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Malls: Snapshots of American life


MALLS at Christmastime: crying babies sitting on Santa's lap, 5-year-olds whining for Nintendos, clerks snapping at fractious customers who want to know if they can get the same thing in mauve, marauding teen-agers slurping Diet Cokes, older men nodding off on benches while their wives do the holiday shopping.

To some people, malls are a microcosm of America at its worst.

Not to me. To me, they are America at it's best.

No, I don't have mall-a-mania. I'm not one of those shoppers who can't quit. I go usually to buy one thing, look at the people, stretch my legs and go home.

I love malls because they are such a perfect American showcase.

You see, no matter where you go in this country malls are all the same. At Christmastime, the air of frenzy picks up and the poinsettias blend with the baubles, fake snow and glistening lights making one giant show of seemingly thriving capitalism.

When I visit Dallas and see the great multi-leveled Galleria, with the ice skaters in the atrium, I immediately feel at home at the same stores from my hometown. There's Laura Ashley, Macy's, Saks, Banana Republic, Crabtree and Evelyn, and yes, Taco Bell. Most travelers feel at home in malls because the decor and ambience is so familiar. My idea of heaven at a mall is eating a bean taco with a chocolate milk shake while leering longingly at the festive sequined dresses at Saks that I can't afford.

The other reasons I like malls are I can walk around with a baby in a stroller, I can window shop on a rainy day, I can accompany a friend in a wheelchair. Malls are accessible.

I remember the village greens in Connecticut in the summers when I was growing up. They had the same old men sitting on benches waiting for their wives or playing checkers, the same young mothers with their babies -- but in prams -- and the same young girls in shorts with bare, brown legs and ice cream cones flirting with the boys.

So malls are the village greens of today.

I admit I can't stand to stay in a mall more than an hour and a half. Unlike the village green the air gets tiresome, heavy with the smells of popcorn, polyester and stale perfume. The village green had the smell of grass in summer and snow in winter.

But I predict that whereas malls are proliferating like crab grass across the land, taking away beautiful American countryside, the present mall concept may give way to another type of store cluster.

But in the meantime, I'm going to enjoy watching snotty-nosed, dearly loved kids sitting with rumpled Santas waiting to get their picture taken.

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