Mall or nothing

Summer in Orlando is renowned for being, well, just awful. There's nothing like stepping outside the safety of your air-conditioned home and being swept up in a wave of sticky air. You could find solace from this stifling awfulness by submerging yourself in water, but then you'd have to deal with the pruning effect.

There is hope! Set your sights on the ultimate American biosphere: the shopping mall. The biggest and, therefore, the best one in Orlando is the Florida Mall. Though located about as conveniently as the airport, this newly expanded shopping mecca is a treasure trove of constant cool. And if you play your cards right, you could pass the whole day there and get out spending and sweating far less than at any theme park. Contrary to popular belief, one need not actually shop at a shopping mall.

Shopping Tip No. 1: Always go to the mall with a person who uses the opposite side of the brain than you do.

This is just a little insurance against boredom. For my excursion, I chose an engineer named Bab, but any old polar opposite will do.

Shopping Tip No. 2: Bring a pair of sunglasses.

Warning: The Florida Mall is just way too bright. The architects obviously had not taken people with serious hangovers into consideration when they designed this place.

If you have forgotten your sunglasses, there are some dark dens of respite. The Steve Madden shoe store and the entire lobby of the Adam's Mark Hotel would serve as excellent grounds for a science experiment on growing mold. Ironically, the dimmest spot in the new wing is a store called Illuminations. Sans light except for the glow of scented candles, this an excellent place to skulk around and play a game or two of sink the votive. After a while, however, the hundreds of aromatic wax balls filling the air with their flowery fumes can become overwhelming. Bab and I had to make a hasty exit after he accidentally yelled, "God, this place smells!"

Shopping Tip No. 3: If you must do something practical, consider grooming.

For those of you who are unable to spend countless hours being unproductive (and God have mercy on your souls), there are a wide array of chores one can tackle at the mall: shoe repair, knife sharpening, purchasing your next home. My advice, however, is to pamper yourself. Go to the bar at the California Café, toss back a couple cocktails and then head for a manicure place. Bab and I loaded up on seared ahi and gin and went to Nails Avenue, a rather bare-bones establishment with assembly-line-like service. Hesitant at first, my tipsy engineer cohort was lured by the sight of me getting a hand massage. Though this was the fastest manicure I'd ever had, the results weren't too shabby, and I've never seen Bab's hands look so refined.

Shopping Tip No. 4: When planning to lurk at the mall all day, bring an inflatable chair.

The same dimwits who decided to let all this sunshine in apparently placed the movie theaters on the far end of the Dillard's parking lot. You must traverse an entire steaming ocean of pavement to get to see a film. Unacceptable. A better bet is to hang around a store equipped with a television and VCR. Bab bee-lined for the Explorium (this is what I mean about the other-side-of-the-brain thing), a store stocked with sci-fi paraphernalia and educational "toys." Here we parked ourselves on the edge of the stuffed-animals display and rode out our food comas watching "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace." The saleswoman did not respond kindly to our suggestion that they install a couch.

Shopping Tip No. 5: Make yourself at home.

After about three or four hours of roaming, you might get a little tired. Bab and I decided to clear up an important question: Does the Adam's Mark Hotel rent by the hour? Afraid not. If you want to take a nap, I suggest a remote corner of the Burdines linens section or -- if you can deal with a few minutes of the outside world -- the comfy-looking lounge chairs that surround the hotel's pool.

Shopping Tip No. 6: Bring out your inner child.

There are two toy stores, a handful of educational shops and quite a few specialty venues that all cater to kids. Even the grouchiest person, the one who claims to never really have been a kid, can at least find amusement in watching children torture their parents for cheap pieces of plastic made by underpaid, underage workers in a land far, far away. I personally like to piss and whine about all the toys I thought of that someone else invented -- I mean, rave Barbie was just so obvious!

Or you could opt for nurturing the creative kid within. Make your very own stuffed animal at the Build-A-Bear workshop. I had plotted to make a drag beer, replete with a pink tutu and wand, only to have Bab point out that all the animals were innately androgynous.

Shopping Tip No. 7: Remember, money does not grow on fake trees.

There is no denying that the mall is an evil capitalist monster. But you can find quite a few things that are technically free. So get a makeover, squirt you and your buddies with expensive perfumes and try some fine foods at snooty stores with boring real-name names like Williams-Sonoma or Harry & David. The ultimate freebie, however, can be found at Sharper Image, where you can park your tired body in a $3,000 Human Touch massage chair and get kneaded, rolled and vibrated for as long as you can hold on to your seat.

Shopping Tip No. 8: Bring home a souvenir.

There are a number of photo booths with all sorts of strange options. You can have your face "sketched" by a computerized hand, get a picture of yourself in front of the pyramids or see what you and your friend's children will look like. The best option, however, is the sticker-picture machine. For $3 you can get 16 adhesive portraits of yourself. Naturally, Bab and I strategically planted our pics at select bathrooms throughout the mall. Look for us at a urinal near you!

Tired and sober, Bab and I left the mall after exactly eight hours. My hands paused before opening the portal to the outer world; images from sci-fi movies of people getting sucked into the vacuum of space fill my mind. But we made it out alive, and with no bags of purchases. My only regret would be letting a drunken Bab pick out my nail-polish color.

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