Monthly Archives: April 2013

That Old Hometown Spirit

 
There are really only two places to go in the old Hometown: The One Mall and The Mall at the Other End of Town.

Twins of the tri-cities, tethered by a limp and listless parkway, each place either place the place to be for wont of being anywhere.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

I have always found malls uniformly depressing, not unlike the way carnivals and reunions are distracting in a sad kind of way. But there’s something about the mall that makes it just a little bit more worse. Something in the air of the place of having tenuous purpose, of filling time and space and your compulsion, therefore, to be there.

So much of my time in Hometown was spent at the Mall.

It’s the place to be.

The day The One Mall opened a Cinnabon was an event. The day The Mall at the Other End of Town got an Old Navy was a goddamn riot.

(Word is, when the Apple Store held its grand opening in The Mall at the Other End of Town, a lady waiting in line exploded.)

(Hand to god.)

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Why not be someplace else, you ask? Why not be in, say, the Downtown?

Let me tell you about the Downtown.

One time, when my sister and I were opening my parents’ housewares store in the Downtown, I stepped right into what was otherwise a very neat pile of human vomit on our WELCOME mat.

It was full of undigested hotdogs.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Who goes to the mall?

The dumpy couple with the mouse-haired, bored faced girl. Old people (Old People. Love. The mall.). The big lady in the red-and-yellow stripped tubetop with the really tall boyfriend who is really in love with his haircut. Acquaintances. Jerks from work. Unsupervised children. Deadly roaming gangs of teenage girls for whom the mall is one of the only places they can roam freely.

My family has always been absolutely gob-smacked by the Mall. Immigrants, boat people, strangers in a land made strange by scope and scale as much as by culture and custom, the Mall was the epitome of something for them. It was evolutionary – natural selection for the survival of the fittest!

You think that would have made Things better.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

I am a grown-up now, and the Mall haunts me still. I avoid malls as much as possible, will go out of my way to walk or drive or run whole city blocks just to get around them, just in order to deny the presence of their existence and maintain, maintain, maintain.

But when I’m back in the old Hometown, the Mall becomes somehow totally unavoidable. I end up there despite myself, not knowing fully how I got there and a little mystified as to why, exactly, I’m there.

So like a kid again.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The Hometown Malls have changed considerably from the malls they used to be – renovations and such. Decorative pillars and mouldings removed, open spaces created, book stores closed down, parking lots opened up. Chain restaurants. A WalMart. A Winners. No more pet shops.

There are, nevertheless, remnants; reminders of Times Gone Bye.

Familiar faces that resurface from the undertow of memory and which, given the briefest moments of mutual recognition, force into being encounters both dreadful and absurd.

“Heeey! Hello! How have you been?”

“Heeey! Hello! I’m good. Good and you?”

Over and over, again and again, each time absolutely being the time we absolutely couldn’t have less to say to each other.  Perhaps this is not the best way to live, although I’m not sure if it’s better than nothing.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

“Heeey! Hello! How have you been?”

“Heeey! Hello! I’m good. Good and you?”

We had been friends in middle school, but she had to tell me her name because I did not remember what it even could have been. She knew who I was, though, and so of course despite everything I was mostly flattered. I did remember, once I remembered who she was, going to a party at her house at the end of 8th grade. Her mom bought us wine coolers from the supermarket. We drank them all in the basement then started a fire in the backyard. Her mom bought out marshmallows and asked if we needed more wine coolers.

In fact, we remembered the party together, she and me, and I took the end of our remembering as the cue to begin extricating myself from herself, taking that first tentative step backward and turning my back to her ever-so-slightly to let her know that I, too, knew it was over.

She hinted for a ride before I could take that very necessary second step backward – “Yeah…I’ve got a long bus ride home from here…” – and looked at me expectedly. I stupidly admitted I had a car.

On the way to her place, another question.

“Can we stop for KFC? I promised. It’s on the way. If you don’t mind.”

The only car in a parking lot sandwiched between two larger though equally barren parking lots, I waited for her while she waited for her order. It was well past 8:00PM, Saturday night.  I debated turning the engine on, so I could fiddle with the radio.

She got back into the passenger seat, bucket and bags in hand. The smell of fried chicken invaded the car. We drove on, she giving me directions as I squinted at street signs.

“Did you say a left here or the next street ov…”

“I’m pregnant.”

“…”

“…”

“Con-grat-u-lations. You’ll be a mother!”

“My boyfriend doesn’t know. I don’t know if he’s ready. I’m not sure if he’ll want it. Should I tell him?”

“…”

“…”

“Tonight? Ready tonight? You want to tell him tonight?”

“I don’t know!”

I don’t know!”

And in the silence that filled the car, she gathered her bags, holding them close to her chest.  The bucket remained where it was, wedged firmly in the three protective walls formed by her inner thighs and crotch. I mumbled questions about street names and she murmured their whereabouts. When I finally dropped her off in front of her apartment – a tiny triplex at the end of a tiny street I never would have guessed was there – we exchanged vague promises of keeping in touch as she moved to close the door behind her.  Apologies were in the air all around us.

I watched her until she unlocked the door and went inside. I pulled out of the driveway and started for home, grateful that she had never looked back.

“Well, that was messed up,” said my sister, Angela, who was sitting in the backseat the whole time.
 

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