June 21, 2018

My Corner of the Canyon: Keep on Shopping in The Free World


I don’t want to go to the mall. I just want to sit here, warmed in the quickly passing winter sun, facing my Topanga mountain. There are trees and sky and birds, things I haven’t seen for a while. They waited, through the crazy Christmas days of the usual hustle and bustle and remain as they always have, steadfast in their presence, as if saying, “We’re still here, we waited for you, all you need do is just look up.”

“Mother, are you ready?” calls my daughter. “I want to get to the mall and exchange those clothes.” And so it goes.

Over the holiday season I tried to shop locally. I frequented hillbillyhip, Hidden Treasures and saw all the lovely items and proprietresses at Homegrown.

As an alternative to shopping in stores, I even considered collecting pinecones to dust with glitter and branches to decorate with clever bits of yarn and spangles to offer as gifts.

But, however much I envisioned the magnificence of my own handcrafted artistic creations, I couldn’t very well present my son with a decorative branch; Miranda coveted a cloud pink top she’d seen in a new store at, you guessed it, the mall. So my car turns toward it yet again, that unholy place of commerce and corporate trade.

Sometimes I consider attempting a change and shopping at the Promenade in Santa Monica. At least it’s outdoors. However, the place is so populated, so overcrowded, I fear I may get caught up in the great mass and helplessly carried along as if caught in a wave.

Perhaps I would end up in the Pacific Ocean or find myself sheltering in place from the surge with some street performer in a dimly lit bar (do they still have dimly lit bars?).

So it is to our more familiar Valley-side mall where I alighted after traveling a special route to avoid traffic on Topanga. I even have a secret parking place up on the top level over near Target. And there on a too-warm December day I bravely enter the fray.

Over the years I have learned to never wear a coat or sweater to shop. Amongst the masses the interior environment warms quickly, especially on the highest level where the only bit of natural light in the whole place comes through a glass ceiling dome, which I suspect acts as a magnifying glass.

One very hot day the whole thing may be set ablaze causing the calamitous crowd to rush for the exits, while I calmly indulge in some looting, maybe even grabbing a Pinkberry on the way out, having planned my escape well ahead of time, but that is an activity for some fine future summer day.

For now, my time, and funds are limited. I’ve got to play this smart. The problem with this mall is that since its remodel I’ve never really understood its physical layout. I think I know the location of the store I seek but one misstep finds me off in some no-mans land next to, of all things, the Army recruiting station.

Can shopping at the mall really drive one crazy to the extent that one would walk into the recruiting office and say, “OK, I can’t take this anymore! I can’t read one more notice that says, ‘Returns for store credit only.’ I can’t stand waiting in long lines at understaffed Sears while children cry. All the stores are the same. Why am I spending all this money and why didn’t the Santa wave back at me? So sign me up. Just put a gun in my hand and turn me loose.”

Sometimes I talk to myself at the mall, desperately trying to find Christmas. “Oh, look! That’s a nice window,” I say. “That pretty little girl with the red bow looks happy,” I muse. Then I hear myself whisper, “Mommy, I miss you.”

The next day I venture to different venues. In search of the unusual and unique, I hit the thrift shops and collectable stores out on Sherman Way. Indeed, I find a few items. In one vintage store, while completing my purchase and being complimented on my appearance by the man behind the counter (did he just want me to buy more?), I turned to go and noticed something hanging on one of the walls. It stopped my heart and I looked away quickly.

Framed for display was a frayed striped suit with a Star of David on the front worn by prisoners in concentration camps. It didn’t appear to be an adult size, more like a teenager’s.

I drove away quickly then thought of going back to the store and asking why they would have that sad and sacred item in the store as if it were just one more collectable, some souvenir, a curiosity.

Maybe it was just a costume, I tried to reason. But it haunts me. I wish I could find a church or temple and just pull over and stop in to pray but my agenda includes a trip back to the mall. I found my parking place and entered its sanitized sanctuary.

Now I’m walking through the mall thinking about Nazis and muttering, “I’m so sorry.” I’m asking myself why I had to look up, why I had to see that tragic fabric woven of hate and war and suffering?

Wondering who wore it and fearing the end they faced. There is no church at the mall so the best I can do is the Ladies Lounge at Macy’s. Christmas music plays in the background but I can’t find the happy and bright.

Then it hits me. It’s all connected. Even in this unholy place of commerce, there is something shining. Freedom.

For right now, at this Christmas 2013, excepting credit card debt, all of us at the Westfield Topanga Mall are free.

Free to pray, to love, to vote and, yes, even to shop. My children are not starving or in hiding; my husband can own his own business (well kind of); and I can stand up for whatever I believe or wander around smiling at strangers, filled with the spirit and grateful forever that I had a mother who loved me so much. A few days before Christmas the whole family ventured to the mall for some last-minute shopping. We split into teams, and as I walked along with Riley, he complained, “I hate this place. It’s all corporate and giving me a headache.”

“I know,” I tell him. “It’s unnatural but you’re not. You’re human and it’s Christmas time. Why not smile at people, choose a stranger and see if you can make them smile. Spread some joy.”

He only grunts. Then suddenly he does break into a smile. He sees someone he knows, a girl and her family. He hugs them and I’m introduced and we all stand laughing at being in the midst of mall craziness.

When we part I wish them a Merry Christmas for which they graciously thank me, although Riley advises me, “Maybe you shouldn’t have said ‘Merry Christmas.’ They’re Jewish.’”

“Yes,” is all I answered as I watched the family walking away, joining the throngs of shoppers, happy, together and free in a place as strange as the mall.

Though I hate to leave my Topanga reverie, I answered Miranda’s call.

We hit the mall—mother and daughter together—sifting through the after-Christmas sale dregs and somewhere, up near the food court one shaft of light makes its way through the weathered glass and shines on us.