The doors open and I swim upstream with the other school of people who have leaked through the front entrance. My fins disappear and suddenly I am being pushed along in a mob of people through the muddy madness of the mall, each of us walking with determined steps as though our destination is of importance to national security. We know exactly where we are headed, but too many distractions derail us. Stuck in a strange nightmare, I’m greeted at every turn by freak shows and loud games and brightly colored prizes that cry out to be won.
Step right over here, folks. Win a diamond ring for your girl. Look over here, ladies and gentlemen, and witness the world’s most pierced teen. Come buy this magic potion; for the price of a house, it will make you smell like Britney Spears.
A tall ride looms ahead, and I blindly step on. Up, up, up we go, slowly creeping with abandon of time, watching other versions of ourselves riding down in the opposite direction. Their ride looks more fun, but these people look spent at the end or their journey, like gently used cashmere sweaters, slightly worse for wear. My adventure is just beginning.
At the top, the blended aroma of popcorn, hot dogs, and coffee punches me harshly in the face. I suddenly get sucked into the vortex of a new ride: a carousel-like room, which I then ride around and around and around, trying to find a new swimsuit. I select enough swimsuits for an entire Olympic swim team. Needing to try them on, I am ushered into a Hall of Mirrors, and the door ominously closes with a thud behind me. For some reason, I sing along to the Pop Song From Hell, with lyrics as catchy as a spider web but apparently written by a fourth grader.
Clearly these are no ordinary mirrors. There is something wrong. My hips look too wide, and those are definitely not my thighs. In fact, this does not look like me at all. I see gray hairs and wrinkles and every detail that I would not want to see; I feel like I’m back in high school biology, forced to examine an earthworm under a microscope. I look tired and a lot older than I remember. I curse the sordid invention of fluorescent lighting. Wait a minute. Oh, I get it! These are Fun Mirrors!
Out of hundreds of swimsuits, only one fits. Now I get to put them all back on the hangers, but how did they ever get them on in the first place? Maybe if I win this challenge, I will win a giant panda bear that won’t fit in my car.
I leave that haunted house, and approach the cash register, where I actually get to pay money for that fun ride. The sales clerk has had a rough day and demonstrates her fire breathing skills.
Just one more ride, and I’m done for the day. I ride the roller coaster down this time, avoiding the mirror coming down the side. I’ve had enough mirrors for one day. Everyone around me has the same expression: a weary look that speaks of the need to leave this carnival and move on to the amusement park of the freeway. Up first: the bumper cars.