“Retail Therapy … Just Isn’t Anymore,” by Eleanor Herman.

Going back to the mall in the age of Covid-19.

“I mean, even if nobody sees me, I do have certain standards.”

Back to the Tysons mall after four months away!

I’ve always loved to look at clothing, shoes, and purses. To try skincare and makeup. I used to slip out of my home office and drive the ten minutes to the mall for a change of scene, a delightful assortment of sights and smells, colors and fabrics, amazing things I could buy. The mall had re-opened the week before, and I decided to go there early on a Tuesday to avoid plague-bearing crowds. I wore a mask and gloves and carried a Clorox-soaked cloth in a Baggie.

Notices were slapped over all the doors. Covid-19 is a thing. If you’re feeling sick stay home. Maybe you should stay home even if you’re not feeling sick. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Keep moving and don’t stay long. I understood the need for them, but the rather took the shine off my glittering fantasy of shopping again.

Inside, Macy’s was crammed with clothing. Most of it 50 to 80 percent off. It had been March when the store suddenly closed, and all those boxes of items ordered months earlier had arrived and nobody had bought anything. And now it all needed to go to make room for fall.

I walked among the displays, admiring the lovely dresses that were almost free. But where would I wear them? Who would see me? I kept going.

I truly needed some new sports bras. In the months my beloved gym had been closed, I had been taking long daily walks in my neighborhood, and those walks had become quite hot and sweaty recently. My sports bras always seemed to be in the dirty laundry bin. I didn’t want to try the bras on — God only knew if death in a minute particle lurked in the fitting rooms — so I just bought two that looked like they would fit.

I walked past the makeup and skincare counters bearing signs that said customers couldn’t try any products. Basically, I could buy it, try it at home, and bring it back if I hated it. I sighed. No more impulse buying at the makeup counter. And come to think of it, I have twenty-seven lipsticks no one will ever see under my mask.

People are dying. Losing businesses and homes. How can I be so sad about hating the mall and the nail salon?”

Bearing my sports bras, I headed out. Going back to the mall was nothing like what I had imagined. And I felt incredibly sad.

To cheer myself up, I went to my nail salon. After four months of no professional treatment at home, my cuticles were a mess; I had started picking at them with a certain amount of blood involved, and my feet were clearly unfit for sandals. I mean, even if nobody sees me, I do have certain standards. The nail salon had been open a month, so I figured they knew how to handle the hygiene. Maybe if I went in for a manicure and pedicure, I could relax, enjoy; even pretend, for a moment, that things were the way they had been. I wore a mask and a huge plastic visor over my entire face.

A manicurist’s basic precautions, by Cottonbro at Pexels.

Those doors, too, were plastered with signs in some variation of Abandon Hope Ye Who Enter Here. When I entered, I glanced in a mirror and saw what looked like a demented astronaut wearing an adult diaper over her mouth.

I had to sign a waiver saying I wouldn’t sue them if I caught the virus and died — which is pretty much a given, come to think of it — and provide a phone number so the health department could contact me if there had been a Covid case in the shop. Even as I was having my feet and legs massaged, I kept wondering if it would end up killing me. So much for a relaxing experience.

My day out, which I had looked so forward to, had been a great disappointment. I am irritated at myself for even being upset at my disillusionment with Macy’s and the mani-pedi. People are dying. Losing businesses and homes. How can I be so sad about hating the mall and the nail salon?

Or is it me? Have I irrevocably changed, valuing other things now? Health, family, Zoom cocktail parties with friends, good food, and, God knows, plenty of toilet paper.

I am not sure what happened, but I do know that some lovely thing is lost to me, and I wonder if I will ever get it back, or if it even matters.

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Eleanor Herman is the New York Times best-selling author of Sex with Kings, Sex with the Queen, and Sex with Presidents, coming out in September 2020. She lives with her husband, their yellow Lab, and four very annoying cats in McLean, Virginia. For more information, go to www.eleanorherman.com.

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Featured image by Jernej Furman.

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