The road was very quiet, like nobody else had found it either. There weren't any signs, or houses, or cars -- just trees on both sides and wide, clean sidewalks. As I continued walking it sloped uphill as it curved and gave me a nice view of the city.
I'd only been walking about ten minutes when I saw a brightly-lit building in a dark clearing. The low wooden forms flanked the grassy hills, and crystal lights sparkled through the full-length windows. The building was surrounded by shiny, expensive cars, and every once in a while attractive people in fashionable clothes would exit to the sound of flirty giggles.
I'd barely set foot inside when a handsome waiter approached. "Good evening, sir," he said. "Can I get you something?" I told him I didn't have any money, and he laughed. "Everything is on the house tonight," he said.
He brought my drink with a smile, happy to serve me, and I wandered around the posh club. Everyone I bumped into either said hello or made small talk or flirted with me, the women all fit and pretty and the men v-shaped and well-groomed. I'd decided that I'd stumbled into heaven when I realized I had to use the bathroom.
I left the flagstone-lined lobby and passed a walk-in fireplace, spotting a bank of wooden phone booths. That's probably where the bathroom is, I thought, but instead there was a single elevator. The doors opened as I approached, so I got in.
"No harm in looking," I thought, so I gave a random button a push.
The doors slid closed and the elevator descended, and when they re-opened the scene had completely changed. Wood and brass gave way to linoleum and plastic. Craftsman lamps became dangling lightbulbs. Framed artwork became ads for stores that were opening in the fall: Pretzel City! Sandy's Sweater Shoppe! Aunt Frannie's Funnel Cakes! Zala 21, designer clothing knock-offs "For when you need attention even more than you need money!"
I poked my head out, drawn like a gay moth to a Kmart flame. Overweight families stomped by like zombies holding cotton candy and helium balloons. They'd pause at the Couch Potato store to watch a giant-screen Mario Batali braise a porterhouse, then stumble to the food court again.
I turned to go back to the elevator and discovered it wasn't where I thought it was. Had I turned a corner? In its place was an Anthropologie store lined with antique French armoires painted with giraffe spots and 1920s beaded handbags that had been turned into Victorian soap hammocks. I took a couple of steps in the direction I thought I'd come from, but as the scene turned utterly unfamiliar I realized that I was lost.
Three chubby, middle-aged men in oversized shorts and sideways baseball caps were headed straight at me. They clearly knew their way around. "Excuse me," I said to one. "Do you know of a really nice restaurant around here, I think upstairs?"
He screwed up his face in an effort to think. "The people are attractive," I added, trying to jog his memory. "They wore real clothes. Nobody's fat?"
He shook his head and prodded his pals toward the Plastic Container Store, where a sign prompts shoppers to "Ask Us About Polycarbonates!" Feeling increasingly agitated, I ran up to a heavily-rouged woman whose hairstyle looked like she'd propped a monkey on her head and snipped around it with pinking shears. "Where is the elevator?" I asked.
"Elevator?" she repeated. "This mall only has one floor."
"No, it doesn't," I insisted. "There's an upstairs. Where women know how to apply makeup, and hire professionals to cut their hair."
Her eyebrows furrowed and I realized I'd hit a dead end, so I ran over to two girls in crop tops. Each wore tiny velour workout shorts with words spelled out on the butt in Swarovski crystals: one read SLUT, and one read WHORE.
"Excuse me," I said with increasing desperation. "I've got to get upstairs!"
"Upstairs?" one replied after struggling to decipher the odd concept. "What's upstairs?
"It's incredible," I said, with a mix of envy and desperation. "Everybody's stylish. People are intelligent. Nobody's even remotely gross."
They both stared at each other as I realized they probably weren't familiar with the neighborhood. I wandered toward a booth that laser-carved positive affirmations into decorative rocks and realized I'd reached the end of my rope. I spun around but all I saw were chubby legs and the drips of multicolored dipping sauces. "I HAVE TO GET UPSTAIRS!" I yelled. "HOW DO I GET UPSTAIRS?"
A mom-type approached in boob-high jeans, zipping closed a plastic baggie full of Froot Loops. Behind her she dragged three hyperactive kids on the ends of retractable plastic leashes. "What's upstairs?" she asked.
I randomly waved a hand around me. "Cocktail chatter! People with jobs! Kids who aren't going to be on Jerry Springer in about six minutes!" She scowled at me, and suddenly I noticed everyone was headed toward me. Their wide faces were frozen in anger and determination, so I started to run. "IT'S INCREDIBLE!" I yelled. "THERE ARE NO IDIOTS! KIDS ARE ALLOWED TO ROAM FREE! THERE ARE GROWN MEN WHOSE PANTS REACH THEIR SHOES!"
Despite the fact they could barely move their legs, the crowd was gaining on me. Wielding their corn dogs like weapons, they cornered me in the scented bathmat aisle of Pier 1. Just as an oversized Skecher was about to kick me in the ribs, I woke up shaking, drenched in cold sweat. It took me two hours and three cups of tea to calm down, and to stop expecting zitted faces to pop up in every window. In my next dream a theater burned down that was playing Star Wars so at least I woke up with a smile on my face.