The creak of my leather boots as I strolled through a mall I once worked at — in another life — brought a flood of memories. The fetus sign outside (which is actually a racehorse and jockey, but always looked like a fetus with a suitcase bomb to my eye) glowed red as it ever did as I walked under the arch and inside. All of the stores I used to work for or manage are long gone, though I’d already spotted some familiar faces, who did not spot mine beneath the beard that wasn’t there when I was a teenager, before I died, before California.
Mall culture is long dead (and as an anti-consumerist I say good riddance!), but so much of my youth was centered around the mall culture. Not for shopping, mind; back then you didn’t go to the mall to shop (that was for them), you went to the mall to socialize, to engage, to connect, to panhandle, to liberate mechanical battery operated animals from their hula-hoop barriers on the floor. You went to steal bathtub insert kiosk displays by unlocking the wheels with bike-spoke picks and seeing if they would fit up the escalator. You went for the arcade (gods, I miss the arcade!) and for the samples at the Asian fusion place in the food court, and you came for the people.
There are still a lot of bodies in the mall today, but I’m not sure how many of them are actually people. A few, I would guess, but not many. Most of them are brands, now. I didn’t see anybody stealing bathtubs or slipping off to have underage sex in the beds and home-goods department bedroom displays. What’s the point of going to the mall if you’e not going to get thrown out of the mall? Or look for low-paying, gloriously dehumanizing jobs to find creative ways to make worth waking up for?
Anyway, that’s a tangent for another time, or for no time at all. Yeah, once upon a time, I was a mall kid. I’d be banned under the name of “Bruce Wayne” (nobody got the joke) for lightsaber battles that inadvertently took out an artificial tree (apparently not weight bearing), but wound up meeting a girl in the process who I ended up dating for a while (until she told me this story about stealing from an old man for fun, at which point I became holier-than-thou and preachy and broke up with her). I used to sit on the benches and read bargain philosophy books I’d picked up for a few dollars at Waldens or pour through the Complete [Insert Classic LIterary Author Here] from B&N. I had a walkman, and then later a discman, which were always loaded up with mixes I’d made from my older brother’s collection when he wasn’t around. I don’t actually miss those days, but I do feel that I was probably the most human I will ever be, when testing those boundaries and joyriding in those bathtubs. When I was a child, my parents would sometimes grab me out of the wilderness where I was truant from school, holed up in a tree or a tunnel or a swamp, and they’d drive me to the mall… and leave me there. With the people. I was raised by the spirits of the woods, where I lived in relative isolation (at least insofar as “normal childhood experiences” go, as if there were such a thing), but I’ve come to realize that I was similarly raised by the spirits of the mall, of the market. The sacred market. Not the one on the surface, with glowing signs and parasitic cell-phone-scam-kiosks and all that; the one beneath it. The thrumming, pulsing, fast paced heart of the market. At the heart of a market there are relations and exchanges and people. Bargains, scores, scams, yes; but these are the the the nature of exchange. The interconnectedness of it all, and similarly the disconnectedness of it all, were the stuff of magic for me. I people-watched. I begged for change. I fought. I ran, from my little mall-cop rivalries, and I had friends — or co-conspirators — to share in the splendor of it all. The woods, the wilderness, that was just me and the land and the spirits. The mall had room for people, unlike every other area of my life, which were ever and always absent of such intrusions. But I digress…
Today’s nostalgic wander was broken up by the news that my niece — an eight year old I’ve been visiting a bunch since I got back up into these parts — had broken her arm in school on Monday. She was getting X-Rays and confirming the break on Wednesday afternoon, which made me smile a bit: tough kid. Good kid. Hopefully the delay doesn’t mess up the prognosis too badly, but I had a weird pride in that delay. And then I frowned because I realized that she might have been trying to be like Uncle Anomalous, because I’ve got a fractured tibia that I haven’t treated (or given rest to) since the injury a month or so ago. Oops. I just became the sort of role model that establishes disregarding skeletal damage is completely acceptable practice.
This whole thing made me pause in my backward memory thought stream about malls and bathtubs and begin to realize how many bones I’d broken over the years, all but one injury left untreated by professional means. I frowned more. Had this little girl tried to tough out her broken arm, apparently a fairly concerning break at that, to be more like me?
I didn’t set out to “tough it out” with anything when I was young. I hid my injuries because they were plentiful and varied, and you may infer from that what you like. I came up with clever stories to dodge out of things I was unlikely to be able to accomplish because of a current injury, and I put a tremendous effort into taking conscious control of how my body moved while injured, to not “give away” my damage. The one time I received treatment was for a shattered thumb, which caused damage down my left forearm, and required a full cast to heal properly. The cast, and the attention it drew, was likely more trouble than the break had been. I knew by the end of that that I could never wear a cast again; so I didn’t.
But now this child, whose entire family is convinced is my daughter (she isn’t), was breaking her arms and not telling anyone. Maybe to be more like me.
And here I am, smiling with a little bit of pride, despite my (somewhat alarming to me) concern for her well being.
It’s the scars and breaks that define us, right?
And we welcome our scarred and broken warrior youth back to society with festivities and feasting. So I’ll be buying a second goat this week, and do it proper like. First major injury? First goat, to honor and recognize the courage it will take to recover. Warm meal, warm skin (tanned to a nice rug — her first animal skin!) and skulls and bones aplenty for her artist mom to paint up and display. Because we come from bones– the marrowed bones of our ancestors, the ashen bones of the grandfathers of the earth, and the blooded bones left from feasting slaughter that commemorate each time we have passed through the fires of life’s challenges, and come out again more defined, knowing more deeply our own value and our edges and our boundaries and our limitations and how many days we can, at eight, ignore a broken arm to impress a crazy uncle.
But I do miss joy-riding in bathtubs.