Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Mall-crawling on a sweltering July Tuesday

Sit in the food court of any neighbourhood shopping mall and watch the lives of fellow citizens parading past your hard plastic and metal chair, with their bags of merchandise declaring their retail source, their eyes darting, gliding, creeping or even resonating like a tuning fork, as they make their way through the maze of other shoppers, other tables, cleaners, trash-and-recycle containers, also plastic. Some gaze up at the television screens with their highlight reels of headlines while others pursue the menu of their favourite fast food offering from the food-court vendors. Many are walking with their cell phones shoved up against their ears, or, if sitting, they are gathering the info-entertainnment from those screens. At one table, a group of half a dozen obviously Italian retirees, all of them male, are fully engaged in what appears to be a remnant of a former era, a round-table conversation about whatever it is that is on their collective minds and hearts. These are generally the most animated faces, these Italian men, the most open smiles, and the most relaxed bodies, all of them well groomed and nattily attired, sharing their time, their thoughts and their impressions of things that matter to them.
Some are waiting for the urgent care clinic to empty in order to enter for their appointment with the doctor on duty. Some are pushing their jogging strollers with infants horizontal in their 'carriage' with the sun-shade, its three wheels of nearly bicycle proportions, and a parent or guardian barely having to push the gliding vehicle.
It is late afternoon, on a hot July Tuesday; "musac," barely audible is playing on the speaker system, adding a little white noise to the audio-mix, as the movies of the lives of these people are playing out on a backdrop of consuming, auditing, investigating, comparing and perhaps even purchasing some token of remembrance of this time. Many are wandering through the kiosks under the sky-lights, permitting actual sunlight, albeit filtered, to spot-light their belt-buckles, their sun glasses, their cell phones and those lottery tickets where there is always someone making a hopeful purchase.
The conversations are low-keyed, as people pass, occasionally a young couple will be noticed with their arms on each other's waist, clearly embracing the vibes of a new and poignant romance.
Many of the women, of all ages, are sporting their revered tattoo, on their shoulders, back, arms, legs and even their necks while the men bearing the signature of the tattoo artist must have spent hours, if not days, in the tattoo parlour, their persons quite literally encased in the artist's ink.
Nothing really dramatic is occurring, except that the engine of the national economy is grinding away in its inexorable manner, reflecting the attempt of all participants to demonstrate some kind of normal, in a world whose normal seems to have departed many decades ago.
This is not a bus terminal, with travellers waiting for their call, nor an airport with vacationers and executives setting out on a voyage of discovery and profit respectively, nor a medical office filled with anxious patients seeking both comfort and cure. It is a convergence of the people of the city, anonymous to each other except for their colleagues, school-mates, spouses or offspring.
To sit and to watch is both entertaining and a little unnerving as the sheer numbers of people attempt to make a living, find a meaning and plot a course for their lives in a tidal wave of consumer options, and a receding list of opportunities for making a difference, leaving their purchases as their identifiers and their digital exchanges their discourse and their meandering a slow path of engagement with what the world has to offer...things, stimuli, and above all, a temperature that is at least ten or fifteen degrees lower than the sweltering sun-fried ashphalt of the parking lot.

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