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I have always hated the mall.
This is not hyperbole. When I was young, maybe three or four years old - or however old you must be to truly know what your parents mean when they say “We are going to the mall”- I used to roll around on the front lawn and kick and scream and cry in the ultimate temper-tantrum to avoid going. They’d just wait for me to finish, to utterly exhaust myself and rip apart my vocal cords, until I could be picked up in limp defeat and strapped into the car without fuss. The neighbors would sit on their porch to watch and laugh about it. Then I would look out my window with that special sort of adolescent dread as we passed all the landmarks and checkpoints that indicated we were, in fact, going to the mall.
Now I go under my own masochistic volition.
Going to the mall and not buying anything gets me off in a way. Everything screams at you in the mall. It’s a test to remain deaf to it. Or maybe the real skill is hearing it but choosing not to respond. A skill I like to hone on my days off when I go there to walk around.
People notice me as I wander the mall. They can sense that I am not there on any particular mission, which is strange to them. People who go to the mall these days do so because they need something quickly that they can’t wait to get in the mail. They have places to be and things to buy. Me, though, I walk with no great hurry, no great purpose. I can tell they think this is blasphemy. I spend a little too much time loitering outside the Time Warner Cable location. “Can I help you?” asks one of the employees.
No, I say. No one can help me.
I walk past the guy outside Teavana five times. He is trying to give out samples. After the third time I say “no thanks” he gives up and just watches me like everyone else. I call him ‘Tea Guy.’ I wonder what Tea Guy does in his spare time, how long his shift is, how old he is, does he hate his job? But I won’t ask him any of these things. I just watch him, and he watches me.
I always take samples from the Chinese food guys. They seem a lot more desperate, somehow. I never buy the food, though.
Sometimes I follow people in the most innocent, discrete way. The more interesting the person seems the better. Rich-looking people, good-looking people, foreign people, poor-looking people. I follow them into the department stores and to their cars to see what they drive. I see what books they buy at Barnes and Noble. I see what clothes they buy at LL Bean. I will sit at the food court near a couple of women and listen to them talk about divorce and Saudi oil-magnates who vacation locally and how Phil hasn't really been doing well since she left him. I guess what people might buy. I guess if they are dating or not or when the last time they had sex was. Have they been out of the country? Have they ever seen Napoleon Dynamite? Did they like it?
I go to the restrooms in Barnes and Noble and a man enters the stall next to me as I pee. He unleashes a cheek-rippling shit.
This is the dark beauty of the mall.
I go into the pet shop. It smells bad. They have prairie dogs for sale individually, which I think is strange, because aren’t prairie dogs highly social? They have pitbull pups in a little transparent plastic cube. They have a handwritten sign up on it that says, “WE HAVE FOUND OUR FOREVER HOME.” Which I take to mean they are no longer for sale.
I imagine the windows in my apartment covered in giant handwritten signs: “AMERICAN MALE, AGED 24.”
And another: “HE HAS FOUND HIS FOREVER HOME.”
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