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Allegory of the Shopping Mall

Hintonburg, Ottawa, December 2013
Hintonburg, Ottawa, December 2013

Technically, it’s still fall although it definitely feels like winter. It’s cold. Too cold to enjoy pushing the stroller outside, too cold to let Mark wear anything but a snowsuit. Too cold to enjoy the “fresh breeze”—it turned into the dreaded “windchill factor”.

Yet we are not bears. We don’t hibernate. Well, really, I wish could but Mark doesn’t agree. So we have to find places to go—somewhere warm preferably.

Enter the mall. The greatest invention of the 20th century along with the Starbucks reloadable card and the iPod nano (I have decided to be shallow to fit the topic).

Malls open early and close late. They are well lit, well heated and provide clean restrooms. Okay, this short description makes it sound like I am homeless. I am not. But I have a toddler in tow—same needs, really.

We have several big malls in Ottawa, including the Rideau Centre (where I don’t go with Mark because it’s hard to park downtown), Bayshore (currently under renovation but kind of hip and trendy) and Saint Laurent (same as Bayshore but with enough parking for everyone). Closer to home, we also have smaller malls, like Merivale Mall (weird independent shops, such as the “knives shop”) and Carlingwood (the favourite hangout of retirees who love to “pet” Mark).

Frankly, I’d be happy to never have to go to a mall ever again. It’s the same franchise stores everywhere, the same merchandises, the same gimmicks and the same sickening Christmas/holiday music—I feel sorry for anyone working at the mall and enduring the same tunes over and over again.

Going to the mall is a necessary pain these days. It keeps Mark busy, it keeps us warm. It even provides some form of exercise—try dragging Mark away from the Christmas tree while holding a burning-hot cup of coffee, it sure strengthens your biceps!

Problem is, I am not exactly a consumer. I hate shopping.

Right after Mark was born, I went through a phase where I was desperate for new clothes. I didn’t buy anything when I was pregnant, I wore my “regular” clothes—it helped that it was summer/fall and I could button my shorts below my bump. Once I was no longer pregnant, I just couldn’t wear these clothes anymore. I was sick of them. I felt like a new person; I needed new stuff. So I bought jeans, t-shirts, socks, you name it. It made me happy. Sort of. If you really want to analyze it, I guess it was a way to reclaim my body.

This phase lasted a few months. It wasn’t a spectacular drama of maxed out credits cards and plastic bags overflowing in the closet. I didn’t turn into a shopaholic. I just… you know, shopped.

And now I am back to my usual self. If it fits and if it’s on sale, I might buy it. Or not. My favourite words are “just browsing”.

So I browse, with Mark in tow. I check out the sweaters, the pants, the beauty products. And I always find an excuse not to buy. “I don’t need more crap”, I mutter to myself.

One place that always fascinates me at the mall is the food court. In some countries, mall food courts are pretty cool. In Singapore, Malaysia or China, we ate really good food—food courts were more like an indoor street market with tons of exotic choices. But in Ottawa, food courts invariably include the usual suspect, Subway, Tim Hortons, New York Fries, KFC (or Burger King or even Taco Bells), some kind of Italian-American food (think spaghetti and meat balls sitting under a heat lamp for hours) and some subpar Asian food (yes, with General Tao’s Chicken a favourite). Seriously, nothing exciting. Food isn’t cheap either. To top it all, I can’t think of anything more depressing than wolfing down junk food sitting at a sticky table, surrounded by trays, garbage cans and people circling around waiting for you to leave to sit down and eat.

Yet food courts are always packed—anytime of the day. It’s fascinating. I get it, a lot of people work flexible hours and grab a bite whenever they can. It’s not like I eat at noon sharp either. But KFC at 4 p.m.? What is it? Lunch, dinner? A snack?

I don’t have time to think more about it. it’s going to be dark soon again. Temperature? -20°C without the windchill.

Sigh.

It means we are heading to the mall, again.

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