Little Shops of Horrors

We all want our yearly scare in the season of Halloween. I know I do! Unfortunately, because my social life is, has been, and possibly always will be about as exciting as staring at a cardboard box filled with hair culled from my own brush, I rarely get out on this fun and fabulous holiday. Not that I don’t dream; I often picture myself at the swingin’est soirees doing what every woman seems to do at Halloween parties: dress like a slut. Who knew that so many nurses, witches, cats, and Dorothy’s from the Wizard of Oz could be out in force on a single evening in stilettos, ass-baring skirts, and fishnet stockings?

 

Don't Even Ask Where She's HIdden Her Cat, Custard

 

Oh, but don’t be fooled. When given the opportunity, I’m as guilty as the next gal.A few years ago I actually DID get invited to a party, and I went as my Aunt Karla from Biloxi. It’s not often one gets to prance around in one’s underthings and still feel like a good girl…

           

This year, though, I got a special early scare at the Pasadena Town Square Mall when I went to see my niece in a production of SweeneyTodd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, presented by Stage Door Inc.

 

Give the Kid a Break; Mrs. L's Meat Pie is PEOPLE!


    

 

 No, Sweeney Todd wasn’t the scary part. Given that, in general, I loathe the theatre (I even prefer the movie version of Glengarry Glen Ross to the play), and, specifically, I really loathe musicals, I was impressed by this troupe of community players. That talent like this is buried in a space which was probably at one point a defunct Dress Barn is horrifying to ponder. Some of these players have real star quality!

           

The big fright was the Pasadena Town Square Mall itself.

 

That afternoon, while dreading my familial duty scheduled for eight p.m., it fully dawned on me that Sweeney Todd was to be performed in a shopping mall, and this could actually be a good thing. There’s only one thing I hate more than the theater, and that’s shopping. One look at my wardrobe is proof of that.

 

But I desperately need shoes—and the Salvation Army never has good ones in my size. I decided that, if I showed up at six or six thirty, I’d have time to do Macy’s, grab a coffee at a Starbucks within, and attend to the drama devoir.

 

Well. I think we all know where this is going. Silly me! There is no Starbucks at the Pasadena Town Square Mall. They’ve all been sucked in by that vortex at the corner of Shepherd and West Gray

     

Comedian Lewis Black's Definition of Hell

   

 But isn’t it illegal for a well-known chain department store to be, except for the bored employees, completely empty? Shouldn’t corporate headquarters send in armies of phony consumers who will stand around holding sweaters in the air, wondering aloud if Mom will appreciate cashmere in cerise? Aren’t we in a recession? Shouldn’t somebody try to make it look as if the economy’s thriving?

Nobody was doing this at Macy’s. Rather than the nice, Do you think you can resist any of these? displays crowded beneath the fluorescence, there were maybe 15 shoes scattered about the ladies’ shoedepartment. One of the Pumas might have been pre-worn. I was convinced that if I bothered asking to try anything on, the sales guy would either a) say he had no mate to the one I wanted; b) return with one of his own shoes in hand while hiding his stockinged foot behind his pant leg; or c) disappear into the curtained void, never again to be found. 

 

I wandered around for a minute. I looked at a couple of stupid Fossil bags wondering how anything looking so much like something I hid Newports and tins of bad weed in back in 1976 could fetch so much money.

   

*Sigh* Now THAT was Living!

   

 I’d killed about ten minutes. I decided to mill about the rest of Pasadena Town Square Mall to see if there might be anything out there I actually needed.

 

By the way, there’s generally nothing I actually need, and even less that I’d ever want, in a shopping mall. I was thinking that I might be in the right spot: it seemed that I was one of perhaps ten people in the place, neither needing nor wanting anything this place had to offer.

   

A Gap By Any Other Name...

 

 However, though I mentioned that I rarely go shopping, malls to me are much like the celebrity goings-on reported in rags like People magazine. Seemingly by osmosis, I am as familiar with the location of a Banana Republic in a marketplace as I am with the doings of the Olsen twins. It’s a gift I imagine many middle class Americans proudly possess.

   

 

Where it's Always Twilight

  

 I thought all shopping-plexes were all the same.

 

Just goes to show how sheltered I am.

 

Pasadena Town Square Mall, I now know, is a hodgepodge of bedraggled and bizarre treasures.

 

I didn’t know this when I stepped out of Macy’s and decided I was hungry. The Food Court looked kind of dark. Earlier, whilst winding through the labyrinthine lot and deciding which vast, unpopulated patch of broken concrete I should park in, some cholo in droopy drawers stepped in front of my moving vehicle, stopped to answer his cell, shot me a defiant glare, and slowly sauntered past. Bearing this in mind,and noticing a few silhouettes milling about the otherwise deserted dining area, I steered clear and spotted the colorful sign of Candies and More.

     

Snookie's Pals at the Spray-Tan-O-Rama

 

 What fun! The only thing I dig more than candies is a can of frosting and a tablespoon. With thoughts of the shop from WillyWonka and the Chocolate Factory in mind, I skipped on over. And why not skip? Nobody was looking. Nobody was there to be looking.

 

Okay, I just want to say, for the record, that Candies and More barely had any candies at all. A couple of Snickers bars. A sparsely populated ice cream freezer. I skulked about, trying to find some magical and colorful sweet to ruin my appetite for dinner. That’s what places named Candies and More are for, dammit.

 

Pissed, I settled on a bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. I was going to pout to the cashier, but he looked so overjoyed to see me I just smiled, paid up, pointed to the bag and rubbed my tummy as if I were sending down a Knipschildt Madeleine .

 

I soldiered on, my hands thoroughly be-Cheeto-d (thank you, Stephen Colbert!).What kind of twilight zone had I entered? I mean, I thought I recognized Melrose, home of the temptingly hip $2.99 top, but where the hell did Mimi’s Tutu Boutique come from? I was pretty much dying to see what was new at Mimi’s Tutu, but Mimi’d apparently bailed. For how long is anyone’s guess.

     

Watch Out, Pottery Barn

 

Down the way was Ruby’s Invitations, which had no invitations that I could see, but a whole lotta piñatas. It’s not surprising to see piñatas for sale; we are, after all, in Texas. But I’ve only seen piñatas sold streetside or in Fiesta markets. I’ve never seen them with their very own store in a shopping mall. I have to admit, though; context changes everything for these papier mache products! No sooner had I seen those dangling “Hello Kitty ” and “WWE ” star-shaped thrashable party pieces than I was picturing one of them hanging from the antique chandelier in my dining room. I purchased the WWE guy immediately.

 

 

But How Much Will My Adoration Shrink After a Washing?

   

 Shoot! Pasadena Town Square Mall was showing me what a sheltered snob I’d become. Having envisioned a fun change in décor, I decided, WTF, I’ll go for the whole wardrobe. I can’t remember the name, but I’ll call it Creepy Airbrush Store because it was filled with all kinds of wearable art that was just plain creepy and hard to resist. I knew right then that I’d entered another country; I mean, Selena died in 1995, and these people at the Creepy Airbrush Store are still paying tribute.

   

ChristStrong!

 

And they would not be doing so if there wasn’t a demand.

     

 

I threw my new Selena tribute tee over my shoulder and headed over to The Giving Tree: Your Christian Bookstore in the Mall. I don’t know what Teddy bears and dolls with pointy pink hats have to do with Jesus, but I wasn’t going anywhere without a Faith Band. Those neon plastic squiggles for Christ will save me one day.

 

Marlo Thomas in a Fabulous Pinata Hat From Ruby's

 

I was charged! I was banded. I was so excited I ran around just like Marlo Thomas did in the opening sequence of That Girl!

     

Don't Forget That Each Harbors a Roll of Charmin Under Those Ruffles

   
And then I spotted the shop that nearly stopped my heart: La Bella.

 

I have such a weakness for a taffeta bodice atop an enormous bell of a skirt—you know: the ones that look like the wearer’s a floating wedding cake? It was a quinceanera store, filled with gowns to be worn at the fiestas thrown in Latin American countries or in Latin American immigrant communities celebrating a girl’s fifteenth birthday. I’ve always found the idea of the quinceanera a little unsettling. This party marks, at fifteen years old, the transition from girlhood to womanhood. I’ve always thought it odd that a fifteen year old can consider herself woman enough to bear children, but can’t drive a car, buy booze, or vote, but hey, it’s not my culture. But the warped Malibu Barbie scenario that still clings to my poor rotting brain can never resist a single ante-bellum-resembling gown (no matter how cheaply constructed), let alone an entire store filled with them, so I entered, camera in hand, and practically trembling.

   

Free tube of MONISTAT With Every Purchase!

 

I had every reason to be excited. Not only were there fluffy looking numbers in shiny poly and cheap lace for the Girl, Who’ll be a Woman Soon…(And I cannot recommend the YouTube Neil Diamond video highly enough). But there were entire shelves populated with quinceanera Mini-Me’s! Camera flashing at everything I could breathlessly aim it at, I found the molten core at the center of this bizarre establishment: a long, rectangular table piled with stretchy polyester underpants in Da-Glo colors. Wow! These girls are really outfitted down to their very skins with high-waisted fluorescent panties that looked like something more suited to their abuelitas than to a 15-year-old. I guess the initiation into womanhood couldn’t be complete without a glimpse of what’s to come.

 

Aghast, I snapped away with my Nikon Coolpix. Then an angry Korean woman started yelling at me, so I ran out, very disappointed that my camera had prevented my purchase of at least one lime green pair of drawers.

 

Oh, there was more, so, so much more, and I’ve already overindulged in my reverie, but my all-time fave, and a logical follow-up to quinceanera-land, was the teen/ladies apparel store, !Caliente!

     

When You're Hot, You're Hot!


   

 

 Opposite the juniors department, !Caliente! had its own maternity section. Congrats,ladies, you’re so doggone caliente, you’ve gotten yourself knocked up!

   

And When You're REALLY Hot We've Got Stretch Panels!


 

 Jon Grayson put an even more disturbing spin on it: You’re knocked up and you’re still lookin’ caliente, mama!

 

Sweeney Todd was soon to start and I decided to haul my treasures out to my truck so my piñata wouldn’t block someone’s view of the show. People with hats in the theater aren’t nearly as annoying as those with large star-shaped piñatas. I was a little giddy from my buying spree, but to tell the truth, I was a bit ashamed of myself. Weren’t many of these stores catering to a different culture than my own? Wasn’t what I found ridiculous what another found sacred, and wasn’t it small to mock their needs and desires?

 

I thought so, and felt petty.

I then, however, looked around the dark and scarily deserted mall parking lot and spotted, opposite the busy Pasadena thoroughfare, a Ross Dress For Less . According to lazily culled statistics from the internet that may or may not be true, the city of Pasadena, Texas, has more Hispanics and Latinos than almost all of the others combined. And, of course, the stores I took such delight in were mainly aimed at Latinos.

 

So where were the Hispanic and Latino shoppers, then? Looking across at the well-lit Ross and its packed parking lot, I imagined that they were over there. They obviously didn’t want small specialty stores catering to their popcultural or traditional needs. They, like the rest of us, want a discounted pair of Calvin Klein jeans .

 

Taco Bell beats the taco truck any day of the week.

 

And we wonder where our cultural identities wandered off to.

 

Relieved of my goods, I realized I still had time to kill, so I re-entered the Death Mall and wandered about, looking for something to do.

 

Eureka! There was a photobooth! Times have changed from my days in the photobooth. Now you can swipe a credit card in these things, and boy did I! Twenty-one bucks worth of positively wacky photos of myself. And you get to pick captions and themes for your photos now—you couldn’t do that when I was a young mall rat. I tried many styles: the B&W, the sepia. I tried many captions: I Freaking HEART You! Dumb and Dumber! You’ll see my favorite below: I HEART Boys.

   

Even With All Those Cooties

 

And it’s true. I do. I HEART Boys! This little booth spitting out grainy images of me brought a flood of memories of shopping malls in the mid to late 1970’s, my pre-pubescence, and that hollow, vapid feeling I always had as a teen when I was toting a bag of new clothes home and knowing they wouldn’t change a thing about me.

 

And that was probably the scariest part of it all.

 

also by Laura Lark

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