Stuck in a Suburban Mall

Stuck in a suburban mall with two hours to kill. I look around the exterior of the place for somewhere green to walk, or perhaps some interesting side street. No. Only broad streets leading to freeway on-ramps, no pedestrians in sight. Concrete and wires in every direction.

I go inside and look with desperation at the directory, scanning through the categories of available stores for something that might offer respite. A small woman pushing with a broom handle a bucket on wheels comes up beside me, helpfully, and asks “Is there something I can help you find, sir?”

“Where is the book store?” I ask.

“Ohh.. I’m so sorry. There is no book store.”

“I see.” I’m a bit perplexed. Hopelessly, I ask (not even knowing what kind of answer I expect), “Well, what is the closest thing to a book store in this mall?”

She is silent for a moment, almost thoughtful, then laughs apologetically. “No… I’m sorry. There is nothing.”

There is nothing, indeed.

I buy a cup of black coffee from a chain where a “small” is 12 ounces. Outside I sit on a cement divider and look at the sky. Everywhere around me at ground level are cars, more concrete, more wires, reflective paint. People come and go, mostly teenagers, almost none of them looking anything like me or the people I am related to.

The sun has just set. There are streaks and sheets of pink and salmon clouds in the sky. Seagulls passing south and west to the sea move overhead. I sit back, cradling my paper cup of coffee with its plastic lid and watch the birds pass in disorganized clumps. They are beautiful in their way, and the bright colors fade from the sky, leaving lavender, indigo, grey and then black.

I feel I am never home these days, and yet, I am always home.

5 comments on “Stuck in a Suburban Mall

  1. bgc says:

    In a mild way, like Sam in Mordor looking up and seeing a remote star peeping through the black smoke.

  2. Aurini says:

    I go to the mall only as a last resort. The crowding, the noise, the dry air, the tackiness of empty consumerism – I don’t understand why they are so popular.

  3. Wyandotte says:

    They may be popular because, with so many people in them, there’s a buzz, a hustle-bustle, which gives a sense of “this is where something important is taking place.” I’ll bet that if there were only a handful of people wandering about, no “action” of the kind most of us are addicted to, those few persons would get the hell out.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I am 46 years old, and perhaps I am remembering my childhood with too rosy a hue. But every time I go out these days (to a mall, a restaurant, a ball game, etc), I have the same sense of alienation and estrangement that you describe in this article. I also am “never at home these days.” Strangers and pilgrims we are, and it is only when I am with my own family or fellow Christians that I have anything to talk about with anybody.

    I started kindergarten in 1970, and every kid in my class (public school) came from a two parent family. Their moms would give me popsicles when I came over, uninvited.

    In college (I graduated in 1988), I first started noticing that my fellow college students wouldn’t look me in the eye. That’s when the loneliness in a crowd sensation first set in. I have had this feeling ever since.

    What is the “thread” that connects one American to another? I honestly don’t know.


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