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Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Malled

The Burlington Mall opened when I was ten. It was part of the first wave of indoor shopping malls across the country and quite the novelty in the western Boston suburbs. Burlington was three towns away from our house, but that seemed like nothing as our whole family loaded into the woody station wagon to see this great wonder. The parking lot held more cars than I thought existed.
We found a spot a hundred yards away from the nearest door, and I ran those yards like Jim Nance through the Miami Dolphin secondary. Finally (after I waited for the adults to catch up,) we entered.
I thought I was in heaven.
It was the Christmas shopping season and the elaborate decorations in the entry hall made downtown Maynard’s decorations look pathetic by comparison. Christmas music politely cuddled our ears as made our way down the magical hallway until we came to the mall proper.
"The hallway is as wide as Main Street," murmured a bemused patron behind me, and I had to agree. But unlike Main Street with its poorly parked Studebakers and ice water-filled potholes, the Burlington Mall was a wonder of orchestrated festivity. They had a full-sized North Pole, and colorful carolers tastefully accenting (in both music and costume,) the walkway.
Above me twinkled electronic stars that were so authentic that I thought for a moment I was outside.
I wandered in amazement. There was no hurry. Sure, I had presents to buy, but I felt like I was in Disneyland (Disneyworld wasn't open yet.)
The place was packed, but there were places to sit and stay out of the hustle. I chose the fountain with the wooden bridge. The flocking, icicles and an animatronic deer made it feel like a real outdoor winter scene - at seven-two degrees Fahrenheit.
After that trip, Mom never had a problem getting us out to the car whenever she announced a return to this capitalistic Shangri-la.
Sigh...
I went to the mall today. It wasn't the Burlington Mall; it was one close to where I live now. I traveled a quarter of the distance we had forty-six years ago, and I begrudged every kilometer. I could have parked by the door, but chose a place less likely to get my car keyed.
I entered into a narrow hallway that was poorly lit. The only attractions in this particular stretch were two bathrooms. Though the men's was clearly marked, wads of adhesive from a long-lost sign indicated the women's bathroom. Once into the mall proper, there were stores alternating with darkened fronts, and scores of tiny kiosks littering the once-broad thoroughfares.
"Sir, can I ask you a question?" said a man at a kiosk as I passed.
"You already did," I replied and I kept walking. Yes, I was rude, and I was ripping off an old Vaudeville line, but the scent of desperation wafting from commission sales clerks kept me moving. Unfamiliar music blared from the poorly balanced music system. A bored teenager clicked her polished nails on a smart phone. She sat at a kiosk that had the bottom half of several mannequins protruding upside down from its counter. I had no idea what she was selling and wondered if she did. Though I was moving quickly, a pack of senior citizens passed me. One of them wore a tee shirt that said on the back, "If you can read this, you're being left behind."
And I felt behind. I felt that the wonder of indoor shopping was dead and buried in an unmarked grave somewhere in my past.
I didn’t even know it was sick.
And so I find myself wondering. Is the contrast due to degradation in mall-hood, or am I viewing the past through sugarplum tinted glasses?
Has the age of the mall passed, or have I passed the age for malls?

Even Buddy senses the magic is gone.