C’mon. There’s somewhere I want to take you. Now, if you can’t handle simplicity, if barrenness can’t fill you with inspiration, or if you can’t convert sadness to joy and renewal, then stay behind—-where we're going won't interest you. There are a few benches, I think, outside the doors. Wait for us here.
To those who have not retreated to the benches, I want you to know that even you might not appreciate where we’re going. Often the things which inspire us individually rarely inspire others. The important thing is that we appreciate one another’s sources of inspiration and that we never mock or belittle them. Promise? All right, here, take my hand—-let’s go.
I found it this past summer: my mall.
We have two of them in my town. The one, Whitestone Mall, is crowded every day with shoppers. Recently remodeled, it smells of colognes and body splashes, leather, fancy coffees, and Chinese food.
My mall offers none of these things; my mall gives me much more.
Let’s walk through J.C. Penney-—a staple for almost every shopping mall. It’s up and running, with shoppers browsing the well-kept racks and riding elevators up to the housegoods and electronics departments. It’s a lively enough place, but this isn’t what I want you to see. This is the façade, the part that I wish to skip.
Let’s step out into the main part, just outside the Penney’s doors. It’s dark, dank, deserted and almost sacredly silent.
See, on your right, it’s the security offices. Apparently this was quite the hangout for gangs, so the rent-a-cops still hang around. Although, I think even the gangs have deserted my mall.
On both sides, the stores have closed. You know the most eerie part of my mall? The signs of life that remain—-the signs of off-brand stores such as Right Stage and Stomp It shoe store along with big names like Bath and Body Works and Claire’s and Victoria's Secret still hanging above the darkened store windows. There’s a spookiness in the items left inside the stores: the shelves, chairs, tables, sales signs; the American flag sticker stuck on the window of one of the stores; the bars pulled down over the doorway, keeping burglars from invisible merchandise. The whole mall has the resemblance of an abduction or evacuation—-quick and violent.
Look at the signs on the doors. “Closed,” they say. Others read, “We’ve moved to Whitestone Mall.” They’ve moved on, to bigger better place.
Look up there—-the ceiling is skeletal as if someone had started remodeling and then changed his mind and left it gutted. Oops, watch out, don’t step in the puddle. Aren’t those kind of neat? Mall maintenance made a frame of 2x4s and then draped black plastic over the frame to catch the drops of water dripping from the mutilated ceiling.
Doesn’t it feel like we’ve been walking for a long time? My mall is no longer than any other mall, but it feels like a long walk to the other end ahead, at Sears.
Wait, looky here on our left: the memory wall. It’s lined with peeling, faded pictures of my mall’s glory days-—when Barnum and Bailey set up outside in the mall's parking lot; when the arts and crafts shows, the boy scouts, the Easter bunny, and Santa Claus still showed up for events. Everyone is so happy in the pictures. I can still hear their voices—-the life that went on in between Sears and Penney’s. I like to imagine who the shoppers were and where they are now. We could stay here and stare at the past, but we need to keep walking because I’m not sure what time this place closes.
Oh, but look. This is something I wanted to show you—-the security booth right here in the middle of the mall. Kind of tacky, if you ask me. It’s the sign on the front of the booth that intrigues me. It says “unity booth.” What do you suppose that means? The guard looks suspicious, so let’s just keep going.
Come this way, we’re going down to the fountain plaza. Watch your step. It’s empty of course, but look—-there are still pennies in the corners of the pool. People’s wishes lying around, minty green from the chlorine—-I wonder if they ever came true? Do you have a penny? What do you mean, ‘the magic is gone'? There's still magic here.
Anyway, it doesn’t matter. Let’s go, we’re almost to the end. See, this is the food court. Too bad it isn’t still opened; I would love to sit here with you and share an order of fries. Let’s sit down at this table. If you inhale really deeply you can still smell spices and grease from the Chinese restaurant and burger place.
The neon lights still glow on top of Reba’s Sweetshop. The puke pink and green walls have that chunky appearance from wearing too many coats of paint. The font of the sign is unprofessional (I’m a font snob, so I notice). A lot of the restaurants are like this—-I think McDonald's was the only brand name left there at the end. The mall had gone down with a fight and I have a feeling the food court had been on the losing end for a while with little restaurant after little restaurant in the changing hands of eager entrepreneurs.
Right down there is Sears—-still opened. But we don’t have to go in there. My inspiration isn’t found in stacks of neatly folded t-shirts or messy discount racks.
So I guess we’re done here. We’ve reached the end. That was it-—my place. It’s kind of neat, isn’t it? We walked from one end of stability to the other and in between enjoyed the desolation.
Maybe that’s why I love it—-I’m amazed that in its desolation, I find inspiration. I'm intrigued that without the stripping of its life, I would not have discovered this peace and wonder that I feel with each visit.
There is meaning in this place. I haven’t found it yet, but it’s here. I know it will come to me eventually, probably years down the road--after I’ve lived long enough to have experienced desolation emotionally, materially, or physically—-when this peace in desolation will speak to me.
Thank you for coming with me to my special place. Now, I want to see yours. I won’t laugh, I promise.
Take me there.