Circling the Mall

I had to take my car in for major repairs last week. This required driving my husband from the mechanic to his job, and then killing time all day until I could go pick him up. We didn’t know for several hours that the repairs were as extensive as they turned out to be, or I could have wound up somewhere besides an anonymous strip mall. As it was, I found myself needing to recreationally shop. The very largest of big-box stores were open before 9AM; nothing else was.

As I meandered the aisles of Big Box Store That Shall Remain Nameless, I was increasingly depressed. I didn’t need anything. I didn’t even want anything. Everything that I looked at on the shelf basically jumped up and down proclaiming itself to be junk. And not only junk, but junk made at high human and environmental cost. In the end, I bought a new LED lightbulb to replace our lone holdout incandescent and a tube of Arnica gel. I don’t know how much I needed either of those things, but it was just weird.

Afterwards, I sat in my car, drinking the coffee I’d brought from home. It was a delicate math–“How long can I sit here before parking lot security comes to get me?” When I felt like I was pushing the envelope, I went down to the next store. It turns out, there’s nowhere to sit in the suburbs.

Two days later I found myself at that glorious American Mecca, the Indoor Shopping Mall. It was Saturday, and we’d gotten delayed until the place was packed. We bought two things that could just as easily have been purchased online–a computer cable and a dress shirt for my husband–but the shirt needed to be tried on and it seemed silly to ship things that I could buy after a ten minute drive.

There was an element of pointless torture in all of this. At the same time, though, I think it’s valuable to not completely displace oneself from consumer culture. I could have ordered my lightbulb and my arnica gel and my computer cable from Amazon.com, and they would have been here in two days. I wouldn’t have needed to brave the horror that is a busy Apple store on a Saturday. It’s kidding yourself, though, to say that by purchasing things online you aren’t participating in the Saturday mall crush or helping to build that strip of suburban big-box stores. It’s just a secondary distancing from the uncomfortable parts.

I would never dare to suggest that you go to the mall regularly. After all, the danger of recreational shopping is that you buy things you don’t need, and one does value sanity. But, I think it’s a worthwhile insight to drop in from time to time.

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