Dead Malls 07/30/21

I spent yesterday running errands with my son. One of our stops was the mall. I used to work there. 2006-2010. I sold wall sconces and lavender sachets at Kirkland’s home decor. Every Monday we’d get a truck in, and we’d have to unload all these boxes into the tiny storeroom. The boxes would be stacked to the ceiling. The repetition of the box cutter, bits of styrofoam floating, some dumb picture of a pig jumping into a lake.

Today’s version of this mall is haunting. Almost all the shops are shuttered. Chik-fil-A is open, and so is Hot Topic, Bath and Body Works, Victoria’s Secret, Auntie Anne’s, and a few other chains. There’s an empty arcade. Eyebrow threading. Watch repair. Nobody’s in the mall, though, except for daycare groups and a few elderly people getting their steps in.

What is it about empty malls that’s so sad? A decade ago I thought of the mall as a soulless place for stupid people to spend their money. If pressed, I’m sure I’d say a similar thing today. What is it about the deadness that is so disturbing?

People went to hang out at malls. Before cell phones, we’d go there to kill time. I used to watch so many movies in the little theater. I met so many characters there. Dudes got into fights. Girls wore cute outfits. Israelis hawked Dead Sea moisturizer and guys in anime shirts piloted proto-drones up to the glass ceiling. Have you ever been in a mall when a heavy rain comes? The sound is really something.

Sam Goody had CDs in these big plastic mech shells to keep kids in Korn t-shirts from stealing them. I found Audition at that store. Remember holding your breath when you went up to the counter to buy Ichi the Killer? It had that great Tartan Asia Extreme cover with Kakihara’s face and a big “EXTREME” warning on it. Wait…they’re ringing it up? They don’t care? How great did holding that bag feel? Spencer’s Gifts had dildos and sex games. You would have use for those one day, you were sure of it, until you actually did have use for them. By then you found people who play “sex games” to be distasteful. Just get on with it.

The random art store that sold portraits of Tupac and Marilyn Monroe. The smoke shop with its glass sarcophagi of Romeo y Julieta. You could fucking smoke in the back of the store! Dillard’s and Sears and JC Penney. When Christmas came around, they had this whole sad North Pole setup in place of the plastic playground. I miss it all. Today, at least.

I miss having a phone that made calls and ran Snake and that’s it. I miss meeting friends at a certain time. I miss the boredom and uncertainty of those days. I miss when Facebook was new and exciting. I’m in a mood, today.

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