The parking lot sits nearly empty. We can always get a spot in section A-1. The anchor merchants are gone. J.C. Penney is now a spacious Pilates studio owned by a couple of former gym teachers. One by one, the familiar stores have vanished. Build-a-Bear is now Stuff*a*Duck. Still, the wife and I enjoy a good morning’s stroll around the place. We take it all in.
As Heard on Radio (Section 7, Red) On the site of the old As Seen on TV store, where we bought our indispensable magnetic dog feeders, it’s the place to go for DNA-linked diet plans, baldness cures, copies of the National Star Registry, and non-invasive laser surgery. The cheerful clerk directs customers toward the salves for wounds that won’t heal (note the Staff Picks), and reminds everyone that the I.R.S. will settle for pennies on the dollar. Credit card balance transfers done while-u-wait, though the store accepts payment only in gold or other precious metals.
Podcast Alley (Section 6, Blue) The podcasts are free, so there should be plenty of cash for licensed merch: tiny, exquisite Caliphate coffee cups, all of which have been cracked or chipped in transit; knock-off Coverville t-shirts; the This American Game of Life™; Adnan Did It/Jay Did It Serial flip-flops; and the 100% cotton heavyweight THESE LADIES LOVE THEIR MURDERS! tote bag, with which you can proclaim your allegiance to any one of about a hundred shows. Our neighbor’s son was caught trying to download a Georgia Hardstark calendar under his shirt, and he will be sweeping up the scant garbage in the mall’s parking lot for the next six Saturdays as his community service.
Don’t Call Them Geniuses! (Section 2, Aqua) It’s never too early to start prepping the little tykes for their MacArthur fellowships. The store features educational and inspirational materials geared to all grade levels and abilities. Check out the Justice, Peace, and the Environment flash card sets (sold separately.) Pre-schoolers will love the rhyming picture book, When John D. met Catherine T.; early readers are sure to find inspiration in Girls Are Fellows, Too. The store also sells costumes, so the kids can dress up as human rights lawyers or documentarians or second-tier opera company directors who are doing important work in the provinces. Best-selling books for parents: We Must Crawl Before We Can Plod; What to Expect When You’re Saddled with a Forgettable Child; and Cracking the MacArthur Credo: Extraordinary Originality, Dedication to Creative Pursuits, and a Marked Capacity for Self-Direction Really CanBe Taught!
The Kite Fancier (Section 4, Cerulean) Nobody actually flies kites with their children, but who can resist buying them and planning the outings? Every transaction here is heavily freighted, that’s for sure.
Guy Fieri’s American Interregnum (Food Court) The flamboyant host of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives puts his stamp on a fresh aspect of culinary Americana. To get to those fabulous chili houses and barbeque joints, you’ve got to drive on a highway, right? And what’s more highway than a rest stop? Put yourself in Chef Fieri’s tattooed hands, and sip an energy-drink aperitif while you study the menu, which features his takes on yogurt raisins, marshmallow Circus Peanuts, jellied fish from Sweden, and trail mix. Desserts are courtesy of Starbucks, served in small paper bags. Extremely dicey WiFi is available. The award-winning décor features a sampling of historical road markers; it’s amazing how much stuff General Howe got up to.
On The Job (Level 2 Atrium) An actual police station house, relocated here to take advantage of the cheap rent. Modern consumerism is more about experience than stuff, so grab a hard bench and a cup of mud—Doesn’t anyone around here know how to make coffee?—for an unobstructed view of America’s myriad crises: opioids, domestic violence, alcohol abuse, shoplifting. Video photography is prohibited.
These Days, It Looks Like Anyone Can Win a Nobel Prize! (Section 4, Teal) Under construction. From the geniuses behind the MacArthur store. Will feature Bob Dylan (2016 laureate) on a never-ending playlist.
Analogue Dreams (Section 3, Avocado) The young and the hip love falling asleep to white noise, but are wary of digital reproduction. Analogue Dreams sells the real thing: cascading fountains, box fans, wind chimes, washing machines, and hamsters, who will obligingly run in their wheels all night. The ambience is relentlessly ambient; we’re not quite sure how the goateed sales staff manages to stay awake. “Enervating,” says a recent Yelp review.
Escape from the Mystery Cubicles (Section 7, Sangoire) Remember actually going to work? In this nostalgic role play attraction, on the sight once occupied by Staples, participants work in teams, with the objective of trying to get out of the office before 6:00 P.M. on Friday night. Everyone is randomly assigned a “stressor” (Knicks tickets, a hot date, etc.) which ramps up the pressure and adds to the fun. Actors portraying supervisors add obstacles to freedom and sow seeds of team dissension. Who accidentally deleted that crucial spreadsheet cell before lunch? Who lied about double-checking those totals? Imagine the howls of despair when a witty Slack DM goes by accident to the whole company. Yikes. Soon your entire team will be working at the mall.
Thiparpa Twist (Section 5, Jonquil) Adapting to the changing consumer landscape, several stores have opted to merge. Thiparpa, a purveyor of traditional Thai massage, has joined forces with PretzelCrafters, the snack stand next door, whose cheesy dip I have always found irresistible. Talk about cultural exchange! Said my better half, thoroughly relaxed after a session with one of the vigorous new masseuses, “They did everything but salt me.”
My wife and I are retired now, so we love browsing in Extreme Weather Obsession, where you can buy titanium umbrellas and a felt penguin that turns pink when a chunk of the polar ice cap breaks off. We think Sourdough Starter looks intriguing. There’s one store on the Periwinkle level that’s been empty for weeks, and I forget what it used to sell, but there’s a video of synchronized Chinese acrobats still playing in the front window. Highly soothing. We like to look at the old photos of the mall that hang outside the gently-used medical appliance exchange. We get quite nostalgic. Teary, really. The pictures from the 1970s and ’80s take us back to a time when you’d go to the mall to buy jeans and Led Zeppelin albums and sneakers and paperbacks and those crop-tops my wife wore when she was young. That was a lot of fun.