Mall of America Report

When I was a young larvae my slug mother used to take me to the shops downtown, in my little burg, to do the clothes shopping. Little brick fronted shops, with serious, strictly business little shopkeepers who wore wire rim glasses and no-nonsense shoes. Boring shops that smelled of age and dust and moldy cardboard. Places for silverfish and ghosts, all watched over by the beneficently smiling Buster Brown and his rabid dog, Tag.

This was no place for a bright young nudibranch like me! This was nothing like the glittering, multi-colored, lively stores, full of young beautiful people with gleaming white teeth, like I saw on television!

I wanted blue jeans, not slacks. I wanted Converse sneakers, not sensible shoes with arch support. I wanted glamour to come to my little slug town.

I was a kid without a mall. The SHAME!

Then, at last, they built one. A mall! Yes, it was a small one -- only one short lane, running north and south, with two anchor stores, Sears and JC Penny, and no food court -- but it was a mall!

A Waldenbooks, where I could buy my very own books at almost any time, instead of occasional trips to the library. A record store, with real records, bitches! This was the BCD era -- Before Compact Disc. I was now a capitalist. A true American. I was home.

My little mall of slug town was what planted the real seeds of my discontent. I wanted more. But slug dad and slug mom just didn't grok the mall. When the mall came along where did they shop? At the Monkey Wards store up the road! Ahh, the tedium! At 18 I left my little slug mall behind for the wider world.

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Now, in the present day, I had finished my business in Madison for the week and was on my way to the Mall of America, in Bloomington, Minnesota. When I crossed the Mississippi River and got to the Minneapolis area I didn't even drop my bags off at the hotel. I headed straight for Mecca.

There it was, a hulking square heap, just south of the airport, blocking the westering sun. Two giant parking structures, glittering with sodium lights, bracketed the thing.

I parked my rickety, noisy, clap trap Kia Sentra rental car at the top of the East parking lot, walked across a short bridge, and entered the fourth floor Rotunda. The entire center of the mall was spread out before me.

Two floors down, a high school band was playing a concert for appreciative shoppers. Or maybe that was just the parents. The next day, a middle school string orchestra played, the conductor being one of those vivacious quirky teachers of which there are just too few. Directly in front of me was a log flume. A log flume! The corridor on the fourth floor was mostly empty, with just the movie theater at one end and a Hooters at the other. Apparently there had once been several bars and restaurants on this level but drunken revelry after store hours, followed by smoking bans and redevelopment elsewhere, had driven them away. I headed down the escalator, into the thick of things.

The mall supposedly has over 500 stores. From where I stood it looked like 499 of them were for either Minnesota souvenirs or Mall of America merchandise. Well, not really.

There was the Farm Store, full of little toy tractors and combines and tools and livestock and everything to create a working toy farm. Also dinosaurs. I don't know what the connection was or where the dinosaur farms are, but I would have been in hog heaven if I had seen the Farm Store as a youngin' (Extra bonus personal nudibranch note: As a very young slug I used to see my share of tractors and big trucks working in the orange grove across the way, and I used to call every one of them a byon. There's a byon! There's another byon!).

At the Rainforest Cafe an animatronic alligator was roaring its little electric heart out, it's snapping plastic jaws full of coins that people had tossed into it. As far as I was concerned I had found the Mall of America's very own golden calf. It's idol to the great god Mammon. It was most assuredly the shrine to capitalism.

I don't know if it was the strict Lutheran upbringing in Wisconsin and Minnesota, the holiday season, or just the colder weather, but most everybody l saw looked as if they had dressed up to go shopping. No derelicts with their pants drooping to their ankles. Also, no men wearing shorts! I had finally discovered the weather conditions that would make American men dress like adults. It could be that winter clothing just makes for a classier look, but I don't think so. I haven't forgotten Northeast Pennsylvania in winter. People there would walk into a mall with fresh killed deer over their shoulders if they could. Also, I noticed that certain peer groups still wear their knit winter caps precisely flattened and pointed above their heads, like weird weather vanes. Mall sharks. I hadn't seen that in quite some time. Still, there was something that had made people dress up, and the Mall of America is not an upscale place. It's definitely just regular folks.

At the Magnet Max store I discovered that shoppers in the Mall of America are no different than anywhere else, nicer clothes or not.

An instructional video / advertisement was playing for some toy that consisted of a plastic cup filled with a colorful chemical compound. In the video ad, a young man stepped onto, and moved to the back of, a crowded elevator. When the doors closed he produced said plastic cup chemical compound toy product, inserted his fingers into the cup and pressed down on the chemical goo, producing a loud BRAAP! fart sound. The other actors on the elevator all made appropriate displays of disgust.

Standing in front of the video ad was a man, accompanied by two young children. He watched the elevator demonstration, followed by another example, filmed in a park, somewhere, with rapt attention. Every time the mischievous young actor BRAAP'ed on the little television, the man would BRAAP back with his own demonstrator toy product, following along in lock-step, a look of utter concentration on his face. All else was forgotten, his kids, the mall, everything, as he and the television fired salvos at each other -- BRAAP, BRAAP, BRAAP!

On Saturday the mall seemed like it was packed. Holiday shoppers had filled 14 stories of parking lot. Yet the mall wasn't full. Apparently, despite the 20,000 parking spaces, everyone had come one to a car.

Not Adam West
I can't see a thing in this helmet
Cleaning windows
Around the periphery of the amusement park, in the center of the mall, the Salvation Army had placed people in costume. Yonder stood a young Superman who, frankly, looked like he could probably recite chapter and verse the entirety of Superman's life. One of those fans. Next to him the spitting image of Adam West in a purple, 60s television show version of the Batman costume. Around the corner, a squad of Star Wars storm troopers, Darth Vader, and princess Leia holding a green lightsaber. A young man in a grey hoodie was standing inappropriately close to a storm trooper and clearly wanted to know how he could get one of those uniforms. I don't really appreciate the Salvation Army's stand on several issues but the gimmick was cute. People were excited. Sometimes too excited.

And then I saw it! Hidden amongst clothes racks, wearing winter camouflage, a goth! With those black jeans that start flaring at the waist and never stop. Later, at the West Towne Mall in Madison, there were more goths. There, a rail thin boy in a black hoodie with one sharp blade of light blonde hair. There, a girl in black spandex, with a great pile of dark hair, held on top of her head by a black bandana. And there, in a grey hoodie with black skulls imprinted, the hood itself red and black striped, spiky hair on her head and rings through her lower lip... no, wait, that was a lesbian. Still, I had found them! Of course, it was the perfect habitat: an urban environment closely surrounded by rural farm land. A welcome sight. I missed you, goths!

The Underwater Adventures Aquarium at the Mall of America was a little bit chintz, and for some reason they decided that taxidermy was a good way to represent local land fauna, which was kind of creepy, but they had a hell of a good glass-walled tunnel through several habitats. One of the longer ones I've seen. A great big sturgeon scared the ever lovin' crap out of a little girl, that's how good it was. Lots of ooo's and aaa's from the landlubbers. They also had an exhibit of nudibranchs, made in glass by Leopold and Rudolph Blaschka between 1865 and 1886, on loan from Harvard. Imagine me portrayed perfectly in glass! You'll have to, none of my pictures of that exhibit came out.

The developers of the Mall of America are some smart cookies. You get a young kid into that amusement park, with its roller coasters, and its thrill rides, and its rather lame miniature golf course, the park large and growing larger with a new Nickelodeon tie-in, and that kid is going to be hooked for life. A dyed in the wool, shop 'til you drop, consumer.

You know, the Mall of America carries a rep, with its giant Lego figures and its 500 stores and its two (count 'em two) food courts, but it's not as big as I thought it would be. In fact, on the list of biggest malls it's down around number 20. You know who's kicking our ass in shopping malls? The Chinese, that's who! The stores are the same stores as anywhere else. The Minnesota souvenirs were mostly made in China. The building that houses it all has absolutely no grace or beauty whatsoever on the outside, and the planned expansion that will double its size will probably make it worse.

The mall in my little home town of Slugville dried up and blew away sometime around 1999, I think. I doubt that Minneapolis would be worse off if the Mall of America did the same thing. I'm a little burnt out on malls in general after having spent the better part of two days in the Minnesota Christmas rush. I might be cured.

A final word -- Caribou Coffee is better than Starbucks.

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LOVE this mall report! perhaps b/c i can totally picture it and i love to see things through the eyes of others.

underwater adventures is great--i just can't get enough of the tunnel vision, esp when the rays fly-swim overhead!

and yes, Caribou is better!
Thanks very much. I've felt that my recent entries have been lacking in imagination and humor; staid, matter-of-fact, and boring.

I'm glad you liked it.