The Pre-Trip Safari (Or, How to Hunt at the Mall)

They say you should wait. You should buy things when you're there. But, before every big trip I take, I invariably end up at the mall hunting for one or two items that will complete the perfect picture I have in my head of my upcoming adventure. A scarf that fits my packing color scheme. The perfect touring shoes. The latest swimwear. And always, always, these pre-departure safaris end up becoming adventures in and of themselves. This one goes out to the smooth-talking sales lady I met at a mall in Florida just prior to my departure for a sailing trip in Greece.

She had thick, shiny, brown hair. Her eyebrows held the perfect arch. Her skin was smooth and tanned. She had a soft, floral perfume aura. Her eyes seemed lit from within and her pores were close-up ready. I, in contrast, had slept over at a girlfriend's the night before and gone out makeup-free to pick up the few remaining things I needed. I was giddy with pre-trip anticipation, which made me juicy prey. I asked for a tube of Lancome foundation, I couldn't remember the hue, and blurted out that I was going sailing in Greece. Her eyes twinkled. She smiled a cool cucumber smile. She had a friend who'd been, she said, then decided my color was "bisque" and crouched down to search for a tube. From behind the counter, she asked what I was using under my eyes. Her query was delivered with the same nonchalance a cosmetic surgeon uses to comment on your good looks while mentioning that patch of melasma on your neck.

I had been using foundation, which was apparently the wrong answer. She leapt up from behind the counter, pupils wide. Foundation, she said, could cause severe damage to the eye area, with a heavy emphasis on severe. It's a wonder I wasn't already blind! One must use a special French-sounding concealer that's made for such tender skin. And, of course, everyone who travels (everyone!) needs a compact to keep the shine off. To avoid blindness, I accepted the concealer. And, although I'm not the touch-up kind, I liked the little mirror so we added the compact to my selection as well. Then she told me her friend, the one who had traveled to Greece, had raved about Lancome's spray-on self-tanner and pre-tan, walnut-shell exfoliator. Gesturing for me to lean in conspiratorially, she revealed in a hushed tone that the Clinique lady had been over just that morning to buy some of said self-tanner. In fact, all the makeup counter girls used it. That's why their inventory was so low. I was getting the last bottle.

Finally, we made it to the register where the smooth sales lady prepared to finish me off. She entered my purchases, then, as if taken by surprise herself, announced that, if I spent just twenty dollars more, I could also get the chic travel bag that was full of petite sailboat-friendly bottles! So I added a tube of waterproof mascara and the accompanying remover. Then, going in for the coup de grâce, she asked if I might like to open a credit account to save ten percent on my purchase. Despite the clear logic of it – I was spending a whopping $300 – I said no. It was her first no from me and she was clearly stunned. She shook her head at my foolhardiness. But, at this point, I didn't care. I didn't care about the thirty dollars. I didn't care about losing my new friend so soon after we'd met. All I cared about was whether I'd be able to squeeze any sailing into my makeup regimen. I paid with my Amex and slinked away.

Marcus, bless him, has since taught me the rules of hunting at the mall. You must go into each store with a singular focus. Avoid direct eye contact, which can be seen as a challenge. Prowl the perimeter until you spot the item you seek, then make a beeline to your target. At the counter, offer no information about yourself. Say "no" frequently but always with a smile. Bring home only what you need and nothing more. Should you qualify for a free gift, decline to take it or give it to another shopper who happens to be standing nearby. Just because those darling bags are full of cute little babies doesn't mean you need them. Free gifts are extra baggage. They slow you down. And nothing is really free. Today, I still go on pre-trip safaris but I have no store credit cards, no fear of cosmetics sales ladies, okay maybe a little, and I never have to wonder which friend of mine might like to receive a bright-orange, sample-size lipstick for Christmas.