Destiny USA

Photo is of Destiny USA, a shopping mall in Syracuse, New York formerly known as Carousel Center.

I grew up in several small towns scattered across western New York State. My childhood was one spent predominantly in the 1990s, a time of seeming economic prosperity. The shining beacon of consumer confidence in that period was the all-holy shopping mall. The veritable consumer church.

Raised in a typical, middle-class American family with a mother and a father, three children, a cat, two cars, a three-bedroom house, a pool, two incomes, and a healthy dose of suburban teenage angst, there were truly two escape hatches presented to the apprehensive adolescent: drugs & the mall. As a teenager, I never much fancied the idea of psychoactive substances and would not find my way into their clutches until later in life. At age sixteen, the mall offered emancipation from parents I didn't know I was lucky to have. A town square for the new recruits of the consumer class.

I have childhood memories of sitting on mall benches unboxing the latest computer games (Jedi Knight comes to mind), of meeting my family for dinner at the food court (I fucking loved Arby's), and my first awkward makeout sessions in the back of a matinee screening of The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course. It is a unique condition of the consumer generations to feel nostalgic for time spent in shopping malls.

In college, I began experimenting with marijuana. Without going into too much detail about my experiences with the drug, one of the most notable effects was the gentle euphoric high I'd encounter when reminded of a favorable past event.

Fast forward to 2008. I'd been living in Portland for a few months and needed to shop for some clothes. I decided to shop the Lloyd Center mall near the city center. I took a few hits off my small pipe before entering. As soon as I walked in, the familiar mall smell hit my olfactory receptors and I was overcome with nostalgic euphoria and a sense of childish wistfulness. I was immediately drawn to stores which I'd frequented in my youth: Spencer Gifts, Hot Topic, EB Games. Somehow, despite my age, the experience gave me a sense of fullness. I'd walk into Barnes & Noble and immediately recount past experiences of shopping for books with friends in high school, of sipping my first Starbucks coffee in the cafe, of loitering because there was nothing else to do.

Soon, the prospect of rekindling that feeling became a mild addiction. I'd go mallsterbating at least once a month. I'd bring my laptop so I could sit in the food court and work on projects stoned out of my mind. I'd people-watch. I'd eat the shitty Chinese food and I'd loiter on benches. I'd seek out new malls -- mallsterbating in new cities was always my favorite. And, aside from the occasional coffee or lunch, I'd never spend a dime. Who shops in malls anymore, anyway?

I gave up my mallsterbating habit, but I'll always remember it as one of the most bizarre life experiences I've ever had. That I could trigger profound reminiscience of my youth with a couple tokes and a walk through a shopping mall is a testament to the virtues of enjoying simple pleasures.