THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MALL By John Watts

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Fair City Mall was where I first fell in love with “people watching” as an official, restorative act of meditation.  Sure, Tysons Corner was much more glamorous and gigantic— until it trafficked itself right out of the running due to the congestion–but Fair City was the underdog mall, always ready to embrace worn out, solo wanderers.

It was the underdog because of its humble truncated physique and it is the underdog now because it has somehow managed to still exist, all these decades later.

As such, it was a barely breathing anomaly that I took comfort in coming back to, once the dalliances with bigger “happening” malls such as Tysons Corner ran their course in my 20s.  I could engage in endless games of “people surfing” as I darted around and passed scores of shoppers for my own adolescent amusement.  It was my warm up for middle age, where I could slow down and savor the art of beer drinking and people watching to a much more refined degree.  I came to find myself looking forward to going there as a restorative dose of “ME” time as my spiritual batteries seemed to recharge better in this low key environment much more effectively than any group happy hour in a noisy bar ever could.

Its roots were tethered all the way back to my late 70s high school days when the record store still existed and I paced its wide corridor with my friends before the movie time started.  If memory serves, I even took a girl on a date there while in high school.

But it was its survivability that was its most remarkable feature.  In an age of fast disappearing retail trends—Fair City Mall has managed to remain defiantly UNHIPLY in existence.  Now it is shrinking fast.   Only one short hallway and court yard remains.  And with it goes my fast disappearing youth as I look back at the simulated cobblestones in the courtyard and the high ceiling lights pouring down above Mama Lucia’s and the Cinema and Arts Movie Theater.

In fact, if one was going through “baby steps” recovery from some panic attack spell at a large mall, Fair City Mall would be the perfect “bite size” antidote for working up the courage again to brush past shoppers in a relaxed manner.

In short, it was the easiest mall to make fun of, one that was as comfortable as a loose pair of your favorite NFL watching sweat pants and sweat shirt—the Pluto of the Mall solar system.  And as time marched on, and outdoor green shopping plazas came in vogue, it became more and more in danger of being voted out of MALL status, by the official League of Malls ruling body.

But after the decades unfurled and faded in my rear view mirror, I came to recognize it as one of my favorite curious landmarks.  It was the one unpretentious, sparsely attended place where I could walk in any season, almost like a mini mall version of some syndicated TV show from youth that I could always return to and never feel any future shock.

Before I go further I should probably explain something.  I think I’m dead—or I suspect very close to dead (the certificate has not been issued yet).  Just like the dead end mall.

Which means our fates are tied.

How I happened to reach this status is hard to pinpoint.  I have stored so many eras and jobs and isolated memories of returning to this place that I have forgotten whether I was living in the past or present.

Once the mall began folding in on itself; like some steampunk, accordion luggage/suitcase; my roots began to feel threatened, like some endangered shopping species, stuck in a kind of self-made purgatory here at Fair City Mall ever since, the same place where I spent so many people watching hours here.  As such I am a silent witness to the last days as it shrinks into oblivion and I await a higher calling.

SHRINKING INDOOR MALL

 

But this is the sad and simple fact: the mall has been shrinking and subtracting its indoor stores one by one, decade by decade—like a disappearing island whose shoreline keeps eroding no matter how many sandbags or sale prices you throw in to stave off the damage.  It started off small, got smaller still and soon would have nothing left except to close in on itself.

 

Yet somehow this tiny, unassuming indoor mall, which never had an anchor store or much of an identity, has managed to hang on into the 21st century and beyond.  By now we are both joined at the hip and limp together as one.

But first lets go back to the earlier times in my lifetime before the shrinkage became so pronounced, to the days when I was a not too old professional with still some upside left, poised in a new uncertain century, returning to this little Italian pizza and sub restaurant tucked into the corner of Fair City Mall—the mall that I christened the “dead mall” even back in the 70s—became even more cherished.  Author’s note: Apparently the phrase “dead mall” is actually an official designation for the plethora of mini malls built in the boom of the 60s and 70s before recessions hit.

 

 

MEDICINAL PIT STOPS AT FAIR CITY MALL

It all starts with the Italian café called Mama Lucia.  Ah Mama Lucia!—such an important passage way back to my high school days in the late 1970s.  In my professional teaching years in the 1990’s, I embarked on a new adult relationship with it as a steady beer patron.  I enjoyed the protected neutrality of repairing to its cordoned off indoor patio as a patron.  I found it to be the perfect combination for people watching and beer meditating.

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In fact most happy hours peopled with lots of friends and co-workers rarely measures up to the restorative bliss I found from just sipping a beer and eating a slice of pizza in its mock café.  As a full time school teacher, sometimes being with people is just too much work, especially after a hard earned 5 day work week full of needy students, demanding parents, and assertive co-workers!

For starters it features a cordoned off mock courtyard with outer walls of planters.  This allows the beer sipper and pizza slice eater to casually repair back to it without ever experiencing the awkwardness of having a waiter or waitress with the accompanying tip to figure out.  It was designed for solo men to patch their bones at without being a part of any “SCENE’ with cool couples all around and glaring lights to expose the lack of popularity.  Perfect for perusing a book, writing in one’s journal, or sharpening ones people watching skills.

During the most hectic work weeks, when I needed an oasis and a tiny little breather before driving home, this was what I enjoyed doing–even if it was just for 30 minutes.  I could order a fine cold Italian Birra Moretti import, and usually a slice of pizza, and patch my bones while watching people go by.  I always thought of the analogy of the wet sponge being squeezed out to compare to how I felt emotionally by Friday.

I started with Miller Genuine Draft but eventually fell into a tradition of buying the more expensive Italian import beer- “Birra Moretti” (the one with the label of the old man in the green coat blowing into the frothy head of his beer).

I sipped slowly as I watched parents and teenagers going to karate class.  So much hustle and bustle going on around me.  Now of course, the karate class is long gone and I have almost forgotten where it was located back when the mall had its original size.  But I loved glimpsing other people’s lives as the parents would often get a quick meal and drink at Mama Lucia’s on the way home.

Yes Mama Lucia’s was the perfect laboratory for sitting and meditating and sipping good beer while grazing decent thin crust pizza.  There was no waiter or waitress coming up to take orders or expecting a tip.  Just a straight, across the board TOTAL on the bill. You got called when your order was up and you walked it back to your table to consume it.

Having said that, it was blatantly phony in every sense of the original indoor mall notion.  And I loved it down to each and every cobblestone on the floor despite being obviously simulated and way too flat and even.  The plants and ivy’s on the outside of Mama Lucia’s boxed in patio were all fake likewise.  There was no reflection of the natural outdoor world in the old school malls.  It was all about indoor escape then and the promotion of a simulated universe that dealt with sales and promotional offers while it distracted you away from the permanence of outdoors.

Yet all this just made me love it even more.

It was while patching my bones one Friday afternoon that I came to notice the cashier/server who worked at Mama Lucia’s from day 1 all the way to my current status of ghost loitering in purgatory.

Gina was her name.  At least that’s what her name tag suggested.

She worked at the cash register and prepared the Italian food with great, effortless perfection.  In a narrow, cigar shaped rectangle of a retail space such as this pizza joint, specializing in one or 2 tasks is not an option; there is no space for it.  So if there are 3 people working; each one is alternately pulling out pizzas, making sandwiches or some other Italian noodle dish.  Every worker is on public display and it is always show time.  There was simply no place to hide as the rectangle shape is just wide enough for 2 employees to graze their bellies together next to the hot ovens.  It occupied more space than a kiosk but was much more claustrophobic and closed in.

Gina worked side by side with family and some other countrymen from the old hill country of Italy.  She was the full timer that rarely took a day off.  Her oldest brother and father returned every year to refresh themselves on old country ways.

Friendly without being overtly so, she maintained a Mona Lisa like smile and an empathetic set of eyes that complemented the strengths of Mama Lucia’s perfectly.

And she always respected my space—never putting pressure on me as a repeat customer by bringing up anything too overt or talking too much apart from the most perfunctory chit chat.

From the first time she waved her hand for me to come up and pick up my slice of pizza, I felt like I had known Gina my whole life.  Well in some ways I did.  Because she was there at Mama Lucia’s from the very first day I stepped foot in there before high school even.

My fondness for her was a testimony to the deep, safely sanctioned bonds that only public life patronage can cultivate.  She was the REAL Mona Lisa and not just some painting.

Still, despite the great respite from social obligation that I received there, the artist in me always wished I had learned more of Gina and her full story.  So I had to infer as much as I could from observations and her interactions with others.  I just couldn’t bear disrupting the Zen like balance of social comfort that I received in that sanctioned public practice of costumer/clerk.

BIG TECTONIC PLATE shifts

When the BIG TECTONIC PLATE shifts started eliminating stores and folding the mall up like a carpet, Gina handled it with uncommon grace and little complaint.  This was remarkable since, by 2009, the mall owners had wiped away the original Mama Lucia location apart and moved it to a diametrically opposite angle in its current truncated form.

There was a series of two different catastrophic events that resulted in the compacting and diminution of Fair City Mall from what it had been before.

The first one occurred in 2010.  This was the rudest one.  It eliminated half of my beloved Fair City Mall.  Worst of all, I never got to be there for its most drastic changes as I was teaching on a different side of the county and visited infrequently.

The second one was in 2013 as a result of the magnetic pull of the Old Country Buffet and the outer stores.

And these retail shifts were done dramatically—seemingly overnight, until the shrinkage was complete.  In most cases the store owners and their customers had little notice of these plate shifts and were forced to grab ahold of merchandise and hand carts as the long hallways of the mall folded up like an accordion.

Great swaths of gray plastic facades were erected to cover blank spots and suddenly huge store continents like the Thai Restaurant and The Hobby Works store were pulled smack dab next to each other.  Soon the simulated wood/plastic of Mama Lucia’s café partitions were only 20 yards or so away from the ticket ordering station for the movie theater.

In some cases the costumers were not even able to effect an orderly escape out of the front lobby doorway before the CREAK and GROAN of moving plastic walls began to be heard and grind towards them.

Meanwhile the world at large stayed occupied and obliviously contemporary with all the FRONT trimmings on the modern strip shopping center outside.

As I mentioned before, these cataclysmic events dramatically relocated Mama Lucia’s from the rectangle shaped pizza joint angle it held for decades on the left side, to suddenly being a rectangle shaped pizza joint on the ride side—now facing the movie theater with only a courtyard of separation.  This was like a continental shift in reverse.  It was like having North America separated by only a river or bay from Africa.  Hundreds of yards of fake cobblestones were eliminated in one fell swoop.

In fact the newly relocated pizza joint angle was so significantly different in its tilt that it actually slowed the food production down as employees needed extra time to face this radically altered direction since it now had so many buttons and cupboard space reversed from the previous trajectory.

While many businesses gave up the ghost; some were left twisting in the wind to the zero hour.  The old hair salon being one prominent example.

And now that I have time on my hands as a dead person to daydream, I must confess that I have always loved watching the hair salon employee’s chit chatting on their breaks as they would sit and lean on chairs and planters in the middle isle of the mall.  They made me wish that I could act half as cool and purposeful on my work breaks as they languidly smoked their cigarettes on the benches in front of the salon as I flashback to that bygone era of indoor tobacco smoke.

Since the salon was only a 3 seater, I began to notice the same pair of essential personnel.  Especially this one couple named Sylvia and Frederic, who I came to learn were the store owners.  The guy Frederic was the perfect looking hair stylist–very dark and perfectly sculpted with a touch of the exotic to him.  He resembled Mario from “Saved by the Bell” with a strong, thick carpet of well quaffed hair.  He was at once, effeminately stylized but with just a hint of well-muscled carpenter features thrown in for good measure.  I never walked in to get a haircut.  I never dared.

As I sat with my journal and beer, I would lean in and pick up bits and pieces of their conversation.

THE HAIR STYLISTS JOURNAL:

 

Theirs was a story worth caring about.  They came in with the dead end mall and they remained there now in the last times; as it prepared to roll on to its side and list hauntingly into the ocean for its final curtain call.

I felt like I could almost read Sylvia’s thoughts sometimes when she looked at Frederic: Loving thoughts like–“He’s a good man, truthful, kind and very gifted in his field.”  She was always ready to defend him before someone could lob some accusation and say something scathing and out of line like he was impossible to love. “But why do his ears stick out so oddly? Why can’t he cut his own hair better?”  It was always Sylvia’s job to protect her husband and by doing so, the business they had worked so hard to cultivate.

It seemed that every time I found myself parked at Mama Lucia’s for a beer, this devoted hair stylist couple would also head out in the mall hallway and smoke their cigarettes on their breaks (in the 90s) with such unrivaled non-chalance and imperturbability.  This was well before cell phones became such pervasive interruptions to such style.

On this particular day the big wide, fat avenue inside Fair City Mall had just the right acoustics because I was picking up nearly every word they said.  Frederic had just finished chopping and shaping the hair of an arrogant women that did not approve of her 40 dollar hair-do when it came time for presenting her with the mirror for final inspection.  In fact the customer walked off in a huff and refused to pay any tip.

Sylvia’s protective instincts kicked in yet again on defense of her husband.

Sylvia walks up with cigarette in hand and says “Listen Frederic when are we going to get out of here?  You are an artist and deserve better than this.”

Frederic looks down at the floor, coughs a few times and declares “this store is all we know.  Wait until I get more money Sylvia.” 

 

Sylvia counters: “But the lifestyle is so bad for us all the smoking and late hours and standing on our feet.”

Frederic suddenly closes the haircutter’s door and flips the closed sign “all right”, he says to her, “So what you want us to do?

Sylvia: “Just take the afternoon off.   I can’t cut a customers head anyway I’m too jittery and nervous with all of your complaining.”

 

Now just for you readers— Sylvia and Frederic were not new immigrants to this country. They could speak very fine and passable, barber shop English, but they could also speak a very rare form of lower plains Armenian.  So except for 1 family that loved coming to get their hair cut there and regularly booked appointments—no one else could communicate with them.  The dialogue in this story has been interpreted into English for the convenience of me the writer who only knows English.

Postnote:  Little did Sylvia and Frederic know that when they exited their store this day it would be their last, as the mall management would erase any proof of the hair salons history in just 24 devastating hours.  There would be little transition and time to prepare, it would be just like the entire store was beamed up to heaven in some kind of retail rapture act.

DRINKING ENVIRONMENTS

A trapped and carefully tortured soul anonymously stuck inside a largely forgotten mall like myself has LOTS of time on which to ponder missed and MADE opportunities and all those nagging little mysteries of life.  Like this little conundrum: Why does the pastime of drinking beer holds such contrasting end results?”  At Mama Lucia’s, in optimal meditation/people watching conditions, I always had a satisfying trip with great clarity and focus.  A great beer buzz was achieved with just one or two as my fingertips become alive with tingling sensations and sharpness.

Yet with the wrong people at the wrong place—beer offers no comfort or escape–except in the perpetual desire that maybe the next drink will cure what ails. Heck even with the right people in the right places this can happen.  It could even be the dearest people on the earth that share company with you as you drink.  But for some strange reason, just when you think conditions are most perfect, a self-consciousness can pervade and somehow even foil every scientific rule about quantity and beer buzzes known to mankind.  And on those occasions, when I’m stilted and stuck feeling alienated from my own drinking and incurably ineffective with people to boot, the beers remain counterfeit pleasures no matter how many rounds I sock into my system with empty bottles down the hatch.  It only makes me feel heavy and dull.

Beer experiences are like going to the movies—heavily influenced by the mood that the drinker brings.  And with age, I have learned that the best medicinal moments are those unrehearsed, spontaneous ones, often experienced informally without party or event and totally alone.

I think the Mama Lucia’s happy hour repair was most potent due to the cumulative weariness that I felt from staying late at work.  It reminds me of the care worn fatigue I use to feel staring into blank space and the blank expressions of commuters on the train going to night school into Washington D.C. when I was getting my Masters Degree.  I would leave a class thinking of some strategy for being more effective the next time.  Always chasing after some better standard of perfection for the next week or at least some legitimate level of competency—“next week I will study better and get my act together.”  But mostly I was filled with a great, vacuous hole inside myself, wondering when I would ever get caught up and finally accomplish what I felt I should.

Optimal beer drinking conditions for me in my middle age is to be in a NON hip café with no waitress or waiter, a place you can carry your beer or pizza slice yourself to your table.  Then you sit solo and watch humanity go by and meditate and think on where you’re life is going.  After a long over stimulating day, it is so nice to just hunker down and watch the world without actively having to push oneself socially.

So this is what I kept doing until my medicinal beer appointments became more regular and went from simply rehabbing a tired school teacher, to slowing down to crawl so severe I wasn’t even sure I was still alive.

 

Fast forward to 2021 and things have changed precipitately, and not for the better.  Now the Dead Mall has been truncated to an even more ludicrous size.  The old electronics store is long gone.  A host of women’s fashion stores and some shoe stores also kicked the bucket.  In fact the entire left wing of the mall has been amputated and is now capped off with Hobby Works, which still remains.

In this past decade, seniors have been one of the anchor money makers as entire fleets of retired folks from tour buses flock to the buffet diners at Old Country Buffet.  If you don’t have a specific need for going to karate class or buffet food, there really is no base of patrons coming.

Perusing the official mall web site only confirms the irrelevancy of the eccentric essence of Fair City Mall as a shrinking indoor mall.  In fact I found it reprehensible that no mention was given for its history or evolution on the mall web-site.  In fact I have decided that I am disgusted by what is happening to my beloved indoor mall and can no longer be affiliated with its current inception.

Only the OUTSIDE strip shopping stores are even mentioned in the on-line directory such as: Shoppers Food & Pharmacy, Marshalls, DSW Shoes, Life Time Fitness and the list goes on, blah blah, blah–so transitory—so very, what’s the word? blah.  The new advertisements purposely steer clear of mentioning any real interior mall history; specializing instead on the widespread trends that every modern strip shopping center promotes—“Fair City Mall has more of what you and your family need every day… at prices you can afford.”  Blah blah blah, snore, snore, snore.”

Indeed, if it weren’t for the Old Country Buffet and the Catholic School uniform store, and of course the Cinema and Arts movie theater, I doubt if any excuse would be left to keep it hollowed out and still alive.

So these are the cards that were dealt me right around the time that I discovered that I must be, in fact, dead.

At first, before I officially pronounced not among the living, I was thrilled to have unlimited time to reminisce and be a fly on the wall at the mall I had so faithfully patronized (not overtly measured through cash donation) and championed back in the days when I was more alive by virtue of my time spent there and my loyalty.

It reached such a point of desperation that I had begun to glorify my earlier decades walking and drinking solo at the Fair City Mall as I reminisced.  I began to feel unworthy and intimidated by the romanticized image of my good old, younger self in decades past when I frequented the mall.  I felt more successful then, I was pretty sure now.

There was simply not much mall real estate space left for me to feel alive in.  The hallways had been cut back so much that the only course of exercise left for me was to walk up to Mama Lucia’s and order a beer and slice of pizza.  Consequently my own shadow grew wider from all the ingested carbs.

Now at this, my most lifeless stage, I have found myself needing to look in the glass doorways of the mall just to make sure the reflection was still me looking back.  In this ghostly state I have tried sleight of hand tricks in moving objects and asserting some type of physical presence in the mall to feel that I could still impact my surroundings.  I even tried a few times, through mental concentration, to tip one more Birra Moretti glass bottle away from its owner at another table at Mama Lucia’s and will it over towards my own parched lips.

THE FINAL CUT—THE DEAD MALL SLOWLY LISTS INTO THE SEA!

And so it was in 2021 that I pinned my hopes on having ONE more meaningful connection with Gina the waitress and Sylvia and Frederik from the hair salon.  And instead of sitting passively and just do my usual brand of “people watching,” this time I would get involved and maybe even help them on their last day of work as the last partition was lifted and the final compression of the dead end mall commenced.  I decided I would use telekinesis and eavesdropping and every other bit of trickery I could manage to change the outcome of this day.

It was no longer OK and business as usual to just people watch and keep my distance at the café of Mama Lucia’s.  I needed to let these dear, critical people know that I appreciated them so as to cement our awareness of each other.

If this was going to be my final appearance to the dying mall that had overcome the odds for so many decades up to this point, well then, I wasn’t going to waste it.

When the final day came to terminate Fair City Mall I was keenly aware that something big was about to happen.  After all, I had the advantage of being a ghost to stay in the loop.

The rumors turned out to be true.  I overheard the supervisor and the construction foreman talking in the parking lot.  All the remaining enclosed stores that made Fair City Mall such an anomaly were going to be bulldozed over today and gone for good. 

 

I knew I had to warn Gina, Frederic and Sylvia!

 

ESCAPE TO THE THEATER

In fairness to them, the mall ownership had devoted some serious thought towards notifying the store merchants and the few handfuls of shoppers still crazy enough to shop there about the lethally swift wrecking ball aimed their way in order to give them adequate time to escape–but thought better of it when they considered the negligible profit these indoor stores generated and the fact that it was better to pull the proverbial Band-Aid off right away rather than prolong the pain.

Outside it was business as usual with big digital advertisements courtesy of full length marque signs with big splashy exclamation points—“Come view our new facelift!  Our outdoor strip is getting bigger!”

 

No mention was given to the funeral that would be taking place inside the incredible shrinking mall on this day—not even a blurb in the back pages of the newspaper to mention that this was in fact the end of my own golden era as a walking and floating spirit within its walls.

 

After all this mall had not been an A list mall since anyone could remember.  Not even close.  Instead it was at best a C or D level mall without any Niemen Marcus or Nordstrom’s to keep its proverbial head above water in this on line age.  It was just another Brick and Mortar Mall about to be gone. 

 

All the retail stores were doomed.  Only the Old Country Buffet would remain as it already faced outdoors with its own separate door.  This was fitting I figured having only the heaviest, most indulgent consumers left to chow down on all the impossibly vast buffet meals that would only leave them groggy and let down as they exited.  An unoriginal place with no roots or tradition and no history whatsoever to the golden eras I knew so well.

The other exception was the beloved Cinema Arts Theater.  Even though it was small, it continued to pack in area college students and upwardly mobile progressives who enjoyed international films.  Remarkably, when the dust settled, it was slated to be converted to an OUTSIDE, self-standing theater, instead of an interior one, practically overnight.

We now return to Sylvia and Frederic at the salon where they had closed the store for the day and were taking a walk together.

They continued talking in hushed tones:

Frederic:  “What about my father? He would be furious with us if we quit the hair cutting business.”

Sylvia:  “We aren’t in Armenia anymore Frederic.”

Frederic:  “That is the problem Sylvia.  We have been in this silly dead end mall too long.  We are forgetting our own native language and are still bad with English.  Who are we anymore?”

Sylvia:  “We are still us Frederic.  You are still the man I married.”

Frederic:  “Then I better go back in the store and find a way to get more customers.”

Sylvia:  “You have already put your life into that hair salon Frederic.  Let’s close up and start again tomorrow.”

The next morning the prospects were much worse.  There was no doubt now that mall management was shrinking the interior past the point of no return.

I didn’t partially materialize until the early afternoon.

This was the point in which I decided I would intervene—as a ghost, as a lost cause–as a barely noticed vapor of a person who no longer counted in the big picture.  Whatever was left of me would be rededicated to this final task.

My scheme was simple but effective.  I would lure Sylvia and Frederic and Gina away from their respective stores and somehow convince them to go to the movie theater which I knew to be out of harm’s way from the demolition process.

I would act quickly in trying to plant thoughts in their heads subliminally.  If need be I would wave my hands or wave signs in their direction—anything that might alter their directions away from their own stores towards safety with me.  No longer was I just going to do a timid food order and comment about the weather to Gina.  No longer would I just listen long distance to Sylvia and Frederic on their work break.

But by the time I arrived to do this in the early afternoon, the other main players already knew it was going to be their last day.  None of them were content to just go through the motions to make money now.

Gina decided she would walk over to the hair salon and finally treat herself royally.  Simultaneously Sylvia and Frederic agreed to head towards Mama Lucia and find out if their fellow tenant’s food merited sticking around all these decades.

So Sylvia and Frederic turned left and headed towards Mama Lucia’s for a pizza.  Gina turned right and headed towards the salon to get her hair styled and her nails polished.

I was to find out all this because, where I happened to enter the mall from the central door, happened to be right in the middle where both parties were converging.

Desperate, with no other recourse, I tried my best to blurt out some kind of command that would be strong enough to change their course of action.

 

But seeing both parties threw me off.  I had no back up plan for this.

Turns out I didn’t need too much of anything anyway.  The situation opened up easily and then ice had been broken without any clutch performance from me.

And it seems that these merchants that I grew old watching for so many decades knew about me too.  It was like discovering that the local grocery clerk you’ve known for 3 decades, who ends up having the face recognition akin to a minor celebrity due to all your endless suburban shopping, was actually aware of you too.

We see you all the time,” said Sylvia.  “We decided we would try out the pizza here since you seem to love it so often.”

 

“You’ve noticed me all these years?” I said feeling flabbergasted. 

 

They nodded their heads.

 

Frederic reached over and shook my hand.

 

They introduced themselves.  I of course knew their names but didn’t want to admit it.

Gina actually gave me a hug—“that’s for all your years of patronage.”

 

Sylvia: “We are going to have pizza at your place Gina.”

 

Gina:  “I was on my way to get my hair and nails done at your salon actually.”

 

Sylvia and Frederic:  “Then we will personally take care of you ourselves.”

 

And so they did.  Gina propped her feet up and spoiled herself for the first time in 30 odd years at the dead end mall as she lay back indulgently on the regal salon chair.

I hung out with them and got my hair cut too.  And I was proud to do it since every penny went towards Sylvia and Frederic.

And then we all headed over to Mama Lucia for pizza.  It was easy to do.  After all there was hardly any distance between store fronts now.

We all sat at one of the simulated wood tables in the simulated roped off fake patio.  And Gina stayed defiantly clocked out—eating pizza and drinking Berra Moretti pizza with me and Sylvia and Frederic.

“Why don’t we all take in a movie?—I asked while uneasily gazing at the bulldozers and wrecking balls getting closer to the interior hallway—“I mean, since we are breaking our scripts so much already.”

And so it was that I was able to shepherd Sylvia and Frederic and Gina from the Italian Cantina over to the Cinema and Arts Movie Theater without ever uttering a word.  In fact it was more like they were shepherding me.

 

And I must have dozed off because when the movie was over, I noticed that I was all alone in the theater except for the teenage employee cleaning the floors.  Sylvia and Frederic and Gina had all filed away.

And when I stepped out of the back exit door, I stepped out into a brave new world of sparkling sunshine and carefully landscaped rows of flowers and bushes all perfectly choreographed from lowest to highest.

The future had sprouted while I sat back in the darkened theater for escapism.  Fair City Mall as I knew it was gone.

In its place was a state of the art GREEN shopping center where everything had been turned inside out.  Young, single professionals with a world of destiny to pursue, all strode confidently around carrying shopping bags.  Children splashed in the digitally timed public water fountain.

 

And I felt strangely alive again for the first time in many a decade as I walked back towards my car.  And as I came upon a few sections of the old fake cobblestone flooring sticking out of the dumpster from the old Fair City Mall interior, I felt it only right and proper to pick up a few as mementoes of a lost world.

A man needs to hold on to his past even as he is flushed out of the old indoor, dead end mall and forced to assimilate out into the glorious sunshine of a newly franchised, suburban city.

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About John Watts

I like to write transcendental community based essays and stories along with photo journalism pieces.
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