Dead Sea, Salt of the Earth

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Lost in a shopping mall somewhere between Atheism and The Holy Land, and how do I get this stuff off my hands?

Submitted: March 30, 2008

A A A | A A A

Submitted: March 30, 2008



You are here—that’s me, a little red dot on top of a cold, tiled walkway outside of the Macy’s and right next to another place called The Shoe Universe. Behind me is a cart with two big wheels, big wooden wheels with spokes, but I suspect those wheels are just for show and that this cart doesn’t actually go anywhere. Next to the cart, behind me and right in the middle of the walkway are two giant plastic ferns in white porcelain pots. I can’t see any dirt. The whole thing is just an illusion.
I’ve got my hands on my knees, and I’m leaning over in a slightly crouched position. I’ve got my nose pressed up against the three-sided upright map, and I’m looking at myself, there—in between the Macy’s and The Shoe Universe, with the arrow pointing to me and saying you are here. I am there.
I don’t know, but that arrow is telling me that I am there as I stand, hunched over, bent slightly at the waist, with my hands on my knees and staring at a three-sided map that’s supposedly telling me where I am. I’m tired and lost in the shopping mall.
As long as no one walks up behind me and stands beside me, another wayward or lost soul trapped in the shopping mall, I’ll be alright. I can rest here with my hands on my knees and take a breather in the shade of these giant plastic ferns.
Lost and tired. I can’t believe that I’ve gotten myself lost by merely walking around. And to think, I left work early for this!? There goes fifty bucks down the drain, and I didn’t even buy anything while I wandered aimlessly around this place.
Fifty bucks is about the going rate, the value, for four hours of my life, apparently. 
It was fun at first—fun here when I wasn’t at work, and I wasn’t lost. The inside of the mall is so cavernous, so much like the inside of an airplane hanger or a gigantic warehouse—a warehouse for human beings who want to go broke and into debt—that when I walked in here it felt almost like I was still outside, or like I had descended deep into the earth and entered an unexplored cave. 
And it was really nice outside today too, so I left work early without telling anybody and came here like a kid who’s truant from grade school—I’m a truant gown man—old habits die hard. At first, it was fun being truant.
Hell, the fist thing I saw when I got in here, was a carousel and an ATM machine—few things are more uplifting than that! Right? 
At first, I felt good looking at the women—there are lots of women in these places, and I felt good, especially checking out the ones who were in high heels and skirts, and believe me, the weather was nice today, so there were sure as hell a lot of those, but now I’m lost and I don’t feel so good anymore.
This is what happens when you spend a lifetime being truant—skipping out on responsibility, blowing stuff off just because the weather is nice and spending the whole day ogling women—you get lost.
If you live your life like that, then one day you wake up and find your nose pressed against the shatterproof plastic of a three sided standup map of the mall, and contemplating your very existence as represented by a red dot and a big red arrow that tells you—you are here! 
Great! Wherever here is—that’s where I am.
If you’re not careful, and you live your life as I have done, you can end up lost and trapped between the Macy’s and The Shoe Universe at two o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon with no way out.
But how did I end up here?
Oh yeah, now I remember. It was that guy. It was that pale, sickly looking, dark haired guy who was working behind one of those "As Seen on TV" carts in the center of the aisle. He was working at one of those carts that sell all the gizmos and gadgets, the junk, the flotsam and jetsam of the retail world that nobody wants, so the powers that be throw an "As Seen on TV" sticker on all that crap in the hope that somebody will be impressed by the fact that it was seen on TV and actually decide to buy it.
The fact that I’m lost right now is all that guy’s fault! He Shanghaied me like I was a drunken sailor by grabbing my hand as I walked by his cart (yes, he literally grabbed my hand!) and then he pulled me in amongst the small boxes of his worthless snake oil before I could react.
"Hey, you gotta see this," he said to me with no accent—honestly, when this guy first talked to me, he had no accent. His fingers clutched my wrists like the talons of an eagle as he pulled me over to that cart of his.
He was wearing a baggy light blue shirt, pleated black pants and I can distinctly remember that he had a long, sharp, angular nose. It’s his fault that I’ve gotten lost in the mall.
Once he dragged me over and into his cart and started talking to me, he picked up an accent, a bad accent, right away. "Tell me what your name is," he said as he hovered over me in the shadow of his gypsy cart full of bric-a-brac, and knick-knacks that were "As Seen on TV".
I expected this guy’s next words to be, "I vant to suck your blood," in a bad impersonation of Count Dracula, but they weren’t. Instead, I told him my name. "Mark," I said.
Right there and then I should have just walked away from his cart full of junk and lost myself in the food court, and I still don’t know why I didn’t do that, because now I’m lost and I don’t think I’ll ever find my way out of this place, and it’s all that guy’s fault.
He grabbed my hand again, literally grabbed my hand, twisted my wrist and turned it palm up like he was about to read my fortune or something. I really don’t know why I didn’t walk away—maybe it was his Svengali-like stare that kept me there in place. I don’t know. When he talked to me, all of the chatter coming from the nearby food court, all the buzz of the people as they walked past the two of us, seemed to fade away into nothing. It was like that guy put me under a spell, or something.
He grabbed my hand, twisted my wrist, and looked intently at my palm. "Are you Jewish?" He asked me in his fake accent.
"No," I said. I didn’t know whether I should be scared, offended, or interested by his question. Was he trying to sell me Jewish? I wondered. 
"Vat is your last name?" This guy with the sharp pointy nose asked me. Even at the time, as it was happening to me, I thought this guy’s questions were very intrusive and personal, maybe even wrong to ask of a complete stranger in a shopping mall, but I didn’t say or do anything to stop, or dissuade him. Public places, like shopping malls, are typically places where Americans go to hide, to be anonymous in a crowd and spend their money, so a lot of crazy shit can happen in places like that, and most of us just act like we don’t notice what’s going on. 
I played along by answering his questions. Truthfully, I wanted to ask him if he was Puerto Rican, Dominican, or Cuban and why he spoke like a two-bit Count Dracula.
"Kowalski," I said. "Kowalski is my last name."
"Kowalski?" he asked.
"Yeah." We’ve already been through this before, I thought. Why does everybody repeat my last name when they hear it?
"You know Israel?" he asked.
"Yeah, I know Israel," I said. How did the two of us go from Jewish, to my last name, to Israel? I began to regard this guy with a more discerning eye as we talked. I tried to pull my hand away from his. He grabbed at it again, but this time I kept my hand behind my back where this guy couldn’t get at it.
"You don’t know Israel," he insisted in his fake accent.
"Yeah, I know Israel," I said.
"No, you don’t know Israel," he said emphatically while shaking his head.
"Yes I do." I insisted to this guy, without knowing why proving to him that I knew what Israel was had suddenly become so important to me. "I know Israel!" I shouted loud enough for the people eating at the food court outside the Taco Bell to actually take notice of, and turn their heads. 
Embarrassed, I quieted down, and let the long-nosed guy grab my hand again, twist the wrist and turn it palm upwards. "Oh yeah," he said while losing his accent just a bit, "what is Israel?"
“It’s in the Middle East,” I said. “The Holy Land.” The Count tightened his grip on my wrist.
“Ah—HA!” he exclaimed. “Are you Jewish?”
“No, I’m not,” I said while wondering—does it matter?
Now the guy had a big smile on his face. “But you called Israel ‘The Holy Land’”, he said.
I tried to pull my hand away from his grip, but the guy wouldn’t let go. “Everybody calls Israel the Holy Land,” I said. “It’s just an expression.”
Long Nose blinked once, and then twice in rapid succession. Then he blinked again and looked at me. “It’s only holy if you believe,” he said, heavily accented.
I wanted him to let go of my wrist—it was starting to hurt. “Well, you know,” I began cautiously, “that whole Jewish, Christian, Muslim thing’s been up the air for two millennia.”
After I said that he looked down, and for a few minutes, he remained silent. He let go of my wrist, and when he did, the noise of the mall came flooding back to my ears like a dull, growing rumble.
“Let me show you something,” the Long Nosed salesman said to me as he beckoned with his finger. In his hand he held a plain, white, rectangular box that was about six inches high.
He had let go of my hand, and if I had simply walked away, right then and there, I wouldn’t be lost right now inside the shopping mall and unable to find my way out. But I didn’t leave him. I didn’t say to him, thanks but no thanks, and walk away. I stayed there and stood next to his cart of junk and let him show me what was in the plain, white, rectangular box.
From out of the box, his boney fingers pulled a plastic dispenser, the kind used for liquid bathroom soap. The dispenser was also white, and he held it up in the air as if it were a prized piece of jewelry worth millions.
“This is from the Dead Sea,” he announced with a grin. “You know the Dead Sea? In Israel?” he asked. I thought again, that he was going to say, I vant to suck your blood, like Dracula, but he didn’t.
Instead, he stood there with the dispenser bottle held aloft and a big smile on his face, waiting for me to respond.
“Yeah, I know the Dead Sea,” I said while looking down.
“No, you don’t know it!” he proclaimed. I thought—here we go again. Either, I was a hard sell, or this guy was just relentless.
“Yeah, yeah, I do,” I said defensively. But this time I didn’t raise my voice. I whispered it to him. I didn’t want the people at the food court to hear me, and be embarrassed again like I was before. “It’s where they found all those old texts of The Bible,” I whispered.
“No, you don’t know anything about the Dead Sea,” he said while gesticulating with his long fingers.
“It’s in Israel,” I said.
He shook his head back and forth like he pitied me. “No, you don’t know,” he said.
“Okay, I don’t know.”
“No, you don’t know,” he repeated while still shaking his head.
“Okay, I don’t know anything,” I said. I wasn’t in the mood to argue all day about the same thing.
“Good!” he announced as a big smile returned to his long nosed face. “Let me show you something,” he whispered confidentially. 
He grabbed my hand and pulled it. I couldn’t tell how, or from where, but he produced a small bowl filled up about half way with water. He clutched my hand tightly in his own, and then with his other free hand, he pushed down on the top of the dispenser. 
This dab of white goo landed on my open palm. It felt cold on my hand. “Hey, what the hell is this?” I demanded.
The Snake Oil Salesman kept right on smiling at me, even though, I’m sure he could tell that I was getting pretty pissed off by now. But, clearly, this was his big punch line—the sales pitch that he had practiced for hours in front of the mirror.
“This is a special lotion for the hands,” he said in a heavy, indistinct accent. “It is made from the salt of the Dead Sea. It revitalizes and rejuvenates. This lotion brings skin back to life!”
I looked down at the dab of white goo resting on my palm, and I remained incredulous. “How’s it do that if it’s from the Dead Sea?”
“Dead Sea salt is full of life!” The long nosed snake oil salesman pronounced.
“But it’s from the Dead Sea,” I insisted.
He dismissed my worries by not responding to them. “It will bring your hands back to life,” he repeated over, and over, and over again.
Then he took my palms and rubbed them together. I could feel the lotion on my skin, between my fingers—all grainy and gritty. He held my hands together and said, “Rub them with this for thirty seconds everyday, and your skin comes back to life.”
After what must have been thirty seconds, he took my hands and put them in the bowl of water. The water was tepid and slimy to begin with, and there wasn’t enough of it to wash the white goo off my hands. I saw the water turn from clear, to gray, to black inside the shallow little bowl.
He scrunched up his long nose and said with a half-sneer, “Your hands are dirty.”
“Sorry,” I apologized. I don’t know why I apologized. I should have just walked away, but I said, “Sorry, I just got out of work.”
“You need the lotion of the salt of the Dead Sea,” he said, but by now, I was hardly paying any attention.
After immersing them in the bowl of dirty water, he had let go of my hands, and I couldn’t get the slime off. All the little grains of that Dead Sea salt clung to my pores, and my palms felt clammy and cold. The stuff just wouldn’t come off. I tried to wipe it on my jeans, to rub the goo off on my jacket—I blew warm and cold air onto my hands, but nothing worked. The slime stayed stuck on my hands, and not only that, but wherever I put my hands—the slime seemed to stay there too! It was as if this shit really was alive.
The salesman, I think, had by now launched into a lengthy sermon regarding the different packages of Dead Sea Salt Hand Lotion that I could buy, but I was only vaguely aware of what he was saying. I yearned to have the stuff off my hands.
“No, no thanks,” I stuttered as I backed away from his little cart of knick-knacks. “No thanks.”
Then I started wandering around the mall—obsessed with getting this slick and slimy substance off my skin. I searched for a bathroom, found one, and washed my hands in the sink for at least a good ten minutes. It didn’t really help. My hands remained slick and cold to the touch.
My hands are still slick, slimy, clammy and cold, and now, I’m lost and looking for a way out of here—hunched over, and studying a three-sided upright map of the shopping mall.
How do I get out of here? And how do I get this stuff off my hands? I knew that anything that came from a place called dead couldn’t be good for me, but that long nosed guy was so obsessed with selling it, that he didn’t care about what it might actually do to someone who might use it.  Dead Sea salt! In over two millennia, nothing good has come from that part of the world. There’s no reason that Dead Sea Salt Hand Lotion should be any different.
This map doesn’t make any sense. I can’t figure anything out by looking at it. All I can tell is where I am, but that doesn’t do me any good because I’m lost, and I don’t know where I am. Even if I stare at this map all day, and figure out exactly where I am, I still won’t really know where that is, or how to get to where I have to go, which isn’t where I am.
I’m just going to wander around the mall until I see something that looks familiar—something recognizable. If that doesn’t work, I’m just going to look for glass doors anywhere—head towards the light because that’s always the best way to get out of somewhere.
Start walking to my left, keeping my eyes open wide for something recognizable—some kind of sign to show me the way.
Down the escalator? Stay on this floor? Where should I go? Well, if I go down, then that puts me below ground, and I know that my car is definitely parked above ground in the main lot outside of the electronics store, so it’s definitely better to stay above ground. No good ever comes from going down.
I keep wiping my hands on my jeans; hoping that this Dead Sea stuff will come off, but it doesn’t. It continues to stick to my hands like glue, and now I’ve got damp, dark patches of slime around the pockets of my pants.
Keep going left. Eventually, I’ll find a way out, either that, or I’ll completely circumnavigate this entire floor of the mall and discover that there’s no way out—at least not here. And then, I’ll have to head down on the escalator and into the bowels of the mall, into the maze of brightly lit watch and jewelry stores, to find my way out.
Wait a minute I recognize that place—that little store that’s caddy-cornered by the two big walls of advertisements and jutting out into the walkway.
I remember when I came into the mall I walked by that place and looked at it. It’s a little store that sells ornate furniture—gilded settees and divans, little bejeweled chests and cabinets, and all kinds of stuff that looks like it was bought secondhand from a yard sale at the Palace of Versailles.
Yeah, now I remember. I took notice of it for a second when I came into the mall and thought—how does such an esoteric place like that stay in business? Then I had quickly forgotten about it when a pair of young women, obviously shopping on their lunch break from the office, had caught my eye.
Now I don’t have time to look at women. I’m just desperate to find my way out, and that crazy little furniture store might prove to be my saving grace.
I turn the corner of the walkway, right where the furniture store juts out at a right angle and there it is—light! Or more specifically, not light, but the clear shatterproof glass of sliding doors, the same doors that lead out onto the mall’s main parking lot outside the electronics store. 
My salvation!
I run toward those sliding doors wait a second for them to open like the gates of heaven, and then I stand on the wide, flat steps that lead down onto the main parking lot. I inhale the fresh, ozone filled, New Jersey shopping mall parking lot air in deep and hearty gulps. 
I don’t even care anymore that my hands are sticky and covered with a glaze of Dead Sea salt goo—I’ve made it outside. I sort of know where I am now.
I breathe in that air and then light a cigarette. I leisurely stroll through the parking lot in the direction of my battered Ford sub-compact.
The car is home. It’s dirty, stained and old, but it feels safe and secure. I sit in my car for a moment and relax. There’s no talk here of religion, or holy places; nobody’s trying to sell me anything—there’s not even any women in here. It’s completely safe.
As I’m thinking all of this, I see the sun reflecting off my windshield. The glare from the reflection is bright, too bright. I can’t help but realize that there’s no way in hell that a windshield as dirty as mine could be catching the light of the sun like this!
And that’s when I see her. I se her through her own, clean windshield, while still fifty feet away. She’s in a brand new white Mercedes, big hood ornament and all, and the light is literally radiating off that car.
My window is closed. She parks in the spot next to me and I don’t think anything of it until I hear, “Yoo—hoo, Yoo—hoo,” and a faint whistling noise.
I sigh, and begrudgingly, I reach across the passenger’s seat to roll down the window. Her window is already down, the result of power windows, I’m sure.
“I’m looking for Fairview Avenue,” this lady says to me like either everyone on earth should know where she wants to go, or she thinks I’m retarded. Either or. 
I’ve heard of Fairview Avenue, but I’m not so sure how to get from here, where I am now, to there, where she wants to be.
“Yeah,” I say noncommittally. This woman’s got a fat face, maybe it’s the result of too much botox and too many cosmetic injections, I think, or maybe it’s just bad genetics. Either or.
She stares at me, and says with a hint of exasperation, “You know where that is?”
“Oh yeah,” I say, “you’re close.” I keep my sticky hands on the steering wheel of my car.
She flares her nostrils and tries to stare me down. I start my car, the engine hiccups, sputters, and almost dies, but it doesn’t. Her Mercedes is idling in the spot next to mine, but her engine is whisper quiet.
“Look, I need to find the Divine Mercy Funeral Home on Fairview Avenue,” she says.
“I know Fairview Avenue,” I say. “You’re really close, but I’m not so sure exactly where that place is, sorry.”
Then, before I can hear her response, I reach across the passenger’s seat, roll up the window and press my foot down hard on the gas of my shitbox old Ford. I drive away with my hands, literally, stuck to the steering wheel.
Funeral home? I don’t know where that is. I’m the same guy who just got lost inside the shopping mall and ended up with Dead Sea slime on his hands.
No, I can’t tell her how to get to that funeral home, or any other funeral home for that matter. I’m not the right person to ask for directions, you see, and no, I don’t feel bad about driving away from her so suddenly.
I can’t tell her how to get to that funeral home, but she’s close, I know it. And she’ll get there sooner or later. I’m sure when we’re trying to get to a place like that we all get there, eventually.

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