On Malls

Are blogs passé? I feel like it’s hard to stay fresh on the Internet, as so much changes so quickly. Just deciding what platform to use to publish some writing was a process that I completely over thought. Was Tumblr too “millennial?” or Blogspot too 2009? I just wanted something that visually wouldn’t say too much and just let the words do the work. WordPress seems pretty neutral.

I chose the title “nostalgiac,” someone who longs for the past, not knowing if it’s even a real word. I likened it to “amnesiac,” which means someone who is afflicted with amnesia, made famous because of that droll Radiohead album. I myself am a severe nostalgiac, and sometimes I think it’s a disease, a state of mind I’m constantly lulled into. Many people say looking back is unhealthy and a sad thing. I guess it depends what kinds of memories or events you’re revisiting and what you come away with…

One incredibly nostalgic thing for me are malls, a uniquely American thing that was a big part of being a 90s kid. Malls were very important to sentimental geeks like me who roamed arcades and food courts, our first homes away from home. The mall was the very first babysitter I had. It was also a very ritualistic thing for my mom, brother and I, a shared experience that never got old. My mother, a European immigrant who grew up on a farm, never saw more than the inside of a kiosk back home. Coming to America and seeing monolithic department stores was a big deal. I remember trailing her in D&L, an old clothing store that’s been out of business for a while. Back then malls had culture, with actual plants and water fountains and weird little nooks like Spencer’s. Now everything is a single-purpose specialty boutique like LUSH with a Starbucks around the corner. I was never a mall rat, but I feel like that social group has been eradicated. I call all this mall gentrification.

Malls are also great because they require little social interaction. You don’t have to talk to anyone. Remember when they had stores where you purchased time to play computer games online? I long for the days when department stores like Sears had spots where you could disappear behind a clothing rack for hours and play Donkey Kong. I also had a lot of firsts at malls. The first time I ever stole something was at a Sam Goody in a mall. I walked out with Biggie Smalls’s “Life after Death” CD. The mall I used to go to would occasionally double as a sort of flea market, where outside vendors would sell all sorts of things. I came there for the baseball cards. By 12, I was a full-blown baseball card addict. In fourth grade I landed a Cal Ripken Jr. card, decided he was my guy, and proceeded to amass over 200 of his cards. I hassled a Jewish guy named Lenny who had a card stand at the mall I used to loiter at for my first Ripken rookie card.

But I remember when the appeal of malls faded away and I first started feeling like they weren’t mine anymore. It was December 2005, the holidays. I needed more money to pay for college, so I got a job at a Harry & David at the more up scale mall near school. For those who don’t know, Harry & David is a store that sells scented candles and caramel popcorn to soccer moms. I got a job as a stocker. I had to wear an apron and was the only male employee. No one could figure out what I was doing there. My co-workers were really bubbly, middle-aged women who seemed like they only smiled in front of customers. Most days were spent waiting for the truck to pull up to the loading dock in the freezing cold, where I’d sneak a cigarette. When I wasn’t trapped moving boxes, I’d go walk around the horde of Christmas shoppers on break. Just a lot of people busy going somewhere. I noticed there weren’t many stores geared toward kids like there were when I was younger. No arcades or KB Toys. This was a place for adults now, and I didn’t recognize it anymore.

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