After last week’s look at the exciting world of Chico’s Mallville, I thought it only fitting to in turn spend some quality time out in our town’s Old Mallville, or at least what remains of it. Once upon a time, when I was but a young boy scraping my knees on the dirt roads of Willows, CA, my family would travel to Chico for all of our shopping needs, as the only things you could buy in Willows back then were food and bullets, and not necessarily in that order. However, the mall in those days wasn’t where it is now, it was over on East Avenue, where Tinseltown and Trader Joe’s and all that shit is. If you think the Chico Mall circa 2009 is a sad place, you should’ve seen the mall circa late-1980s, when the flagship store was Mervyns, and other luminaries included Montgomery Ward’s, Hickory Farms, and Ben Franklin’s. It was not exactly the paragon of modern retail, but it got the job done, and I was always stoked because there was a shitty arcade there called “Jolly Time” which has to be one of the all-time most idiotic names of anything in the history of everything. Then one day, some time in the early ’90s I’d guess, there was a “new” mall, the mall we all have come to know and hate as the Chico Mall. Back then though, it was simply called the “New Mall” as opposed to the “Old Mall.” And for some time they both co-existed, and one would be forced to qualify any mall related statements with the appropriate adjective: “I need to go out and grab some shit at the Old Mall,” or “I think he lives out by the New Mall.” However, the Old Man soon started to show it’s age. One by one, the stores sloughed off like dead limbs, leaving shuttered storefronts and a forlorn sort of aspect surrounding the few stores that remained. Eventually, what was once the Old Mall had turned into Mervyns, Tinseltown, the world’s saddest Sbarro’s, Lens Crafters and three other random stores that no one gave a shit about or ever went to. The moldering confines of the mall gave exuded a post-apocalyptic abandonment that wasn’t exactly reeling in the shoppers, and plus the New Mall had all the cool shit, Miller’s Outpost, Landlocked Surf Company, Orange Julius. They eventually just tore the fucker down, leaving the theater and the Mervyns standing but not much else. The New Mall then just became the Mall, but it will always be the New Mall to me, at least until they build another one, then I guess it’ll be the Old Mall, or maybe the New Old Mall, or the Old New Mall.
Just like in the rainforest, when an old tree dies off and topples to the forest floor providing sunlight for an abundance of newer saplings to grow in it’s place, the death of the Old Mall has, some years later, seemed to have provided the fertilizer for an entire new generation of shitty, corporate chain stores to pop up in it’s place. Alongside the aforementioned Trader Joe’s and its related satellites, is the mini stripmall anchored by Starbucks and La Salsa, alongside other luminaries such as Jamba Juice and Pizza Guys. And even in this economy new shit is popping off out in Old Mallville; a new Panda Express recently popped up like a weed on the Cohasset frontage. Interestingly enough, with the abundance of recently vacated retail spots, the powers that be decided that Panda Express needed its own, new standalone building, an island of hopeful excess in a sea of fiscal uncertainty if you will. Across the street, Walgreens is likewise moving forward with a new building, complete with a drive-thru; I guess even in tough times people needs their pills, and pseudo-ethnic fast food.
One of the fixtures of the scene out in Old Mallville is the THIS COULD BE YOU guy, a ubiquitous panhandler with a hand crafter sign that reads simply “THIS COULD BE YOU.” The ambiguity of his message is compelling. Though the most obvious meaning one could infer is that, being someone down on his luck, he’s attempting to elicit sympathy in the form of money or goods, from those passing by on their way too and from Old Mallville, who are ostensibly “better off” than him at least financially speaking. However, I like to entertain the notion that he’s serving as a motivational figure, a recruiter for the the growing ranks of those who don’t give a shit: “Hey you in your stupid car with all the stupid bullshit you just bought on the way to you shitty house with an upside-down mortgage, if you want to just kick back and enjoy the easy life and have a badass dog, THIS COULD BE YOU.” Perhaps he a renegade mystic, a modern shaman who’s seen through the illusion of reality; a student of quantum physics and eastern knowledge who has ascertained the ultimate truth, that we are all parts of the same unified whole, with THIS COULD BE YOU being his way of proposing that the dualistic nature of Western thought is in fact a false dichotomy. Regardless the man is a poet, the poet laureate of Old Mallville, in fact, and I, as the self-appointed poet laurate of New Mallville congratulate him on joining our sacred brotherhood.
Tags: abandonment, ben franklin, chico mall, dead limbs, dirt roads, flagship store, hickory farms, jolly time, lens crafters, luminaries, mallville, mervyns, Montgomery Ward, quality time, sad place, sbarro, storefronts, Surrounding Areas, tinseltown, trader joe