Memory Part 2: Such, Such Were the Joys

In an ode to images lost, I would like to map out the mall of our youth.  As outdoor plazas with fountains and citywalks with bold names take over (the Americana, La Encantada, Discover Mills), I would like to remember The Mall.

The Mall was where my friends (all three of us) and I were dropped off for some unstable babysitting. We were in the 4th and 5th grades.  It was also where my family went on nights out where we wanted to have fun.  The Mall was my community center.  This is what it once was:

  • Two storied, floored  in brown tile, with live trees growing. Natural light was only in the new wings of the mall.  Escalators and directories. The fountain outside of JC Penney was a key meeting place, and it looked like a giant hoop earring.  Little kids were allowed to hopscotch to get in the middle of the hoop and watch the water shoot from the top  arc.
  • Haagen Daaz- A big deal, something that felt ritzy and for adults only, even though it wasn’t.  I was a little crushed when I found out that it wasn’t a real town somewhere where they wore dirndls.
  • The ATMs, which were cattycorner from Haagen Daaz and the fountain:  For the majority of my mall life, I didn’t have a bank account, but understood it was a stressful place.
  • Crabtree and Evelyn: for real ladies only.  I would smell everything over and over again, and imagine how sophisticated I would be to have matching soaps and perfumes and sachets.  I also considered it as a place Anne of Green Gables might shop, as they sold Lilac Water and all.  Place also gives a mean headache.
  • Victoria’s Secret: Very embarassing. Did everything I could to not look like I was looking in the window as we walked by.
  • Cache’: A dream, all tarty dresses with turquoise shoulder bows and gold sequins (again, we’re talking eighties).  The best place in the world to play dress up.  The staff didn’t seem to care, and the dresses were so committed to their fake life realities.
  • There was the good food court, and then the other one.  Cinnabun was new, had huge lines (and was a precursor to doughnut/cupcake trends?).
  • Brookstone: How does this store make money? All anybody ever does in there is touch all the stuff.
  • Kaybee Toys: The unwhimsical toy store, but good enough.  My brother usually had a stop here to eye Lego sets.
  • Peoples Drugstore: Friends and I would ogle makeup, buy horribly cheap brands like Wet N’ Wild, and then trade them to each other later.  I distinctly remember wanting Noxzema and a curling iron.
  • Buster Brown and Thom Mcan shoes: shoes for weddings and graduations.
  • Jean store right by Macy’s: how I wish I could remember this place’s name! My dad randomly wrapped a Christmas gift in a box from this store last year.  It must have sitting in the basement for 15 years. The store was full of Guess jeans, plaid shirts you could knot at your waist and silver buckled belts.  It seemed very grown up, like college girls would shop there.  It was the store I tried to lure my stepmother into to strongly hint at what I would like for Christmas (apparently, it worked once).
  • The spooky doll shop you had to walk by quickly: fully stocked with Venitian carnival masques and creepy fairy dolls.
  • The Limited: This store was once relevant (we’re in the nineties, here).  It was the nice girl’s version of Express. You could go to work or Maine in their clothes.
  • Express: Black pants, turquoise and fuschia tops.  Strangely helpful.
  • Units: Back to the eighties.  If anybody opened a Units now, they would be rich.  All stretchy cotton tubes that could be worn unconvincingly as a a skirt, belt, top, shrug, or scrunchie.  Again, seemed very posh, unfortunately impossible to try out in elementary school.
  • Spencer’s Gifts: mandatory stop, though how the tradition started, I’ll never know.  You could see sex jokes out in the open, and pretend you were looking at the Simpson’s slippers instead.
  • Department stores, only visited with adults.  Juniors departments felt encoded, adolescence would be like the show Tribes.
  • The Carousel: Only a dollar, and pretty great.
  • Sam Goody:  New Kids On The Block, not Debbie Gibson.
  • For all the looking, what did we always buy? Cadbury eggs, Pixie Sticks, Noxzema and blush.

This all came up because I went an old mall that is built adjacent to the new refined plaza mall (flagship stores, a train, chic restaurants). The old mall smells like pretzels, the new one has live fusion jazz and families with really good skin.

Yes, I am nostalgic for a childhood temple of materialism and want, but we could try on all the identities of what we wanted to be (as long as it was very feminine, rich, and well accessorized).  I doubt kids do things extremely differently now, but I can’t find my old landmarks.  The glee in the place is gone now, too.  Instead, I notice how everything smells, and there are stores that I don’t know how to browse in. This last time, while trying on clothes, all my fingernails broke at once. I’m sure there is a kiosk somewhere to help with just that problem.

What would you map?




2 Responses to Memory Part 2: Such, Such Were the Joys

  1. Millicent says:

    This was so lovely and so RIGHT. Especially The Limited and Express, which always had exactly those turquoise and magenta tops and WAS strangely helpful. I once bought a dress at cache! re: Brookstone, I have no answers for you but recently learned that the place was named after its creator, whose name in Japanese means stone and brook.

    My additions:

    –The Body Shop: which always had that carousel of perfume oils at the entrance that you could slather on in order to smell like a pungent fruit salad. My favorite was mango.

    –The Bombay Company: sold this idea of sleek burnished wood and high living—complete with the carved butler holding a drinks tray in eternal servility—but sometimes had little ornaments or picture frames in the clearance rack that you could afford. You didn’t buy them but you thought about it and hoped someday you’d be a grown-up for whom all this would make sense.

    –Barnes and Noble: it seemed like Shangri-La.

    –The Disney Store: Huge—HUGE—and always playing movies, and embarrassingly appealing even after we were a little too old for it.

    –The WB Store: even HUGER, and a bizarre and perfect mix of little kids, mothers looking at marvin martian cookie jars, saggy-pantsed teens, girls in serious makeup cooing and shrieking over Taz earrings to their boyfriends, and themed pocketwatches.

    –J. Crew: sober and expensive and adamant about loose fits and solid colors.

    –That glass figurine store every mall has with its Lladro on the top shelf and its revolving display of sparkling Mickey Mouses playing golf and twinkling Alice in Wonderlands picking pink and blue flowers. It was delightful to visit and leave one’s fingerprints on the glass but WHO IN THE WORLD bought that stuff?

    –Frederick’s of Hollywood: clearly the bad girl’s Victoria’s Secret. Cheaper too, and open about the existence of crotchless panties.

    –Natural Wonders (I think): the store with the cricket and whale-song CDs and the small models of dolphins and turtles that also sold jewelry and t-shirts and telescopes and experiments and had a book section in the back that you stayed away from because it was so obviously a small and overpriced selection.


    • Carla Fran says:

      And how could I forget Things Remembered– –the store where all the future grand events of one’s life would be souvenired, either by engraved picture frame, engraved goblet, engraved money clip, or other engraved engravable. I thought things bought here were very very special, and that all such occasions were memorialized through them. Life was made of a series of engraved picture frames. It was always an empty store, and when I see it now, it is usually filled with cheesy fourth graders like me, taking it all so seriously.

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