job extremely well. I ended up with three pairs of dress pants and two dress shirts, all quality merchandise, for under three bucks (thanks too of course to Al's holiday kindness).

I got home happy with the new clothes, happy with the fine time I had had (among her many admirable traits my wardrobe manager is one swell conversationalist with a picturesque forehead), and happy that the world has another Dylan song. That night I had a dream- I was trying to talk to my friend but a big gray dog kept getting in the way. My friend finally came over to me and showed me to settle the dog down I needed to grab its back legs, separate them and move the dog around like a wheelbarrow. I did this, and instantly the dog was calm. But then he started lifting one leg higher than the other and I had a feeling I was about to be used as a substitute fire hydrant. So I quickly let go, jolting myself awake at the same time, flinging my arms toward the ceiling. For the second time in a month I thus sent Mr. Max, who was contentedly asleep on the blankets covering my chest, airborne. And that's twice I've had recent dreams of being dumped on by an animal.

Breathing heavy I tried to gather myself and regain my bearings. An uneasiness wouldn't leave me alone. I lay there and wondered what was closer- the distance between Brookdale and Burnsville Center or the time that separated the experiences.

Things have indeed changed.

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