Maybe It’s Just Me

By -

It’s not an act. I promise you that.

As I walked through the mall in Tempe today, my face couldn’t mask the feelings of discomfort and mild horror. I’m not making this face to be cute, or funny, or because I’m being filmed. It isn’t for effect. I really, really feel this way.

The only reason I was there in the first place was because I had promised my little girl I’d find a rock shop in the area and buy her something. She’s into rocks these days, and I thought a geode or something would do nicely. So I found Black Magic Minerals, which just so happened to be in a so-so mall, and we went there.

I’m not used to malls where the anchor stores are Ross and JC Penney. And what was causing me so much distress was both the crap that was being sold there (and, believe me, it was crap) and the people doing the shopping. I knew that within ten years, tops, every morsel of every product being bought would be in landfill. All the cheap toys; all the poorly-made clothes; all the impulse buys; and, sure, even the rocks I was going to buy. I just wanted to scream out “You’re all wasting your money, your time, and your lives!” But I didn’t want to cause a scene. After all, I was on a mission.

But between the adult men wearing their baseball hats on backwards, and the screaming kids, and the dull-eyed adults dragging themselves from store to store, it just made me crazy. I have avoided malls in general, and when I do go, it’s usually the hoity-toity Stanford Shopping Center (they’re too arrogant to stoop to using the word mall), and as a post I did a week ago demonstrated, even that freaks me out.

It just saddens me that the human condition is reduced to this level. And soon thereafter, it got worse. Because, rocks in hand (as it were), I fled the mall with my girl, seeking a decent place to eat. Well, there weren’t a lot of enticing choices on the road, so I finally stopped at a Mexican place that didn’t look too bad.

The place was entirely empty with the exception of four humans: one was the cook; one was a man, head nestled in folded arms, asleep at a table; another was a young child, wandering around the place, and the fourth was a woman that I’m guessing was the kid’s grandmother. (The sleeping fellow was black, and the kid and older woman were Hispanic, so my legendary powers of deduction suggested to me this guy was not related).

The little girl, I gathered, spent an inordinate amount of time there, probably bored out of her mind. She had nothing to entertain her, so she just wandered around. The grandmother’s job was to make sure the kid didn’t walk out the door (a task I interrupted when I had to place my order, because this lady was the cashier). And, I gotta say, the whole scene just broke my heart.

Why was the man asleep the entire time I was there? He didn’t look destitute. Was he exhausted? Depressed? Despondent? Why was the little girl there? Where were her parents? Why would her developing mind be imprisoned in a second-rate taco joint with nothing to do? And why did this poor old woman have to work as a cashier? The whole scene struck me as a prison, and I had just met the four inmates.

Part of me wanted to drop to my knees and thank God that I have a life in which I can express myself creatively (although it sometimes manifests itself into pointless navel-gazing screeds like this one). I am desperate to express myself. I can’t sculpt, I can’t draw, and I don’t know if I can act since I’ve never tried, so I have, from age fifteen, written.

I was reminded of a favorite Calvin & Hobbes cartoon: in it, Calvin is sneering at the run-of-the-mill 1208-snowmansnowman another neighborhood kid has made. He proudly shows Hobbes his creation, which is a grotesque snowman grasping his head in agony. Calvin calls it “The Torment of Existence and the Horror of Non-Being” (yes, I actually remember junk like this; it crowds out other, more important matters).

Sometimes I feel like I’m being Calvinist in that respect: seeing agony, futility, and sadness in places where maybe it really doesn’t exist. Perhaps I’m just projecting. But it’s pretty surprising what one can see if he breaks out of his little cocoon. I know this isn’t Auschwitz-level stuff. I get that. And sometimes I wonder if it’s just me. But all the same, it rattles me soul, and if nothing else, it makes me a little more thankful.