October 11, 2005

Gratuitous Domestic Posting (TM)

I am a complete moron.

Regular readers will no doubt shrug their shoulders and mutter, "So new?" but this weekend I feel that I set some sort of new benchmark in idiocy.

You see, I was on my own with the five and seven year olds and I thought it would be really nice to take the Llama-ettes out Saturday afternoon to the new Wallace & Gromit movie and then on to some dinner. Just me and the gels having some time together. Good ol' Dad.

The trouble is that the place I decided to take them to do all this was Tyson's Corner Mall.

Tyson's, for those of you not familiar with the Dee Cee Metro area, is in the "That's no moon, it's a space station," class of suburban mall awfulness. It's very large but it sits on a relatively small piece of ground, so that the access roads are squashed and labrynthine. Snuggled up to the Beltway on one side, it is flanked by two of the busiest arterial routes in Northern Virginia - Route 123/Chainbridge Road and Route 7/Leesburg Pike. Furthermore, the paper was full of articles last week about the brand new wing that's just been opened there, complete with sixteen screen multiplex cinema, expanded food court and new "hip" shops.

This is where I decided to take the gels. To see a blockbuster new movie that was just opening. At three o'clock on a Saturday afternoon. In the pouring rain.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is why I am a moron. Not because I didn't understand all of these facts, but because I did and went anyway.

I was aiming for a four o'clock show, so we set out from home at three. It's only about three miles in a straight line from my house to Tyson's, and I laughed at myself for being so compulsive about leaving so early. However, I thought, I'm not absolutely sure where the theatre is. We may have to walk a bit. And anyway, I can always fob the gels off on a video game or two if we're too early.

Ha. Bloody. Ha.

Getting to the mall from our direction wasn't at all difficult. But once we got on the grounds, I began to get an inkling that we were really for it. There were a couple of guys wearing security jackets feebly attempting to direct traffic, but hardly anyone was paying attention to them. Instead, traffic was operating on the principle of the rugby scrum - everyone simply put their heads down and kept pushing, with more and more people piling on from every angle.

Eventually, I aimed at one of the multi-story parking garages - I didn't care where it was in relation to the theatre - all I wanted was a spot. We'd leg it in from there. Seeing an opening, I darted through and got in out of the rain. That's when Time came to a complete standstill. Gridlock in an intersection is bad enough. Gridlock in a garage is outright maddening. This wasn't the ordinary patrolling up and down the rows, looking for somebody who was leaving. We simply sat in a long line of cars for a solid half hour, going just about nowhere. Meanwhile, the Llama-ettes, who knew what time the movie started, were eyeing the clock with increased impatience and demanding to know why we weren't moving. I waived an exasperated hand at the windshield and said, "Take a look! Why do you think we're not moving?"

Eventually, the slow, sluggish current took us all the way around the first level of the garage. Rather than facing the madness of trying to climb to the next floor, I bailed back into the rain to try another one. Eventually, I got all the way around to the far side of the mall and tried again. This time, the traffic was actually moving, so I kept climbing and climbing. Suddenly, at the sixth floor up, Bango! - somebody was pulling out. I jammed on the brakes and waited. The five year old kept saying, "Go, Daddy! Somebody will take that spot!" while the seven year old said, "No, it's okay! Nobody can get around us!" Such are the skills learned in a suburban education.

Well, we all tumbled out of the car and headed across the catwalk into the mall. It was about five of four and I still had no idea where the theatre was. But damme if the first thing we saw when we came in was the theatre, across a big crowded food court. Well that's a bit of luck, I thought. We might make the four o'clock show after all!

"Not so fast, monkey-boy," said Fate. When we got in line, I saw that the four o'clock show was sold out.

The next show was at five thirty. Well, okay. Change of plan. "Say, girls, are you hungry? We'll have to wait a bit, so why don't we grab dinner early? There's a TGI Friday's right over here." The gels, to their credit, accepted this proposal enthusiastically. So we went over to TGIF's.

"I said, 'Not so fast, monkey-boy,'" said Fate. Forty five minute wait to get a table. Jesus, I thought. Well, okay. We've got an hour and a half. We've got the tickets. We can muddle about for a bit, then eat, then pop right in. It still works. "Give me a pager, then. What's the range on these?" "Uh...oh," said the guy, "you can go anywhere around here."

Fine. Now what do we do for forty five minutes?

"Look, Dad! A play area! Can we go?"

Deus ex machina. "Oh, sure. Why not."

Over on one side of the food court was one of those kiddie play areas, covered in foam carpet and surrounded by a waist-high wall. It had a big plastic tree in the middle and a bunch of toadstools and what not for the kiddies to climb on. The place was an absolute sea of children and the gels quickly threw themselves into it, while I took up a station along the wall and began to fume. Tyson's tag line is, "Where the stores are." Perhaps, but a more accurate description of the place would be "Where the Mob is." You know, my religion teaches me to love my neighbor. But Jesus never had to deal with a rainy Saturday afternoon mall crowd. If he had, I'm pretty sure he'd have stayed strictly Old Testament. Every conceivable type of lumpen mall-goer was there, stepping on my toes, leaning against me and having loud conversations on their cell phones about a variety of subjects no sane person would ever want broadcast. As I say, the place was full of kids, too, having a vast array of fits, accidents, tantrums and crises. Furthermore, if there was supposed to be any kind of age limit for the play area, it was not being enforced - I watched three girls who must have been at least twelve or thirteen, all of them decked out in Bratz Fashion, clamoring about on playsets designed for three year olds. (Given the way they looked and acted, I thought it distinctly possible that one of them probably had a three year old.)

Periodically, the Llama-ettes would emerge to ask if it was time for dinner yet. But so far, the ol' vibrating pocket-buddy had not gone off. Once again I found myself staring at my watch. Half an hour gone. Forty minutes. Forty five. Fifty. Enough of this! I collected the gels and went back over to check on the status of our table.

"Uh," said the guy, "Well, I think we called you already."

"Um, nooooooo...."

"Uh....oh. Well, go see that woman over there and she'll get you seated."

So we went to see that woman over there who would get us seated. Except we didn't actually see her, because I was never able to make eye contact. She resolutely declined to glance away from the computer screen she was watching, instead making a series of hand signals over her shoulder to a group of waiters loitering nearby. I had the curious sensation of not actually being there.

Eventually, though, we sat down. And we still had a bit over half an hour until the movie started. I quickly ordered some soup for myself and some macky cheese and hot dog for the gels, and we waited.

And waited.

Fifteen minutes later, the waiter shuffled up and reported that there was some kind of hold-up in the kitchen and our meals would be delayed. The seven year old promptly rounded on him, stating that we were seeing a movie and five thirty and we needed our food quickly. The guy tried to suck up to her by asking about the movie, but she continued to glare at him. The five year old, however, was quite chatty and enthusiastic, much to the waiter's relief. This offered a glimpse of how my girls are going to deal with men in later life - the seven year old is going to terrorize them a la Katharine Hepburn. The five year old, meanwhile, is going to vamp her way to everything she wants.

Eventually, just before I cancelled the order and walked out, the food showed up. It was now getting on toward ten past five. "Eat fast, girls," was the order of the day. The gels dutifully hoovered their meals, as only the young can do, and we got over to the theatre with ten minutes in hand. As we walked in, I was pleased to see that there were plenty of empty seats.

Except they weren't actually empty. Instead, almost all of them were saved with somebody's jacket or the like. I hate it when people do this sort of thing. There oughta be a law. Punishable by summary execution.

Eventually, we wound up way down front where you can never quite get your eyes to focus all the way because the screen is so close. However, by that point, I didn't much care anymore. The powers of darkness had been conspiring all afternoon to derail our plans, but we were going to see them through, dammit, no matter what.

And we did. Once we got used to where we were sitting, the gels and I actually enjoyed Wallace & Gromit. It's quite clever and very English - there's always something going on to keep the kiddies amused, while there also are frequent grown-up jokes that go rocketing right over their innocent little heads. And some of the effects are quite beautiful - just thinking about the amount of time and effort it took to create all of that in stop-motion animation makes one dizzy.

Anyhoo, we wound up having a good time, which is really what counted in the end, I suppose. Not much more happened, except that as I tried to navigate out of the garage in the rain and the dark, with the windshield fogging up and the brakes grabbing from the wet, the gels stared peppering me with questions about how the moonlight made the were-rabbit happen. Under such circumstances, my ability to come up with Creative Dad Answers was at rather a low ebb, and I couldn't say much more than, "Oh...magic, I suppose." Perhaps sensing that I'd about had enough, they didn't press for further elaboration.

So there you have it. Like I say, I am a complete moron. If ever I suggest that I might do something like this again, feel free to give me a blow on the head.

Posted by Robert at October 11, 2005 10:05 AM | TrackBack

Tyson's is of the Debile. I do not go to Tyson's, ever. Avoided like the plague, it is.

Posted by: jen at October 11, 2005 10:24 AM

You are a brave man and I'm glad it all worked out without a missing child or road rage assault. You are lucky.

BTW, your 7 year-old was most likely over the height limit for the play area (just my attempt to win friends and influence people), your 5 year-old was probably right at it. Mr. Owl at the front had a hand demarking the limits of the play area. No one pays attention. Were any kids climbing to the top of the tree while you were there? They did when I was there -- security told them to get down. I would have respected them more if they booted the kid for being too big. A very poorly designed play area. Their hearts were in the right place but their brains weren't.

Posted by: Marjorie at October 11, 2005 10:54 AM

This (for obvious reasons) amused me more than anything:

This offered a glimpse of how my girls are going to deal with men in later life - the seven year old is going to terrorize them a la Katharine Hepburn. The five year old, meanwhile, is going to vamp her way to everything she wants.

Posted by: Rae at October 11, 2005 11:08 AM

You are a wonderful Daddy. Don't let anyone tell you anything different.

P.S. All was not lost. After all, you learned this little fascinating tidbit:

This offered a glimpse of how my girls are going to deal with men in later life - the seven year old is going to terrorize them a la Katharine Hepburn. The five year old, meanwhile, is going to vamp her way to everything she wants.
Posted by: Margi at October 11, 2005 11:10 AM

Rae! Stop that!


Posted by: Margi at October 11, 2005 11:11 AM

It seemed every kid had a go at getting to the top of the tree, but no one was successful. I didn't notice any security around, so don't know what would have happened had they succeeded.

Posted by: Robbo the LB at October 11, 2005 11:21 AM

Robbo, two words: Fan-Dango.

Posted by: Gary at October 11, 2005 11:39 AM

I love how terribly unfunny events become the funny snapshots of our lives, kindly glazed by memory.

Posted by: tee bee at October 11, 2005 12:41 PM

Damn. I wish I hadn't read this. Now I'm going to be perpetually tempted by the play area at Tyson's while knowing that it's going to be a hellish experience.

Posted by: Eric J at October 11, 2005 02:54 PM

Don't worry. The floor shakes and trembles so much that the whole thing is probably going to come tumbling down in the near future, thus mooting your concern.

Posted by: Robbo the LB at October 11, 2005 03:01 PM

I enjoyed the story. Great slice of modern life.

Posted by: MB at October 11, 2005 05:30 PM

Reading this makes me feel so much better that I live in Omaha.

Since you're obviously not doing anything next weekend, would you like to borrow my copy of "The Atlas Of Middle Earth" while I finish "The Hobbit?"

Posted by: Eric at October 11, 2005 07:00 PM