The shopping mall where I spent some of my youth is gone. Razed to the ground for newer strip-style and free-standing stores and an apartment complex, that mall had been a huge part of my young life.
We always wanted to go the mall as kids. I can remember a huge bike ride a few of us took as kids to the mall – because it was the cool place at the time. We didn’t have the internet! Toy stores, bookstores, fast food, and as I gravitated to caring about clothes and electronics, that mall is where we saw all the stuff – and all the people. The Netflix horror show Stranger Things has one season that portrays the mall about the same way I experienced it. But I didn’t work at a food joint; I wore a coat and tie to JCPenney.
The Soft Lines manager at this JCP was a member of our church, and he liked hiring church kids. They already had dress clothes, and he was hoping they wouldn’t steal from the store! Working in Men’s Accessories, sometimes Men’s Suits, and occasionally Cameras, I was there two nights a week during my Junior and Senior school years, and more in the summers.
My unknown Asperger’s ways only got me in trouble a few times. I misunderstood a few people, but I didn’t get in any real trouble. I was not shy about approaching customers, chit-chatting with them and fellow workers, or handling transactions. Danger lurked not on the sales floor, but outside the store for me one afternoon.
Minding my own business, waiting for one of my parents to pick me up, I saw a man running across the parking lot from another anchor store, carrying something, and another man chasing behind him. “Stop him! Stop him!” As the chased man got closer, he gritted his teeth and told me “not to mess with him” in a very threatening way. I took him seriously and let him keep running. The chasing Thalhimer’s associate was disappointed, but soon realized I was a high school kid and probably made the right decision.
It was an intense situation; one I’ve never forgotten. Since then, I’ve been propositioned in the men’s room (also at the same mall), offered “a pound of dope” to sit in a man’s car as though I had the accident that he just had, and held up at gunpoint with my wife in my own apartment building on campus in New Orleans. These people lived lives that were so radically different from mine, and the intersections of our lives were memorable as a result.
My responses to these intense events were the right ones. I’m not taking full credit, but in a life where I easily succumb to pressure and make the wrong decisions, I’m proud of these. I didn’t get arrested, molested, or killed. All these events didn’t happen at a mall, either. But the mall does, or at least it did, represent the town square during my younger days. The center of public activity. Now, in some cases, the mall is a brick-and-mortar tombstone commemorating a past way of life.
These are not the reasons I stay away from the mall today. I’m not against heading there for something I need or want, but to simply wander around looking at things – that’s not my deal. I would have to be extremely bored to go there with no objective. We have an outdoor mall in RVA that has some great restaurants and high-end stores; I will meet my family there for an outing especially with the grandkids. But most indoor malls are not as exciting as they were in the 70s and 80s. They haven’t all died, but many are on life support. The mall with my old job and the memories from my youth is dead and buried, not because of the danger that may have lurked there. Life changed around it and made it obsolete.
Funny thing, I have a Macy’s gift card I need to go use. Maybe the Mini and I will brave the icy elements soon and shop for a few needed clothes. I don’t expect that mall to be dangerous, or dead, but it’s not my first choice for an afternoon as it once was.