The Stanford Mall
Palo Alto, California
July 14, 2002
So, this is the Stanford Mall.
The paper trail of money that has flowed between.
I always wanted to do a photography project
Consisting only of jewelry stores before they are open.
You know, when all of the bodiless mannequins are naked,
when there is no value.
I thought Id call it The Ontological Playfulness of Emptiness.
But, the problem was, the photographs didnt turn out that well.
Glare or darkness.
This idea grew, until I thought Id take pictures
of everything that was empty.
But it never quite came together.
Somehow this is an explanation of how I ended up
at the mall.
Well, that and the fact that Carolyn
was away for the weekend and Id always wanted
to write a set of poems about the mall.
Of course, this mall isnt any mall.
Not a strip mall. Not a cheap mall by any means.
This is, of course, an outdoor mall.
A mall of the seasons. But there is air conditioning in every store.
One says hi.
The other abbreviates an entire structure of digestion, burp.
How can we await bliss?
I mean, how can we get there?
Even though the economy has tanked
there is still pleasure to be found in shopping.
Even though property values in the area have
dropped 15 or even 20 percent
we can still shop. We can still count our blessings.
I am, of course, trained to think about race and class,
but the sparkle of the mall
inverts my cares.
Whats on sale at Macys?
Carolyn has a gift certificate which she must spend
before we go home to St. Louis
because there are no Macys there.
What a pity.
But there is nothing to purchase in sight.
But we got her earrings here. I think, at least.
With gold posts. Because of the eczema on her ears.
Im pretty sure that they were Ralph Laurens.
A couple of nice pairs from Macys.
I love it when she puts them in.
Trying on sunglasses at Bloomingdales;
the toe of a pointed shoe
deliberately, deliciously, cracks
Steve Maddens glass into
the knit-purl ribs of a 58 dollar pink scarf.
We shop on the terms of gift,
spontaneous, even theoretically so,
but somehow reduced to holidays market share
and reduced again to fucking Christmas stores.
She offered me a room,
a dressing room,
and upon purchasing
that pair of green swimming trunks
with the yellow elastic band
I tried to remember her name,
(so that she would receive
the proper, if paltry, commission)
but couldnt, and so merely said nervously,
Shes the girl with
the big black necklace
and the tattoo of a pair of platform shoes
on her forearm.
The check-out woman replied naturally,
Oh, you mean Cindy.
Two middle-aged black women
smoke beside large flower pots
which yell yaya ya Macarena
far too apparently for serenity.
You cannot smoke in any
public building in California.
The women are sisters, one,
the slightly made-up one
works at Bloomingdales Lipstick Counter.
The other has come to visit her sister,
on her lunch break, and perhaps
to do a little shopping.
Looks as if Ballys is going out of business.
Half of the shelves are empty.
The sun-tanned tight-skinned manager
speaks casually to his Cantonese employee
as she reads the newspaper.
The stage settings are evaporating.
I am not sure what accent I should use
to ask the price of a pair of
trendy European walking shoes.
I am a faker.
I walk into Pottery Barn for Kids
with a story already hatched:
Hi there, Im looking for a birthday present
for my four year old nephew.
I dont have a nephew.
This is my sense of humor.
The helpful attendant directs me to
some little wooden cars,
almost like the Brio trains
I played with as a child,
but the thing about these cars is that
my nephew could paint them
how he wanted to. I mean,
he could really use his creativity on these cars.
I picture him smearing them with color
while listening fervently to some Zeppelin.
I like the image but inform the lady
that Ill have to think about it.
I dip into Hear Music,
a small record store where you can listen
to any available CD. The music
in blips and pierces
is the soundtrack
that I have been waiting
to tear reality with.
Album of the moment: The Red Hot Chili Peppers By the Way.
Ive just read a positive review of it in both Spin and Rolling Stone
(did you hear it might be the end for it? too venerable).
Surfy and Californian, they both proclaimed.
The Heroin story of reinstated guitarist John Frusciante
added a warming note of human interest.
Id have to agree. It's quite a tingle.
Takes me back to the second Lollapalooza
with them and Pearl Jam.
First music that made me spastic.
They must be 40 now.
In the car, Becky says that she always thinks
of rock stars as older than her
but still young,
but thats not possible anymore.
Books Inc. bought the bookstore
that I worked for in Palo Alto.
Their logo reads The Wests Oldest
they have at least
which led me to question
what they meant by independent.
The context of a bookstore in such a faraway land as the mall
overcame my interest in semantic honesty,
for a moment of browsing,
but then, being brave, and having to know, I asked
the customer relations geek what it meant for them
to be independent.
He fetched a manager who began
according to the definition were using...
and went on to talk about how
their founder published Mark Twain
and how they werent like Random House,
but I ended up not understanding at all
according to my definition...
Why is there a McDonalds in the Stanford Shopping Mall?
I mean, why is there a McDonalds in a mall which
probably makes more money than any other mall in the country?
I mean, why is there an establishment that sells
greasy hamburgers in health conscious Palo Alto?
Two thoughts: kids and workers.
The first thought is about family values.
The second is about the horrors of the marketplace.
I did not obtain an official answer.
What I did see was that 23 of the 32 patrons were non-white.
What I did see was that all apparent workers were non-white.
What I did see was a 30 year old Latino man
polishing the baby-grand piano
which belonged to a mannequin
with a large moon for a head.
I keep watching people get interviewed
for positions I hope theyre qualified for.
The applicants are all well dressed,
have been diving deeper into their jobs,
but need to explore possibilities
to expand their horizons.
You can see through it all
in their eye gestures
as they nod their heads:
You definitely shouldnt burn any bridges.
Yea, I dont think itll be a bridge burning situation.
Ill just have to keep my ear to the grindstone for you.
The interviewer circles items on the interviewees résumé.
It is a time of consulting, of positioning, and repositioning after the bust.
The mall is not sad yet.
But I havent looked at how the markets are doing today.
Ive been away, all day, away at the mall.
I heard it was
best quarter ever.
Until I read that article
I didnt even know they owned Pottery Barn.
It makes sense: high end, mid end, low end.
Banana Republic, Gap, Old Navy.
Not vertical or horizontal integration,
The alley outside Williams Sonoma
reeks of lemon fresh.
I think the Body Shop
is overflowing with
organic cruelty-free intentions.
Most people tend to go for single varietals around here.
Its much more difficult to get people to go for blends.
One side of the fake alley outside of the wine store
was painted to look like Paris,
the other meant somewhere special in Italy.
I buy a cup of coffee
at the Palo Alto Roasting Company.
The steaming Styrofoam cup reads both:
Palo Alto Roasting Company
and Los Gatos Roasting Company.
Two places at the same time.
I dream of being native someday.
How much are you what you buy?
You decide what you wear,
how its produced, how distributed.
So, can you be a good person
simply by buying the right things?
I dont think
the surveys going
to say yes
to that one.
But, I mean, sometimes it feels good
to buy something. I know it cant make you happy,
but sometimes Im just in the mood
for a new album, a new way of dressing, a new
distraction, a new way of looking at the world.
Of course, I am always afraid
that the supply of newness
will dry up.
$9.99 shirt Ill stain
before the week is out.
Coffee or beer,
Ill let her decide.
When you walk into Banana Republic
a tennis bag of green apples greets you
and rhymes with how you are welcomed
at the Fillmore Theater in San Francisco.
Are the apples waxy? Is your skin?
St. Louis, Missouri
September 28, 2002
Back in my hometown
I used to ride the bus
from mall to mall
in order to get home.
I used to shoplift
from Banana Republic
back when it was a safari store.
I used to steal ties
for no reason:
plenty of gift.
Id ride into Union Station
from my suburban high school,
but not on a train.
The train station is now a mall
and you can wait for your train
in two trailers stapled together.
I remember when the movie theater
opened, a Cineplex, with ten screens,
with thrillers, African American comedies,
and lots of talking in the seats.
I remember the sheer loneliness of the mall
when seeing Candyman there by myself.
When they dedicated the mall at Union Station
I touched Bob Hope (although
I didnt know who he was)
or was that memory
from the dedication
Scaffolding covers the fake lake,
the real geese, and the little boats
Tourism is so depressing in a place like St. Louis
where tourism doesnt mean anything.
Its as if
there were a loudspeaker pulsing:
If youre a tourist
youre safe here.
Were protecting you
from whats outside.
For some reason, once,
I nagged a maids key
to the Hyatt Regency
and for sometime after
walked the halls of the hotel
in search of dishes
which patrons had
shoved out their doors.
I would, in turn, shove the
into my green Eddie Bauer backpack.
It became permanently redolent of ketchup,
but eventually I had a complete place setting for four.
An odd thing for a tenth grader to do,
but perhaps it was the root of my interest in food.
The Hard Rock Café isnt open till 11:30.
I wander and kick puddles up onto myself.
Union Station: a tourist mall,
is downtown and as such
which might or might not
be dealt with
by a sign posted at each entrance
listing a total of 17 rules
AFTER 5:00 P.M.YOUTHS
AGED SEVENTEEN (17) AND UNDER
MUST BE ACCOMPANIED BY
A RESPONSIBLE PARENT, GUARDIAN, OR RELATIVE
TWENTY-ONE (21) YEARS OR OLDER.
(This regulation wasnt given a number,
but was posted in red capital letters).
The list interestingly ends with
a seemingly impossible notion of private property:
Photographing, video taping,
and filming requires approval
by St. Louis Union Station management.
The smell, if not the taste, of McDonalds
beckons (I suppose taste cant ever even
I am owed a free Big Mac
because the Cardinals
hit a home run against the Astros
and I saved my ticket. (these are the rules)
But I promised the guy
who I went to the game with
that I would eat it with him,
but it beckons,
but its nasty anyway.
The lunchboxes all open at the Beatles For Sale store.
The souvenir coin machine prints a perfect, if slightly too pointed,
arch on my penny.
The disposable camera is easily thrown away.
Autograph Plus has the perfect gift to match your eyes:
Tiger Woods authentic signature on a bad print of his drive.
The video store has a used edition of Die Hard for $10.99.
You can get 10 cheap accessories for five bucks
or watch The Harvey Girls in some hard blue bleachers.
Im just reminding you.
These are some, if not all, of your options.
Step outside to the valet
who views you suspiciously,
and smell the human feces in the air,
but the oxidized Milles (sp?) fountain,
with tridents and fishtails,
still spouts regally.
Chose my soundtrack.
My hands are dry.
So I walk in to the Body Shop
and apply olive oil, mango, and coconut
I am now a cacophony of smells,
if a little greasy.
When I sit down to write
on some indoor stairs
a young know-nothing security guard
informs me that I cannot sit on these particular stairs.
I dont know, just the rules.
Well, that seems crazy, is there
a manager or someone I can talk to
because that sounds crazy?
On his walkie-talkie he tries to get
someone down, but I get scared and answer
the entire equation with a forget it.
any technological toy you might desire:
A Tempur-Pedic mattress for $1899.
But it does remember you in the morning.
Ive been thinking of buying a vanity mirror,
but the only ones available
magnify by three times; every pimple.
But then again
a chefs fork with thermometer
would allow me to stab
that extravagant bed
and know how hot I sleep.
You can go to where
the grand chandeliers
of the old train station
but they dont touch
the lives of
any of the stores around here.
The Hard Rock Café finally opens
its emptiness looks like a foreign country.
Blares too loud,
families argue over
too expensive nachos.
The mall is open, common and destroyed.
It is our own notion of destruction
but it is also our own openness,
our field and food.
Our choices gone crazy,
elegance stripped away,
but this is not necessity either.
It is the wealth of anti-elitists
put to strange use, recreating
an elitism again in their own image.
Every object in the mall
is a great idea