We Used To Build Civilizations. Now We Build Shopping Malls.
I have never been a big fan of shopping. I probably have my mother to thank for this anti-social personality disorder. Back in the days before shopping malls began to proliferate, Hamilton had a whole slew of department stores all within a few blocks of each other. There was Robinson’s, Zeller’s, Woolworth’s, Kresge’s, and of course, the jewel in the crown, Eaton’s. I am not quite sure what actually differentiated one store from the other; back then nobody seemed to have a problem with buying retail. My mother, on the other hand, must have possessed some kind of insider information, because no purchase whatsoever was ever made until said item was examined judiciously in each of the above mentioned shops; all of them. That would have been okay by me had she been flying solo on those trips. More often than I care to remember, I was dragged along for the ride. Clasping my hand tightly, lest I wander off – a tendency I am still prone to till this day – we painstakingly made our rounds. Invariably, we ended up back at our original point of departure. It all seemed so pointless to me even at such a tender age. Having survived another one of these ordeals, I was often rewarded at the end of our mission with some kind of a treat. If it were the summer months we would celebrate the purchase of some new set of buttons with a chocolate-mint ice cream cone. Stoicism has its rewards.
On our first day off at camp this summer, Lori dragged – I mean persuaded me to join her for a day of shopping at Jersey Gardens, an enormous discount mall right next to Newark Airport. Some brilliant entrepreneur realized he could capture tourists coming and going to the fair state of New Jersey. And he was right. For the large part of our stay in the mall I couldn’t help but notice that English seemed to be the second language of choice for many of the shoppers. Then it dawned on me, there really is something universal and unifying about shopping for a really good bargain. Women wearing the traditional hijab (head covering) shopped comfortably side by side with men sporting black velvet kippot , without any apparent need for international mediation. The Gap really bridges many of our most troublesome gaps. All of these strangers bound together by one common goal – to discover the best possible deal.
If we were really serious about solving the world’s toughest problems we would hastily abandon most international forums and shuttle the feuding parties to the nearest discount mall. Nuclear crisis? No problem. Offer an extra 50% discount at Brooks Brothers to these hard-headed diplomats if they can hammer out a deal in two hours and you’ll see some quick results. Imelda Marcos – remember her, the Former Philippine First Lady famous for her collection of three thousand pairs of shoes? – She knew a thing or two about the merits of shopping. “Win or lose,” she was once quoted as saying, “We go shopping after the election.”
I have to admit, for a brief moment during our recent shopping spree I actually enjoyed myself. That probably had more to do with the great sushi our friend Jennifer brought from Teaneck for us to dine on in the promenade than any of the shops we patronized. Feed me well and I can shop with the best. And why not? Nobody in this place seemed to be in any particular rush to leave. Time is temporarily suspended in this Shangri-la of wholesale bargains. We arrived in the later hours of the morning and left in the darkness of the night. We’d probably still be there if we didn’t have to get back to our jobs at camp.
Actually my enthusiasm for this discount frenzy began to waver as the day wore steadily on. I couldn’t help but think that there was something fundamental lacking in this whole experience. I think it is referred to as fresh air. As painful as my shopping experiences were as a child there was a sense of adventure every time we stepped onto the pavement between shops. The hustle and bustle of a main street is a far cry from the throngs of shoppers walking methodically in circles around a monolithic, faceless mall. I miss the charm and quaintness of that bygone era even if it comes at the expense of a few bargains.