Normally I go to malls only on vacations -- Santa Monica Place, the Ponte Vecchio, Kings Plaza in Brooklyn. But this Pentagon City Mall sounded damned intriguing, a vacation in and of itself, a respite from the usual array of specialty shops wedged between department store bookends. I was expecting Tanks for the Memories, Mercenary Outfitters, Thongs 'n' Things.

But upon entering the chilly glitter from the Metro, I found all the usual suspects -- Macy's, Nordstrom, Shoe Town, Sock City and the only store that seemed to belong, the Swiss Army Knife Boutique. A grove of palms grew in the customary snack zone, where fast foods from many lands were being served: no guerrillas, just Japanese tourists quietly munching alongside Pentagon personnel.

You could get Chinese, Italian and sushi, but Pic-a-Pita tempted me with its promise of falafel and a side order of hummus and pita chips. Resigned to a wait, I joined the hungry queue that stretched back to the Greater Tater and beyond. My reveries on squashed chickpeas were interrupted by a handsome young man in coveralls and work boots. He tapped me on the shoulder. " 'Scuse me, miss," he whispered. "Would you be interested in a free haircut?"

"No thanks," I said, because for one thing he didn't even have so much as a comb in his pocket. And for another, it reminded me of the time that dirty old man said, "Say, little girl, would you like to see a bird's nest?"

"Did I hear that correctly?" demanded the woman ahead of me in line. "How does he pick people?" Could it be she was insulted, because her hair was longer and, if I must say so, just a touch shaggier than mine? "Yeah, sure, where's your van, big guy?" she continued, sputtering and fussing all the way to the head of the line, where she secured a tabbouleh and baba ghanouj salad sampler. "Well, have a pervert-free day," she snapped, and huffed off to sup under the palms.