AlienTerritory

blindmonk
Cherry Creek Mall would have seemed futuristic in the late sixties. Now it seems dated, a concept anchored in a transitory era not known for timeless design. At least the parking’s free. Everything else comes at a premium, and trades on that caché: You could get better, but you can’t pay more. Everything’s on sale today so you won’t have to pay more to get less than you would have ever voluntarily paid for.

Cherry Creek Mall looks like a three quarter scale duplicate of the Pentagon City Mall in Arlington, Virginia, doubtless owned by the same property management company. They’ve thoughtfully provided comfortable couches and chairs for bored and terrified husbands like me to cool our heels while the spouse browses, except these islands of neutrality also hold HUGE television screens silently showing tennis matches and golf tournaments. (Is golf only played in tournaments?) I avert my face from the diversion.

I stand out of the traffic flow while The Muse hits a friendly cash machine, the only one in
Greater Denver. I make the innocent mistake of standing beside the entrance to The Body Shop which has a special sale on body butter. Buy one, get one free. The display reeks of artificial strawberry. My stomach turns and I move further down out of the direct scent stream to watch people queuing up for afternoon whipped cream caffeine at Starbucks.

The Muse disappears into a Talbots seeking dress chinos and I abandon her there, heading up to the car parked on the fifth level overlooking unmapped territory to the south of downtown. I feel suspended in a curious dream, sleepy from the exertion of not bolting backward or forward out of this disorienting time toward anything more familiar. The ‘live for today’ era spawned altogether too many longer-lived traditions. Not fine blown glass and leather elbow patched traditions, but absurdly conspicuous ones. We seem to consume to first create then maintain identity. Seventy year olds dress like they are half their age, only their leathery skin giving them away.

I feel very afraid there. My stomach churns and aches for a bathroom not found. I stealthily soldier on, hoping they don’t see me sweating. I used to shop at Nordstrom but they no longer stock my kind of goods. The Muse buys her makeup while I hang uselessly by, sitting in a self-consciousness-inducing side chair where I notice my shoes look dusty and used. I’m clearly not buying anything and the eternally-youthful Musac makes my head clatter inside. I check my mail. I might look like I’m praying to a god I no longer believe in. I feel I must appear some kind of reverent.

I can’t even tell what half of the shops are selling. I peek inside but cannot decide whom they cater to. Shoes of indeterminate gender. Clothes cut for no physique known to man or woman. The Muse considers a white tux-cut casual jacket. My taste twists like a pretzel and I nod sarcastically at the absurdity. I circle safely outside the undies department while The Muse steps inside.

She’d asked me if I was bringing my book along and I cavalierly declined, forgetting in that moment just what always happens with me inside these places. My only hope lies in some form of dissociation, an escape within from the sensory insult without. I simply cannot acknowledge shared humanity in there. I do not see my face in everyone else’s. I feel like the pile of bull crap off-gassing in a fine perfumery, invisible but somehow deadly. I do not even want to relate. But I’d left my book behind and I could do nothing but blindly stumble along beside as we made that long, long promenade.

This was a planned intrusion. The Muse announced that she needed to get to Cherry Creek that afternoon and I had agreed to tag along. I could at least drive. She confirmed that my idea of how to get from here to there matched her’s, which didn’t guarantee either of us were correct, but could prevent disagreement along the way. I anticipated a clog on Sixth and another one along Speer, but other than disappearing lanes, none appeared. The garage was not labeled ‘ramp,’ as they are in Minneapolis and St Paul, demonstrating some distance from the dreaded prairie. A choice of parking spaces appeared and I chose not the one The Muse spotted first, but another.

Entering, I spot a mural that could have been current in 1968 and sense the decay only a few decades on top of a spring leaves behind. The whole building quivers with the garage traffic, shaking with apparent dyskinesia. My inner ear rebels like The Skittish Spinster Cat does when I coerce her into her carrier, dire premonitions prominent. I should have excused myself and returned to the car then, but did not.

Of course they have a “playground” there, one populated with goofy fiberglass cartoon slides and bridges where even the bigger kids act out their family trances while moms and doting grandparents chat over sorbets. I am stranded on the walkway above, looking down like some disbelieving god, unable to understand the dance. I could resolve individuals but not the gist. What are these people doing? Why have they chosen this plastic replica of a park when fine parks dot the city outside? This ‘park’ fauxs camping with a particularly unbelievable form of modified authenticity; no dirt, no smoke, no shoes or food allowed, please. The kids seem hyperactive with boredom. Us spouses need something similar there, too. I find no place to sit down, so I aimlessly stroll, impatiently waiting for The Muse’s return.

She finds me huddling beside a HUGE TV and gently guides me down the stairs as if I were a blind monk. I might as well have been wearing saffron robes and bruised-toe sandals, shaved psyche glinting in the neon backwash. I have transcended this Earthly plane by then and traverse unseen universes, unlikely to return without a thoughtful and caring hand guiding me. She should not have left alone there without even the smallest shred of recognizable reality. I’ve come untethered now and would simply float into the skylight well without someone better-grounded anchoring me.

I miss three traffic merges on the way back west, but remember a slow-road alternative. I am able to anticipate what’s coming after we cross Sheridan and can see the Front Range again. A storm gathers and a light late summer rain turns the the air into ozone and dust. We roll down the windows and steal deep, recuperative lungfuls of rarefied air. I almost choke on its richness. We stop for milk and ice cream and the half dozen other things we suddenly need once we’re inside the store. I know what this place sells. I even almost know now where to go in the store to find what we’ve come for. The Muse insists that we stop to ogle fish. That Sockeye fillet should do.

Once back to our beautifully-appointed Deluxe Executive Towne Home, I find the Rockies game on the AM radio. They’re playing the Nats and Strasburg’s back on the mound after an eternity on the DL. The Rockies will crumble, though Gibraltar will somehow stand untumbled, after a promising first inning and I miss hearing the old home town announcers but settle for the unimaginative new home town ones. In late innings, listening to the losing team’s play by play, I learn that the Rockies’ replacement pitcher’s fastball was “slow to the plate” as the Nats complete their rout.

I feel as though I’ve survived an intrusion deep into alien territory. By morning, I should be back up on my wheels again. I will not return there soon. Next time, I hope to remember why I brought along that book and stay in the car while The Muse makes her rounds. A man can know his limits and still fail to recognize when those limits approach. They slip up on a guy, wearing sneakers, and force a velvet bag over his life. Once inside, escape seems unlikely. Back out again, recovery always takes a long, long while.

©2015 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved









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