October 1, 2010

Venturing Into The Habitat Of The Consumasaurus

"Shopping is serious business." (so is extinction)

The last time I was in a large mall was in Istanbul almost 10 years ago. But today, I ventured into one again. I was on my way to the Government of Canada passport office which happens to be in a massive monument to shopping.

The Bay Centre in downtown Victoria, B.C. is four floors of glitzy enticements spread over 2 whole city blocks. How would I react after all these years of being deprived of status-conferring shiny new Stuff?

As I walked through happy crowds of shoppers I noticed a distinct smell - the smell of new stuff. It was just as I remembered it, except now I know that that alluring odour is the smell of off-gassing industrial products. I looked around me and wondered what the attraction was that kept so many people spellbound on a such a beautiful day.

Everything was clean - it didn't look like a battle ground. People were sitting and resting everywhere. How many were here because they were lonely, or because there was nothing better to do?

There weren't any entertaining touts, like in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul (quality shopping since 1461). There they honestly asked if I, "needed any help spending my money". However, the intent of our malls is exactly the same. We just have more subtle and subversive ways of separating people from their money.

Large, brightly lit advertisements vied for my attention. Piles of things tottered on tables promising terrific prices. "Let us help you spend your money", they cooed, "you'll be happy you did".

What I quickly found, though, was that I was feeling impervious to their game. I felt no yearnings to purchase, no desire for anything except to conduct my business, and get out alive with all my money. Am I evolving into a simple living human? Or is that devolving?

I felt like an intrepid explorer that had thrown himself back in time to experience the death throws of the once mighty species known as Consumasaurus. Here they were, foraging in their natural habitat, while the comet of debt, greed, inequality and environmental destruction hurtled toward them. I quickened my step - I wanted to get out before the comet hit.

After walking the length of the mall, taking an elevator to the fourth floor, then traversing the entire food court, I found the passport office. Looking through the glass doors I could see that the large waiting area was packed with hot, bedraggled passport applicants. I didn't even go in.

I had a sudden urge to be outside in the sunshine, to smell the ocean breeze and see the green and blue hills. I turned around and fled. Was I disoriented, or do they make it easier to get into malls than out of them? Help - I have entered a mall and can't get out! I found an elevator, and hit the button. One floor up the elevator doors opened and disgorged me directly onto the street.

I was disoriented, but victorious. I escaped before the comet struck. I had all the money I walked in with. I had been thrust back out into the real world - spit out by a machine that I was no longer a cog within. I was free of the desire to shop.

I felt the sun on my face, and a breeze rustled my hair. I half expected that if I turned around and looked the elevator doors would be gone and a blank brick wall would be there instead. It felt like a slightly disturbing dream. I checked to make sure I had clothes on.

I didn't push my luck and look back. Instead, I looked toward the hills, laughed, and ran.

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