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Pablo Riviera, Depressed, Overweight, Age 31,
Goes to the Mall


Pablo Riviera goes to the mall and buys a pair of bunny slippers, a serious drama film about a serious historical event, and two dozen miniature sugar cookies from his favorite cookie shop. These are the necessary supplies for a good Saturday night.
      Pablo goes to the food court and feels overwhelmed. There are so many choices. How can he possibly choose what to eat? The mall contains some of the best restaurants in the world. There is almost too much great food, he decides. Almost too much.
      Pablo makes a compromise. Since he feels guilty about choosing any one restaurant over all the others, he selects a single item from several of his favorites. He orders a corndog from Hot Dog on a Stick, a taco from Taco Bell, a Happy Meal from McDonalds, and a smoothie from Orange Julius.
      He is overweight and concerned that eating so much food will cause him to gain more weight, but shopping makes him hungry. Between the parking lot, the slipper store, the movie store, the cookie shop, and the food court, he figures he has walked at least a quarter mile. And he will walk another quarter mile on his return. When Pablo realizes he will walk half a mile today, he feels a sense of accomplishment. If only he came to the mall every day, he would be healthy, but it takes a lot of work to go to the mall. A lot of hard work. He has to drive there, for one. And muster up the social energy to talk to all those cashiers.
      Pablo walks around the food court, collecting his food. He sits at the table closest to the steak sandwich place because the steak sandwich place smells the best. Unfortunately, their steak sandwiches are not as good as Arby's. That is the one thing wrong with the mall's food court. There is no Arby's.
      Pablo thinks maybe he should order a steak sandwich anyway. He has only tried the steak sandwiches three or four times. He doesn't like their steak sandwiches, but wants to give them a fair chance. Pablo is the most patient, understanding person he knows.
      He gets up and orders a steak sandwich.
      He sits back down and takes a sip of his smoothie. It's probably the best smoothie he has ever had. He unwraps the taco, slides the corndog off the stick, and shoves the corndog into the taco. Corndog tacos are Pablo's favorite food ever. He is surprised Taco Bell and Hot Dog on a Stick have not formed a joint partnership to sell corndog tacos despite the many customer feedback forms he has filled out insisting they do just that.
      The first bite of the corndog taco is majestic. The second bite is transcendental.
      Pablo doesn't put hot sauce or ketchup on his food. He thinks condiments ruin the flavor.
      When half the corndog taco is gone, he looks down at the Happy Meal box sitting before him. The Happy Meal looks lonely.
      "I'm sorry, Happy Meal," he whispers.
      He opens the Happy Meal box and takes out the cheeseburger. He feels despondent. Something must be wrong. Did he buy the right slippers? The right movie? He removes the Happy Meal toy from the box. "Oh, that's the problem," he says.
      The toy is a Transformers action figure that he already owns. He smiles. His unconscious mind is very clever. He was feeling bad because he received a duplicate toy. His brain knew what toy was in the Happy Meal box and was trying to tell him. He thinks all bad feelings must have similar origins.
      His number is called at the steak sandwich place. He fetches his steak sandwich and sits down again, feeling bold and adventurous, ready to give the steak sandwich a fair chance.
      A shampoo bottle and a moose walk over and sit down at the table next to Pablo. The moose is the color of grapefruit juice.
      Pablo takes a bite of the steak sandwich and thinks he doesn't like it. He takes his chili cheese fries out of their bag and puts them on the steak sandwich.
      "Chili cheese fry steak sandwich," he says, feeling better. He looks at the moose and the shampoo bottle. He remembers a time in fifth grade when Bill Cardigan made fun of him for eating Captain Crunch in sausage gravy. Maybe Pablo is overweight and has unique tastes, but at least he thinks for himself. Other people tend to disagree. Other people think he is weird and wrong.
      The moose and the shampoo are not paying attention to him. The moose is crying. She says, "I'm sorry the cactus died."
      And Captain Crunch tastes better in sausage gravy.
      The shampoo bottle is bundled in several coats, a scarf, and a sweater. Pablo wonders why. It's August, after all. Pablo takes a bite of the chili cheese fry steak sandwich. It still tastes like shit. This is one experiment that did not go as planned. He looks at the duplicate of the Transformers toy and imagines the Transformer standing up and punching the sandwich in the face.
      "I'm sorry the cactus died. I am a weak human being who can't even take care of a cactus," the moose says.
      "You are not a weak human being," the shampoo bottle says.
      "You're so mean and critical."
      What gall this moose and shampoo bottle have. Arguing in a food court. They sound just like his parents.
      "I said that you're not a weak human being. How is that being critical?"
      Pablo is losing his appetite. He drinks some of the smoothie, trying not to think about his parents, hoping his appetite will return.
      The pomegranate moose shakes her head, tears dripping down her fuzzy pink face. "No, not that. Before that, you asked me how hard can it be to take care of a stupid cactus."
      "Can it be so hard?"
      "You fucking asshole. You critical fucking asshole."
      "I was asking a question."
      "Can I ask a question?" Pablo interjects.
      The moose and the shampoo bottle look at him with stunned, embarrassed expressions.
      "Can't you empathize with one another for like fourteen seconds?" Pablo says.
      "I am a shampoo bottle. Empathy is not one of my ingredients. It is not in my nature," the shampoo bottle says.
      "Fuck nature. Fuck you," the moose says to the shampoo bottle.
      "You know I really don't care that the cactus died."
      "It's not always about you."
      "What is wrong with you two?" Pablo says.
      "We're poor," the moose says.
      "We're in debt," the shampoo bottle says.
      "We have no idea how we're going to survive through the winter," the moose says.
      "She feels smothered because she has no friends," the shampoo bottle says.
      "He is the only person I care about. It's fucked up," the moose says.
      "This is so fucked up," the shampoo bottle says.
      "He's depressed," the moose says.
      "No, she's depressed," the shampoo bottle says.
      "Are you happy with your life together?" Pablo says.
      "Yes, we love each other much," the moose says.
      "We just hate ourselves," the shampoo bottle says.
      "What will make you happier?" Pablo says.
      "Nothing," the moose says.
      "We don't know," the shampoo bottle says.
      "If you're unhappy, but nothing will make you happier, and you're happy with your life together, then what is wrong?"
      "We're poor."
      "We're in debt."
      "He can't empathize."
      "She's polarizing."
      Pablo thinks for a long time about what they are saying. He has never been in a serious relationship before, but he is a serious person with a serious mind. He can figure out basically any problem posed to him.
      "What would Dr. Phil do?" he says under his breath.
      "What did you say?" the moose says.
      Pablo is a genius, but he lacks social conditioning. He does not possess Dr. Phil's stern, tough-love demeanor. He does not have a mean-ass mustache or his own talk show. In situations like these, he panics.
      He panics and says, "Here you go."
      He gives the Transformers toy to the shampoo bottle and the chili cheese fry steak sandwich to the moose.
      "What are we supposed to do with these?" the shampoo bottle says.
      "I want you to battle them," Pablo says.
      "Battle them? I don't know what you're talking about," the moose says. She turns to the shampoo bottle. "What is he talking about?"
      "I mean, you know, battle," Pablo says, patting his forehead with a napkin, feeling like the future of these strangers is in his hands. If he says the right thing, they will live happily ever after. If he says the wrong thing, everyone dies.
      "I want you to pretend that the Transformer and the sandwich embody all of the bad stuff harming your relationship. Negative feelings you've harbored, unspoken annoyances, you know. Harmful debris."
      "Harmful debris," the moose says. "I heard that somewhere."
      "You want us to pretend that an action figure and a sandwich represent six years of harmful debris and you want us to battle them. I believe that is what you're telling us to do," the shampoo bottle says.
      "We're too poor to afford any food. We would be better off eating the sandwich. Destroying a perfectly good sandwich would be wrong in our situation. We aren't privileged enough to waste food. Thank you for the offer though," the moose says.
      The moose starts to slide the sandwich toward Pablo.  Pablo leans over and slides the sandwich back in front of the moose.
      "No," he says, "I insist."
      "Will you leave us alone," the shampoo bottle says.
      "I'll make you a deal. If you battle, I will give you my bunny slippers. I just bought them at the slipper store. They're blue."
      "I have always wanted a pair of blue bunny slippers," the moose says.
      "You can have them. You are so close to owning them," Pablo says.
      "Fine, hand over the bunny slippers and we'll battle," the shampoo bottle says.
      Pablo takes the bunny slippers out of his shopping bag and sets them on the table beside the Happy Meal box.
      "OK, battle," he says.
      The shampoo bottle drives the Transformer into the sandwich and chili cheese sauce oozes out. "Die, sandwich, die," the shampoo bottle says, imprinting a Transformer-shaped hole in the heart of the sandwich.
      The moose folds the sandwich in half so that its two ends close around the Transformer like the jaws of an alligator.
      "Killing me is not so easy as that," the shampoo bottle says.
      The Transformer, held in the shampoo bottle's right hand, rips the sandwich in half.
      "The Transformer has defeated the sandwich," Pablo says. "What does this mean? I don't know what this means."
      "But the Transformer has not defeated the sandwich. The sandwich is immortal," the moose says.
      "Prove it," the shampoo bottle says.
      The moose throws steak and bread and chili cheese fries and the Transformer into the air. Cheese sauce rains down on them. A fry is stuck in Pablo's hair.
      "The sandwich has chosen to self-destruct, opting out of immortality in order to defeat the Transformer."
      "If they are both dead, then it must be a tie," Pablo says.
      "I'm happy it was a tie," the moose says.
      "I feel like we are worthy opponents," the shampoo bottle says.
      Pablo wonders if this is what true love is about. Finding a worthy opponent.
      The moose takes the bunny slippers and stands up. "Anyway, we have to go now. Thank you for making us battle with your sandwich and your toy. I feel better now,"
      "I feel okay too," the shampoo bottle says.
      "We will remember this day for the rest of our lives," the moose says.
      "The day all harmful debris went away," the shampoo bottle says.
      "Someday there will be more harmful debris, but we will know what to do then."
      "And we won't be poor so next time we can afford our own sandwich and Transformer."
      "What is your name, by the way," the moose says.
      "Pablo Riviera," Pablo says.
      "Nice to meet you, Pablo. Thank you for improving our lives. Thank you for being the greatest human being in the history of ever," the shampoo bottle says.
      The moose and the shampoo bottle walk out of the food court holding hands. Pablo sighs. He wonders if maybe he will run into them at the mall some other day. Maybe next time he will invite them back to his house to watch a movie.
      The rest of his smoothie has melted, but he doesn't mind. He feels happy. Life is a good thing sometimes.
      He unwraps his Happy Meal hamburger and prepares to finish his meal. Before he takes a bite of the hamburger, he reaches into his shopping bag and sneaks a mini sugar cookie out of the wax paper bag. He lifts the hamburger patty, removes the pickles, and sticks the sugar cookie in the center of the hamburger, right where the pickles had been.
      "I love you," he says aloud to himself, and he bites into the hamburger. He chews slowly, his belly filling with hamburger goodness, his heart fluttering in anticipation of the serious drama film about the serious historical event that he will watch by himself tonight at home. He won't have brand new bunny slippers to warm his feet, but he is glad he gave them away. Giving things to people is a sign of friendship. Pablo Riviera has friends.
      He looks around the food court. The restaurants are beginning to close now.
      But sugar cookies are great on hamburgers.
      And going to the mall is a wonderful thing.

Author Bio

Cameron Pierce lives in Portland, Oregon. He is the author of The Pickled Apocalypse of Pancake Island, Lost in Cat Brain Land, Abortion Arcade (forthcoming from Eraserhead Press), and three other books. He is also the editor of Lazy Fascist Press.

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