In Australia, we generally call malls ‘shopping centres’. I feel it’s my duty as a Nervous Breakdown representative from the south to the U.S. to inform you of this. We may call them different names, but friends, I love them as much as you.
Ever since I was a tot, malls have rocked my tiny little world. When we were little, ‘night shopping’ was the tits. Mum and Dad would curse some missing pantry or fridge item, and my sisters and I would squeal, “NIGHT SHOPPING!” We’d all load into the car and go to the shopping centre, where the ‘rents grabbed the missing item, then got ground down by all the choices and decided to do a full shop. Our usual whininess would be subdued by the wonder and joy of the odd, almost-naughtiness of being out so late, in a mostly empty public space. Probably the best bit was going home and falling asleep (or pretending to fall asleep) and being carried to bed by Dad.
Malls in Australia are fairly similar to those in the States, but with varying degrees of grandeur. The plaster and fluorescent lighting is often off-set by enormous skylights that stretch from one walkway’s end to the other. Natural light is common in food courts and promenades, dispelling the whole hermit’s shell myth of a shopping centre. Well may our mothers and grandmothers tell us to get outside and play, but the social aspect of malls is part of what I’ve loved most about them. I don’t go to shopping centres to hide from the world. Rather, I’ve had to leave the mall because there’s too much of the world inside.
On the good, less irritating hand, malls are a fascinating collection of people and tastes. Each mall has a different aggregation of the surrounding population, and you can tell the class, style and pretence of the area based on the cross-section of shoppers in a mall, especially during the weekend, or late-night shopping on a Thursday and Friday. I’ve always enjoyed going to the shops on my own and sitting in the food court, looking around, noticing people, paying attention to their publicly private moments – while eating a greasy kebab.
On the bad, scaly, eczema-ridden, irritating as fuck hand, malls can drive a punter insane. Nowhere else aside from a parade will you find the most fetid, skanky, rude, pushy group of arseholes. At least at a parade, everyone’s there for good cheer. At a mall, people are there for specific tasks; no one will stand in the way of these mini-missions. Mothers with strollers the size of rhinos push through either side of the walkways, edging skinny, bored teenagers into jeans stores or leaping out of the way into hand lotion demonstrations.
The human mind can only suffer a certain numbers of bumps, shoves and sudden twitches to avoid collision. That number is elastic, but time of stay in the mall can reduce the stretchiness of that number. One of the most gasp inducing moves is when a person, usually quite fat, stops dead in the middle of the walkway. Multi-car pile ups can ensue. Anger can build quickly. My girlfriend and I have learned to pay attention to our rage meter in these situations. When we reach a certain point, we’ll grimly inform the other it’s time to leave, and both of us know to find the first exit and breathe fresh, fumey air.
I won’t say I’ve a love/hate relationship with malls and shopping centres. I love them. They can certainly shorten my fuse in moments, but nowhere else do I see so many people and have so many options. I love walking the length of the mall twice, comparing video game prices in four stores. I love having a choice of two, sometimes three food courts, and the irony of how small the variance between actual foods over such a large number of canteens. I enjoy dodging charity and credit card spruikers and occasionally taking up the offer for skin cream as a reward. I like malls and the regularity and certainty they provide. I like going to new ones in different parts of the state and the nation, and noticing the small differences between them. I like them because, shit, it’s something to do on a Saturday.