Clearance Zone - Enter at Your Own Risk
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I went to the mall today. I do that often when I’m home alone with a deadline breathing down my neck –- I give up and go to the mall. And besides, I was having cravings for chicken, so I headed straight for the KFC in the food court. I sat there, all alone, munching on my popcorn chicken. And that’s when I saw the signs.

“Store Closing! Everything Must Go!”

The cheap junk store in the mall was going out of business, and everything was on sale. And since my mother taught me never to pass up a bargain, I had to go and check it out. I stared at the signs as I gulped down the last of my Diet Pepsi. Cheap stuff! On sale!

I remembered the last time I was in that store. I had seen a Dave Barry Book-on-CD. It would be cheap, and I could justify buying it.

  
 
I skipped all the way to the store.

Before I entered, though, I paused, suddenly afraid of what was inside. Mob rule had taken over. There was an elderly man attacking unsuspecting shoppers with his walker. And it appeared as though a gang of angry mothers had surrounded a man and were violently beating him with their purses, fighting for the last Pokemon video.

Run, I told myself. Run for your life!

But Dave Barry was in there somewhere –- a prisoner of the Clearance Sale Contention –- and it was my job to rescue him.

“I’m coming, Dave!” I shouted as I valiantly marched into battle. “Be strong, Dave!”

The last time I had been inside the store, the Books-on-Tape rack had been in the front of the store. But not now. Oh, no... it was gone. Most likely, it had been moved deep into the heart of combat.

I took a deep breath and surveyed my surroundings. To the right, a tight grid of clothing racks full of screen-printed neon T-shirts and plus-sized grandma panties. Dave wouldn’t be there (I hoped), so I happily avoided that particular part of the store. But the view to the left was worse -– yes, worse than the grandma panties and the women who were shopping for them. Before me was an endless line of tall shelves that may have had some sort of organizational system at some time –- before the war was declared.

But there are no rules when you enter The Clearance Zone. Rat poison. Children’s toys. Chocolate chip cookies. They can all be in the same aisle.

I started my mission in what looked like an area that had most likely once been the entertainment section. There were a few old video games hanging on the wall (though the majority had fallen down), and there was a random sampling of VHS tapes dumped out on the shelves. I half-heartedly glanced through the tapes, not willing to dig through piles of Muppet Babies videos in search of something decent.

The obstacles were many on my mission in The Clearance Zone. There were greedy, paranoid shoppers everywhere. Two men glanced up at me suspiciously, afraid that I’d make a sudden move and take the WWF video out of their hands. A small child weaved around my legs, probably to keep me from the great deals that her mother was contemplating. And it terrifies me to recall the scattered landmines of fallen merchandise on the floor –- I had to cautiously maneuver myself around them.

I glanced down one aisle of what appeared to be household items. Something caught my eye –- perhaps a Salad Shooter –- and I tried to make my way toward it. But it was impossible. There was a guard. There she stood, in the exact center of the aisle. There wasn’t enough room on either side of her, so I couldn’t get by -– and I knew she wasn’t about to budge. I faked right. I faked left. Then I ran down the next aisle and around to the other side of the guard. By the time I reached it, though, the Salad Shooter was gone.

And I still hadn’t found Dave.

That’s when I realized that I was being followed. There was an old woman behind me, trying to look inconspicuous. But I knew she was following me. I knew it. And when I moved in to try to look at something, there she was. I stopped to check out a fleece zebra-print throw, and there she was, pushing me out of the way. Though it took a lot of effort -– and a lot of cunning –- I eventually lost her somewhere around the office supplies. Of course, that meant that I couldn’t shop for pens, but it was a sacrifice I was willing to make. After all, I had Dave to think of.

Then I saw it –- a shining cardboard beacon of Books-on-Tape -– in the very back of the store, next to a rack of brown polyester pants. I dashed toward it, gracefully bounding over pet squeaky toy landmines and dodging fellow bargain-hunters. I knew I didn’t have much time. I had to get Dave and get out before I lost my sanity to The Clearance Zone.

I reached the cardboard rack with hope in my heart. I carefully flipped through each package –- twice. But I had never heard of these people. What had they done with Dave?

One side left. He had to be there. But there was yet another obstacle. A man shopping for brown polyester pants. Most likely a high school history teacher. And he wasn’t moving. I contemplated my options, considering body-checking him. It was my only hope.

I’ve seen angry history teachers before, though, and I didn’t want to test this one. So I made myself as thin and stealthy as possible, and I squeezed my way in.

Dave wasn’t there.

I checked again. He still wasn’t there.

I almost began to weep, but I knew I had to be strong. I didn’t know where they had taken them, but I was sure it was nowhere in this horrible mess of sale shoppers. I would just have to continue my hunt elsewhere.

Carefully, I made my way through the tight racks of socks and bell-bottoms, frequently ducking behind them before I could be seen. My eyes darted from side to side, looking for an exit as I hurried past the mile-long line of successful hunters, their arms full of cheap, worthless trash.

I had failed in my mission. I stumbled out of The Clearance Zone, defeated, dejected, and gasping for breath -– yet relieved that I had made it out with my life.

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