It was pretty slow at Barnie’s during the weekdays. Although the fountain would gush away and the canned sound of pop music would float through the halls, there was a sort of busied silence to the place. Barnie’s was in a corner spot right in the middle of the food court, affording an oblong view. I remember feeling like I was in a fish bowl, floating just above the ground while people glided by. The two mall walkers, Jeannie and Brenda, would swish by at least five times before stopping to get a specially made coffee. “Penny,” at least that’s what we called her, would circle the food court all morning. Her fat hands grasped the same 40 ounce Styrofoam cup every day. Her wrinkled eyes surveyed the floor for loose change.
Ashley, who worked with me, planted a few decoy coins for Penny. Once she super glued a shiny copper penny to the tiled floor in our store. Without hesitation, Penny cruised over to find crushing disappointment when the coin didn’t budge. Another time Ashley put a quarter on its side, resting on the baseboard in front of the cash register. Penny stopped mid walk, her eyes fixed on the bright object, but decided to pass it up.
I felt a strange connection with the mall employees and the irregular patrons. Sure, during the weekends the mall would be full of families tugging screaming children or pairs of women pretending to be young and single, showing as much powdered cleavage as possible. But the regulars, the people that chose to spend time in air conditioned halls smelling faintly of Cinnabon, grease, and cleaning product, were the real gems. They were real people, with real quirks. There was the state worker pair, a father and son, who got matching cappuccino’s and chatted about mobile homes, the Cuban cleaning man who got a special made cortidito (a sticky mixture of espresso and sugar), and the paranoid schizophrenic who took breaks from coughing up a drink order to turn her head and scream “you’ve ruined the best years of my life.”
They’re what my father would call “weirdoes.” He seemed to hate everyone my mother liked. My parents always talked business at home. It seemed like every time my mother told him about a new client, what they did for a living, what style they liked, he always had something negative to say. Suzie Penley, a Cuban lady who always grabbed my arm with her wrinkled fingers, ended up getting close with my mother. I went with my mother to Suzie’s house that was littered with painted wicker furniture and bright abstract art. They talked business a bit, but Suzie ended up talking about finding her sister’s dead body. My mother always put people at ease. But she would go home and tell my father about them. He would snap at her for spending too much time with one client, telling her that people were taking advantage of her. Sometimes she faintly disagreed, but most times her eyes turned off, letting him eat into her.