Shopping Mall Hell (Ch. 23)

Three weeks into my stay here [Rio de Janeiro], my personal purchases have been limited to a Rinaldo shirt, a watch and a sponge [and, for who’ve been following the entire series and are now snickering: no, the “sunga” does not count, as it was bought for me]. Today, will be the day I shop, and Isabel wants to accompany me. She mentions something about a “mall,” but the word doesn’t really quite register.

shop until you drop dead

The imitation Statue of Liberty outside should have served as a dire warning, but as you already know, I can be quite oblivious to the details of my surroundings, until I find myself completely immersed in them.

Wasn’t the Outback Steakhouse at the entrance a sinister warning? Or, the TGIF’s? For Christ’s sake! How did I miss the TGIF’s? Slowly, I start to take in my surroundings. Oh, my God! I’m square in the middle of the fucking Mall of America!

Teen couples are walking about holding hands. Women are pushing prams, an assortment of self-propelled little ones following. Old people are sitting on benches. Where am I? There could very well be a Gap here. My head begins to throb and my step turns into a stagger. Isabel looks back to see why I’ve fallen behind. She’s concerned, telling me I look “pallid.” She asks, “Are you going to be OK?” {*2}

Am I going to be OK? Am I going to be OK? My surroundings swirl about me at a dizzying pace and I am teleported to Orlando, Florida. I’m in Atlanta, Georgia. I am in Houston, Texas. I could very well be in Omaha, Nebraska. No! I am not OK. I just travelled 5,000 miles and it is as though I never left home. There’s an Outback steakhouse here, for Christ’s sake. An Outback Fucking Steak House!

I am reminded of one of my cronies, from my early career days at Price, Waterhouse, Coopers & Goldberg. We were gathered at this person’s cubicle, eagerly inquiring about his honeymoon in a place, Paris, France, that seemed, so exotic and intriguing to us at the time. I remember the wretched disgust I felt for him, as he said, “Fortunately, there was a Pizza Hut near our hotel, we went and ate there every day.” I am not brethren to that pathetic man!

I find myself craving the uniquely Brazilian feel of my Ipanema surroundings. I grab the railing for balance, as I feel my body weaken. But, it actually doesn’t help, cause now I peer down into the vortex of the multilevel mall, and a certain nausea overtakes me as well. Isabel comes over, realizing that my being here is a mistake, and my being here longer risks unhinging me from sanity.

My old friend Mojo Nixon enters my head. {*3} “I remember the shopping mall openings, man.” Isabel takes me by the hand and starts leading me out. “Where do the young kids go?” I look about at the Brazilians here and they seem happy to be partaking in this mall experience. “Where do the old folks go?” They are quite unaware how they are contributing to the loss of their own cultural soul, simply by taking part in the crass display of Yanqui Imperialism. “Burn down the Malls!”

They are children lord, forgive them. They know not what they do. “How many units did you move today Mojo? How many things of apple juice did you sell?” I can no longer look up. I shift my focus to the tile floor in front of me. “So, go get some gasoline!” I am at the mercy of my guide, Isabel, leading me out by one hand, keeping me upright with the other. “Mondo Condo Shopping Mall Hell!” Will she be Virgil to my Dante?

In my head, I imagine I am the young emperor. Yearning to learn of the world, I take a journey among the conquered provinces, that my own father subjugated years before. But, I gain no knowledge of the world. For, we, have instilled in the people the idea of the Glory of Rome. Their traditions have given way to ours. Having seen that glory, they have strived for imitation. We have turned these people into Romans. I am saddened, for my quest has been in vain. Instead of golden Alexandrian expansion, our empire spread through brutal Borg-like assimilation. {*4}

We make our way out, but hell, as I am to learn, has many many levels, so it takes time. “Another thing getting on my nerves is this national 21 drinking age.” All of a sudden, I look up and we’re inside a store. A store! Isabel has to pick something up for a shower or something. “You can vote for one fool or another, but ya can’t buy beer.”

I chance upon a display featuring a hunting knife at the store and ask Isabel, “What do yo think? If I were to take this knife, slice open my belly and let my entrails spill out all over the floor here. Do you think the people around would understand I’m making a statement about rampant commercialism?” “Oh, I remember the shopping mall openings, man.” She decides that the gift can wait for another day.

I can’t blame Isabel. Like I said, she couldn’t have known. “It’s kind of getting under my skin.” I too am slightly guilty of something similar, naively taking the girls visiting me from Paris down to the all too French Soho scene in New York, much to their chagrin. “Burn down the shopping malls!” Up ahead, I see the tunnel which allows you into, and hopefully, out of, the mall, bypassing the roadway above. We are almost out. “Shopping Mall Hell!” Nearing the end of the tunnel, I nervously look in all directions, fearing should I try to leave, that Cerberus, the hound of hell, may pounce me and tear me to shreds. But, fortunately, he is not about.

Finally, we make it to the end of the tunnel. As the light outside bathes my skin, I look back at the dark foreboding tunnel, and hope shines eternal. Because now I know. I have been to hell and learned that, there is indeed a way out.

Copyright © 2002, A “for today, just call me Dante” CR
Sent: 02/28/2003 []

*1: This is an old travel journal, which, for the sake of brevity, and that it stands alone as a post unto itself, was removed from a prior post named Bring Out Your Dead.

*2: Thinking back it was rather “impressive” [though it shouldn’t be] this Brasileira, to whom English was a second language, had an English vocabulary far exceeding the average American. Then again, she did take me to a mall. Early stages of programming/zombification. The common American zombie of today, would be all like, “Pallid? That mean like one of Sarah Palin’s daughters or something? LOL. OMG!” [LB]

*3: Mojo Nixon, “Burn Down the Malls.” A cool, but somewhat dated, song. All the lyrics in blue text throughout the journal’s paragraphs are from that song. The name of the other Mojo song mentioned later in this article is “Where the Hell’s My Money?” [LB]

*4: Though I’d normally not note these to this audience, these are the originals:

(A) Per Dante Alighieri’s Inferno, Virgil is the guide that leads him (Dante) through hell. (B) Alexander the Great, while fierce in battle and prone to rage, [allegedly] allowed his conquered peoples to keep all their own culture and traditions. (C) The Borg are a race from the Star Trek series. They basically destroy any new race they come across, absorbing all the information they can out of them, stripping the inhabitants of their very own essence, turning them into automatons.

Yes, I entered footnote hell a long time ago. [LB]

~ by celticrebel on February 28, 2003.

3 Responses to “Shopping Mall Hell (Ch. 23)”

  1. Wow, what a good piece of writing Alex. I am amazed it’s from 2002, just as relevant now as it ever was. It totally reminds me of an experience during the first year of me moving here to the island of Cyrus.

    One day, while walking along the ‘high street’ with the usual stores and restaurants that you would find in any European country, (incl. Gap, Pizza Hut, TGI Friday’s, Star Bucks etc. etc.) a couple of British soldiers passed me on the street. One almost shouted to other,

    ‘This is fucking shit! Next? Top Shop? What the fuck is this? If I wanted these kind of shops I would have stayed in England. I didn’t join the army for this shit!’

    These guys apeared to have joined the army for exotic shopping!

    It’s 2012 and all these same shops still exist, only they have been transferred into the brand-new sparkling ‘Mall of Cyprus’…. What is shocking still is that there is an IKEA store there now, and every Saturday it is choc-full of British soldiers and their families… The Zombie Apocalypse has already taken place!

    (N.B. The Brits. still hold 3% of the island, with military bases left over from colonial times. The ex-pats have also created housing estates comprising totally of British, with British food, British entertainment, British schooling etc. a very small % live in the old villages or experience real traditional Greek Cyprot life.)

  2. I had the same experience in Korea. My hosts took me to Outback Steakhouse.

  3. Thanks for sharing Alex.

    I had a very similar experience in Brasil. My statue of liberty was the christmas tree, cotton snow, and the mall satan greeting everyone at the entryway. Bring your children to sit on the old man’s lap….

    And now you have to pay just for parking at the mall there, and people love it…..tanerlorn no more my friend.

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