Monday, February 8, 2016

I Get Lost

In my youth I was a mall rat. From the time I started working, as a babysitter at about age 13, I spent most of my free time and money at one of several malls in my area. And I got my first mall job as a teenager.

Technically, saying I spent money at the mall means this whole post disqualifies me from 2/3 of the Kevin Smith definition of mall rat: “They're not there to shop. - They're not there to work. - They're just there.

Which is fine. I was just as happy to hang out as I was to work, and shop, at the mall.

There was something comforting about being enveloped by the latest trends in consumerism day in and day out. You experience a sterile, bland feeling that overtakes you as soon as you walk through the door to a mall. It isn’t quite clinical like a hospital but the level of perfection achieved in window displays, squeaky clean floors, and toothy smiles on the faces of every (disgruntled) employee, always brought a similar smile to my face.

Entering a mall is a lot like entering a casino. Think I’m kidding? There are more similarities than you might think.

Lighting tricks are used. Where a casino keeps the captive from noticing there’s a world outside due to lack of windows, malls usually have a lot of windows. They allow natural light to pour in during the day, forcing a level of euphoria for shoppers and employees alike.

Good luck finding a clock. Time doesn’t exist in the mall. Unless you work in the stock room. Plus, that directory you’re looking for? Yeah, you’ll need to traverse the entire mall to find it. Clever marketing tactic. You’ll probably end up shopping while on the way to find where you want to shop.

Not to mention, they’ll gladly take all your money without a second thought. Nobody in retail gives a shit if you can afford what you’re buying. Those people are making about $12 an hour. And probably spending their entire check in the very place that provides it every week.

And I was definitely one of those people.

Back in those days, I always loved the mall. I could get everything I needed in one indoor adult playground. Tampons, diamond studded high heels, a back scratcher, and an extra set of keys? A mere mile apart. Need a prom dress, set of bowls, a haircut, and a specialty watch engraved for your 2 year anniversary? You can have it all within the confines of those walls.

Why would anyone want to spend their time anywhere else?

When I was younger there were four malls I could get to on the T: Woburn, Assembly Square, Burlington and Meadow Glen.

Burlington mall was the go-to location. I only needed to catch one bus right out of Arlington center and in 30 or so minutes I could pass through the doors of consumerism with ease. Not only did I hang out there (usually at Heel Quik, the shoe repair place where all the cute boys worked), but over the years I also worked there in multiple stores.

However, Burlington mall and the others didn’t have the one store that Meadow Glen had. The money waster of all money wasters.

The recording studio.

I can’t remember the official name of the place but I could get there in my memory a million times over. Through the doors of the food court, straight across the main hallway and all the way to the back of the mall, down the hallway nobody ever visited, on the end on the left.

Friends, family and I spent time there trying to convince ourselves we could sing. Or at least do Karaoke over a pre-recorded background track. 9 times out of 10 we wasted money by singing along to songs by New Kids on the Block or some other popular pop artist of the time.

My sister, who could actually carry a tune, busted out an awesome rendition of Debbie Gibson’s Lost in your Eyes. I might even still have the cassette tape of that recording somewhere.

We’d sing our little hearts out then go get cheese fries at Friendly’s, or a bacteria laden smoothie at the juice place. On the very rare occasion I had a couple bucks left, I’d usually spend them on magazines or buttons with Jonathan Knight’s face.

All of that time “in the studio” even convinced a few of us we should start an all-girl band back in high school. We called ourselves Girls on the Move. We took the train to Dorchester or Roxbury, and by some miracle of chance, we located the studio of uber-producer, Maurice Starr.

Then we sat on a couch in front of this enormous music presence and sang some sugar-laced pop song at the volume of a nervous mouse. Which prompted Mr. Starr to smile and all but shove us out the door.

Hey, we tried.

But all of those terrific experiences in my life likely never would have come to light if it hadn’t been for the influence of the mall.

So I had mixed emotions when I heard that the very site of our initial star-in-the-making location was about to become a grocery store or some other everyday store with no character of its own.

Meadow Glen officially closed its doors forever last week.

Over the past couple decades Meadow Glen went through lots of changes. The recording studio and everything down that hallway fell by the wayside in favor of some cheaply made crap stores. Casual Corner, and all the other clothing stores where shoulder pads weren’t optional, closed years ago.

They tried to keep the place alive with chain restaurants, party supply stores, and some other shops that just couldn’t cut it in the end.

In all honesty I probably haven’t stepped foot inside that mall in well over ten years. Maybe fifteen. After I stopped working in retail I tried like hell to limit my time spent in malls to, well, never if I could help it.

Because, really, why bother?

Every mall is pretty much the same these days. The same overpriced stores. The same lame merchandise. The same snarky and irritated employees making little money for a thankless job.

So, I guess it felt weird that I was as bummed out as I was to hear my former favorite dirt mall was closing its doors forever. But nothing really lasts, right?

Except maybe nostalgia.

Goodbye Meadow Glen, thanks for all those ridiculous teenage memories.

I came across the picture above on Facebook shared by a share of a friend. If you took this photo and would like the credit please contact me so I can add that info to the post. Thanks!

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