A lot of people say they don't like malls, but I pretty much loathe the entire mall shopping experience with every cellular ounce of my being. I find the mall an excruciating time-sucking capitalist vampire that preys upon our biological need for a local marketplace and then drains our natural craving for a social meeting-hub of any meaning or worth. Maybe it's the fluorescent lighting, or the difficulty of finding a bathroom. It's like being in bar or casino but the vice is shopping. If you don't like shopping, there's always the freshly squeezed lemonade at Hotdog On A Stick--now there's a place to hold your town meeting: the food court.
I love my kid so much that I recently took him to a mall to see Curious George, from the very successful cartoon on PBS. Jackson religiously watches Curious George every day and sings the theme song loudly and joyfully each time. He can provide a synopsis of every episode ever aired and he often cracks up in the middle of the day just by thinking about Curious George comedy bits.
PBS had advertised George's appearance for three weeks and I was psyched so we piled in the car and headed 45 minutes south to find the last parking place in a vast ocean of lots. I went up ramps and around corners and followed SUVs and found a spot in the nether-regions outside of Mervyn's intimate department. Inside the mall, the line to see Curious George was about half-a-mile long (no joke) and the security guard was warning us at the end of the line that George only would be available for photos for 20 more minutes ("But I drove all the way from San Jose," said one mother, dramatically). After that: no George. We got as close to him as we could and held Jackson up so that our photos looked like his head was next to George, who was off in the distance, shaking hands with toddlers and babies. Parents (me included) were standing on folding chairs to get this shot. It was as if Justin Timberlake had entered The Limited and the flashbulbs were blinding us all.
Afterwards George was free to walk the mall--maybe some lucky boys and girls would see them in their favorite store. As if! We headed to the Lego store and had a blast, filling a pre-paid cup full of Lego's from 50 bins of them, sorted by color, size and shape. Window Lego's had clear panes of "glass" and shutters. There were door Lego's and pine-tree Lego's and baffling Lego's that were black and round, but wdid not appear to be wheels. There were dioramas containing intricate Lego models, like a complete farm full of animals and a jet plane taking off at the airport. There were tables with lots of Lego's to build whatever we wanted, and we did.
While Jackson and I wallowed in the colorful plastic, Keith went to the Macy's menswear department and bought a much-needed dress shirt for a work-related event. It was 60% off. We marveled at the savings.
When we emerged into the air-conditioned central hallway, there was George and people were whispering, "Look! It's Him!" and "Hurry!" We ran to greet him and Jackson got a pat on the head. Soon others joined us and we were surrounded by tiny children, strollers and for some reason, mostly dads. The dads were very keen on getting photos of George with their kids (as was I) and we jockeyed for position within a three-foot space around a small person wearing a monkey suit. One dad kept backing into me and almost knocking me down. He did it three times before I said, "Hey! I'm standing here and you're pushing me over!" I felt just like Dustin Hoffman in "Midnight Cowboy"--when he almost gets run down by a taxi and he slams it with his fist and yells, "Hey! I'm WALKING here!"--completely ineffectual. Another dad, tapped the pushy dad on the shoulder and said, "That's enough." And I got my apology. Gender politics at the mall.
Soon the crowd was becoming a mosh pit and Jackson got that worried look of "this is a little too crazy, mom" in his eyes. So we wriggled out of the fan-cluster and headed for--that's right--the food court. It was an old-fashioned food court in the basement with dim lighting and plastic decor throughout. I did go to Hot Dog On A Stick and got a giant lemonade from an overweight, effeminate young man in a fantastic uniform, who was genteel and completely charming. I suppose Hot Dog On A Stick is what makes America great, at least in the customer service department.
After lunch I headed back toward Mervyn's to partake in their gigantic bra sale (you read that right). I hate buying bra's even more than going to the mall. But sometimes you have to do stuff you don't want to do--that's what we call being a responsible adult. So while Jackson and Keith were picking out massive Mrs. Field's cookies to take us all over-the-top into culinary ecstasy, I was trying on bra's; very-well priced bra's. I got something like 3 for the price of 2 1/4. We all celebrated by eating cookies and trying to find the car. It was only when I was driving home that I realized what day it was: Earth Day. Happy belated Earth day everyone!
More Mall Stuff
Keith Milford's Malls of America blog - vintage photos of malls across the U.S. of A. I was so pleased to find his recent post about my hometown mall, SunValley. The fountain in the photo is where my little brother once fell in, trying to fish out pennies. That was when pennies were really worth something. I honed my hatred for malls here, after years of back-to-school shopping trips where my mom and I would enter this dimly lit mall in daylight, only to exit hours later to complete darkness outside. The loss of my daytime hours to shopping for sale-rack clothes was a little soul-crushing, I must admit. Although I liked getting new clothes--don't get me wrong--it just seemed like a waste of a day. However, many entertaining hours were spent at the pet store (puppies!), the Hammond organ store, Spencer's Gifts (home to all black-light art mediums), the movie theater and ice rink--all since gone. But SunValley has added large skylights so no kid can ever miss the daylight while shopping again!
Lew Portnoy's mall art - formal and somewhat sterile photos that capture the mall shopping experience in all its fluorescently lit glory.
Stock photos of shopping at the mall - everyone looks so happy, unlike me.
Rose of No Man's Land - Michelle Tea's novel about an alcoholic 10th-grader who accidentally lands a job at a teen clothing boutique in the mall called Ohmigod! A fry cook from the food court becomes her friend and the two girls set out on a one-night rampage of crystal meth, perverts and tattoos. Includes the most inspiring passage featuring a tampon that I've ever read.
The plot summary from imdb.com for Julie Brown's defunct Comedy Central series, "Strip Mall" (2000):
During the 1970's Tammi (pronounced TA-mee) Tyler was one of the stars of the sitcom "Here Comes Corky." Her acting career was then cut short unexpectedly when, after eating a cupcake laced with PCP, she killed her costar, Captain Billy. In the intervening years Tammi grew up amid obscurity. Now, Tammi was employed by the Funky Fox Cafe in the San Fernando Valley's Plaza del Toro shopping center, and was hoping for a comeback. As she explained to barmaid Patti in the first episode, she hoped the marry the next man to visit the Funky Fox. Embarrassingly, it turned out to be Harve Krudup who owned the Starbrite Cleaners laundry store at the shopping center. Tammi thought that the store was part of a Beverly Hills-based chain, only to realize that it was the only laundry store Harve owned. Tammi's attempts to make a comeback in Hollywood formed most of the stories for this sitcom.