(The latest issue of the Perpetual Post is up at Midnight on Monday. Here’s a sneak peak at my anti-mall article. Read both sides of the story here.)
I’ve been trying to figure out a way to express my intense dislike of malls without coming off looking like a huge snob, and I have to admit, I’m having some trouble. I just really hate chain stores, pregnant teenagers and food courts, and that pretty much runs the gamut of the mall experience in a nutshell.
I’d like to think that my anti-mall stance comes from a place of self-preservation rather than elitism. It’s not that I think I’m too good for the mall; it’s that for some reason I lack the means to protect myself from the mall. I let the mall get to me too easily. The mall oozes over my brain like melted cheese over a hot pretzel. I am powerless to stop it, and so I do my best to avoid exposure.
I have always been a little oversensitive– prone, since childhood, to bouts of melancholy that often seem to come out of nowhere. These depressive spells can be triggered by the most seemingly insignificant details– and somehow, malls are always swarming with such details. A woman in her fifties trying on pink stretch pants at Hot Topic. A dead-eyed teenage employee slumped behind the counter of a cell phone kiosk. A store that sells only baseball caps. Most normal, well-adjusted people will witness such depressing occurrences and move on without giving them another thought. But not me. I’ll spend five minutes watching a teenage father, in headphones, trying to quiet a screaming baby by feeding it chicken nuggets, and I’m ready to tear my hair out at the miserable agony of life. And then I’m ready to have some chicken nuggets.
Needless to say, I am not a popular mall companion. No one usually asks me to go to the mall with them more than once. I feel bad about this to a certain extent. I wish I could be the fun friend who says things like, “Hey, check out that cute security guard! Let’s get curly fries.” Instead, I trail gloomily behind you like Eeyore, mocking the “Just Nightgowns” store and sneering at all of the slow, obese children. I can’t blame my friends for leaving me at home. Who wants to browse Forever 21 with Droopy Dog? What’s pleasant about wandering through Crabtree & Evelyn with a Chekov character?
Part of the problem may be the lack of mall exposure in my youth. Growing up in Manhattan, there was a dearth of malls. We had big department stores that took up a whole city block, like Macys and Bloomingdales, but that wasn’t really the same. Mom took me to get my first training bra at Macy’s. Groups of teenagers didn’t hang out at Macy’s all day and make eyes at each other across the Home Goods and Bedding aisles. Macy’s was not cool.
As teenagers, we had to find other ways to entertain ourselves, and these included going outside between stores while we shopped. Sure, it was cold in the winter, hot in the summer, and when it was raining out we got rained on, but we also experienced sunlight and breathed in fresh air (well, Manhattan fresh), and avoided food courts. And somehow, I recall encountering fewer massive people in motorized wheelchairs and underage parents walloping their ratty children for spilling their Big Gulps.
We hung out at the Port Authority Bus Terminal, too, which was kind of like a mall in a way, except it was closer to George Romero’s version of a mall in Dawn of the Dead. That is to say, every third person in Port Authority would just as soon stab you as look at you, for various reasons. But, you know, there were shops and restaurants, and a bowling alley, and an ever-present urine smell. I always kind of liked Port Authority Bus Terminal, actually. Maybe it’s because there, the feeling of sadness and desperation is not hidden like it is in most malls. It’s out in the open; even palpable. The sense of danger and despair, the commerce and the crowds, the ugliness and the monotony and the meaningless passage of empty hours; all in plain sight. Maybe I don’t hate malls after all– as long as they’re done right.
February 17, 2009 at 1:30 pm
I feel the same way about going to Wal-Mart.
There’s still women in their 50’s trying on pink pants… The knickers are just a third of the price and exponentially more flamboyant (therefore, exponentially more aesthetically painful).
February 17, 2009 at 4:32 pm
even though i grew up going to malls (images of the Orange Julius still haunt me), to this day malls have the EXACT same effect on me. everyone knows i find them infinitely depressing and can’t shut up about it. at Christmas time, for her own sake as much as mine, my mom drives way out of the way to take me to “the really nice mall,” lest i end up huddled in a corner somewhere sucking my thumb. in the fetal position. even at “the nice ones” my trained eye plucks out the 90 yr old hunchback in the corner sweeping up used band-aids with an industrial mop. or the middle-aged man begging for my hand so he can rub cuticle cream on it. and don’t get me started on Kirkland’s and the poor souls who work there.
February 18, 2009 at 3:35 am
Malls are kind of scarring. The only way I cope with them is to 1) plan periodic snacks throughout the trip and 2) take pictures of all these sad and hopeless things so I can blog about them later. A camera kind of puts distance between me and the rest of the mall. Alas, I’ve never been able to capture one of the security guards on their segways, but someday. Someday.
February 21, 2009 at 12:56 am
Here in Kansas City, the mall has all but vanished. Once the haunt of every teenage boy and girl, they have almost all shuttered up. Blue Ridge Mall and Indian Springs Mall were the first indoor malls in the area and the first to go. Bannister Mall, gone. Metro North, Ward Parkway Center, Independence Center and Metcalf South all hang on by a thread (or some sticky subtsance found in a Bath and Body Works, I guess). Even Antioch Center, which was an open air mall when I was a child, converted to an indoor mall by the time I was a teenager, is soon to be plowed under so they can build an open air mall in its place. In this city, which is the home of the country’s first shopping mall (the open air, to this day, Country Club Plaza) the open air mall is making a resurgence.
I guess my point is this: I miss the mall. I outgrew it, certainly, like I THOUGHT I outgrew Scooby Doo and Gilligan’s Island (I haven’t). I stopped going to the mall for anything but the necessary Christmas shopping trip a long time ago. But now that they are slowing killing them off, I long for them in a way that is unnatural. I have a fear of never finding an Orange Julius again once they are gone, or suddenly needing gold chain by the inch in quantity.
Or maybe the mall is just like that friend from 7th grade that just added me on Facebook: a shell of what I remember, with a life of its own now that does not include me.
February 21, 2009 at 8:05 pm
you definitely summed that up perfectly. we had a ‘potatoes and all’ at our mall. potatoes and all? potatoes and all??
February 21, 2009 at 8:43 pm
Molly, your mall-going friends do NOT shop at Forever 21. That is why we are your friends.
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February 24, 2009 at 7:55 pm
The Port Authority Bus Terminal was also my neighborhood mall. Another of the great NYC malls of the 1980s worthy of note is the tunnel underneath Penn Station that connects the 123 train station to the ACE train station. They had Orange Julius, an arcade and places that enormous paper cylinders of popcorn.
Then A&S Plaza opened and there was suddenly a suburban style mall in Manhattan, albeit vertical. Looking back perhaps that that was the beginning of the end of the Manhattan.