Saturday, September 30, 2006

Sawgrass Wisdom

Where once there was a river of grass, so called by Marjorie Stoneman Douglass in her famous tribute to the Everglades, now there is the Sawgrass Mall. It is a sprawling complex of big box retailers, such as Home Depot and Brandsmart, in free-standing warehouses on the perimeter; a warren of small stores with anchors; and, as I learned today, a new inner perimeter of trendier stores, with open-air streets and Euro-faux facades. Approaching the mall, one encounters a welter of restaurants and strip malls with anchor tenants including Circuit City, Best Buy, and CompUSA.

Although I have sometimes visited the outermost strip for electronics merchandise in the past 21 months since moving to Broward County, I have ventured only once within the innards of this massive mecca to merchandising. The object of my trip today was comfortable shoes at Timberland.

Initially, I was lured into the Neiman Marcus Last Call discount outlet, in hopes of a bargain. There, I formed my cultural principle:

Women who buy expensive shoes have no sensation in their feet

A dizzying array of very expensive shoes, pretty as jewels, was on sale. Pink and turquoise, green, copper and gold, festooned with beads and jewels, glitter and faux fur, feathers and rhinestones, these designer labels featured pointy, pointy toes (didn’t I endure those in 6th through 8th grades?) and heels as tall and slender as the twin towers (and we know how treacherous those turned out to be).

I was so glad I was wearing my new Merrell sandals, my feet cradled in wide bottoms, padded in all the right places. Stolid in appearance they may be, but ah, comfort be thy name. In these I padded along the row stores of the new Colonnades subdivision of the mall, realizing before too long that I was not up for spending major dough and this was not the right way toward Timberland, according to the online map I’d consulted before leaving but had not bothered printing.

The massive, ornately Tuscan exterior of Café Lux dominated my view, so I decided it was time for lunch. Inside, I formulated my second cultural principle:

Nothing is ever enough.

Excess is the principle on which American marketing is built. This includes our eating habits. My waiter, Chris, proudly informed me that Café Lux is owned by The Cheesecake Factory, famous for its giant-sized servings and that the Café Lux portions are also “generous” – code for sinfully huge, like American butts.

My hamburger was delicious, thick with melted cheddar cheese and avocado slides. It was served with a portion of slender French fries, crisp and perfectly salted, large enough for three people. The condiment provided was mustard-mayonnaise. I was able to eat only a small number of fries and left behind a third of the giant burger.

The interior of the restaurant was just as overblown. Columns, faux paint, and stenciled designs were everywhere. The ceiling towered high above us. One has to sell a lot of meals just to pay for the air conditioning in such a place. Tuscan colors of burnt yellow and umbra were everywhere, with expensive tile work in the corridor to the bathroom, where the most modern of sink fixtures – shallow square stone sinks with ultra-modern nickel faucets – completed the svelte accommodations.

The Colonnades in its entirety illustrates that nothing is ever enough. Its upscale shops and restaurants have surely been added on to the original big-box multiplex for the residents of the condominiums apartments of Tao, rising on the horizon, where prices start at a half-million dollars. Tao is earth-friendly and feng-shui’ed to the max. Has everyone forgotten that this is swampland, the Everglades drained, filled, and paved, and global warming will drown all this is a few decades?

Treats are best appreciated in small doses

Venturing into the mall, I found my way to Timberland, Clarks shoes, Saks Off-Fifth Outlet and, of course, TJ Maxx. I’ve not been in a TJ Maxx that big since Paul and I were in Albuquerque. Now I was in the realm of polyester suits, instead of the Armani silk and linen concoctions that rang my esthetic chimes but exceeded the capacity of my purse.

I settled on a gold, silk embroidered cushion for the sofa, squishy enough to perfectly support my neck while watching TV. It looks much better than the bed pillow I had put there, and I am very glad that I bought it.

I picked up a second treat on my way home – an iced mocha latte with lots of whipped cream – and an espresso brownie. Starbucks in the marketing scam of the century: how on earth did that guy convince Americans to spend three-to-five bucks on a cup of coffee? I figured I deserve it, because I save tons of money by brown-bagging lunch every day, even bringing tea in a thermos.

It was tempting to buy new sheets and many other things. Each time I was tempted, I asked myself whether I would enjoy that new possession as much as sending an equal amount to my credit card debtors to dig myself out of debt. The answer was that I want freedom from debt, and perhaps a face lift. Expensive new things cannot please me as much as a few inexpensive treats – a yellow cotton nightshirt with sleep teddy bears, a silk pillow for my head, and a lovely mocha latte with cream containing all the three main food groups – chocolate, sugar, and butterfat.

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