Monday, July 5, 2021

The #Midwessay: Julia Kamysz Lane, Mall Baby


Mall Baby

Julia Kamysz Lane


In the right light, the black asphalt parking lot is a shimmering wide moat surrounding the island that is Woodfield Mall, once the largest shopping mall in the world but now just another suburban oasis outside Chicago. You and your fellow shoppers circle slowly around the lot like turtles, pretending to be patient for a spot closest to the door. After 10 long minutes, you settle for the end of an aisle. As you hare-hop your way to the entrance, you dart across yellow painted lines while dodging massive SUVs wielded like steel steeds by impatient, suburban drivers.
     Gleaming, wide automatic doors swallow you inside this large box. Its innards are more boxes, full of clothing, jewelry, shoes, purses, toys, games, knick knacks – anything you could possibly want and nothing you need.
     You hear the teenage girls giggling before you see their young, bright faces pancaked and painted with make-up that makes them look like amateur adults. Suburban moms find things and stuff on sale, delighted with their purchases until they are stuffed in closets and drawers; all will be tossed out in 40 years by their heirs when the moms must move to nursing homes or graves. 
     It is loud. The voices fill the air above you, rising to the high, cold ceilings. You see small, stained children running ahead of parents yelling at them not to run or scream or snack 24/7, which is what the adults all want to do and they are jealous. 
     Listen in to the smallest talk. Which new stores opened? Have you eaten at the jungle-themed restaurant with the alligator snapping at coins in the wish fountain and mechanical monkeys swinging overhead on a vine while you eat overpriced American burgers and fries? Do you laugh at all the people who fall down at the huge indoor ice skating rink? Have you seen the latest romantic comedy or action flick in the mammoth movie theater that requires walking down multiple halls to find your destination, like O’Hare Airport (why is it always the furthest one away?).
     The social shoppers are the happiest, the ones who travel in schools from store to store. Are they smart? Yes, if it comes to bargain hunting, but their impulse buys of the latest trends cross out any cleverness and mark them as human after all. 
     If they're young, they move on instinct. They genuflect at celebrity 'zine covers and practice pouty lips.
     The few lone shoppers are the sharks. The twentysomething man shadowing the school of preteens, picking out the weakest one. She has a little bit of baby fat trimming the waist band of her too tight jeans. There is a little blood drying where she got her ears pierced just now, edging her new birthstone earrings. Tourmaline is beautiful, like her baby blues.
     She is trying the hardest of all of them to belong, to be noticed.  
     He smells the blood. Here he comes.

About this piece: Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg, Illinois, was central to my growing up from the time it was built in 1971. (I was born in 1972.) It was THE place to go in the 1970s and '80s. My family often shopped and ate there, and I took ice skating lessons at the indoor rink for a number of years. Even though I hated shopping, I was consumed by people watching. 

Julia Kamysz Lane has run away from the Chicago suburbs for decades but something always brings her back. She is working on a memoir about mental illness and motherhood, bookended by the natural and manmade disasters of Hurricane Katrina and COVID. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Poets & Writers, and The Bark, and she reviewed books for Publishers Weekly. She can be reached at juliaklane36 @ gmail . com .    

The essay, as we all know, is an attempt. It’s a way of telling about, relating to, examining, delineating, and explaining things: big things and small; elephants and moths; individual human lives and families; a neighborhood, a whole city; a state or a whole damn, glacially-ironed region.   

The Illinois essay, and the essayists who call Illinois home, are concerned and consumed by delineations, with explaining themselves and the state(s) they now find themselves in: Northshore vs. South Side; Chicago vs. the ‘burbs; Chicagoland vs. Downstate; corn and soybean futures vs. the actual plants themselves; mile-long parcels of flatness vs. many-storeyed city blocks; staying vs. leaving.

The Illinois essays that follow are indebted to many that came before (Chief Blackhawk, Eliza Farnham, Honest Abe, Upton Sinclair, Carl Sandburg, Richard Wright, Gwendolyn Brooks, Studs Terkel, Mike Royko, John Hughes, and David Foster Wallace, to name a few) but are trying real hard not to live in the past. 

The essays that follow are curious about how many minutes it took you to get here. They are here to warn you that if a white boy in a Patagonia fleece tells you he’s from Chicago that he’s actually from Oak Brook or Highland Park. —David Griffith, Illinois #Midwessay Coordinator


What is the #Midwessay? What is the Midwest? What are the characteristics, if any, of the #Midwessay (the Midwest essay)? What gathers us together? What pulls us apart? Springing from a twitter conversation, we started asking writers and readers what they imagine (or would like to reimagine) as the Midwest and the Midwessay. The #Midwessay is a series of reports from the Midwest (whatever that is) by and/or about Midwestern essay and essayists (whatever those are). Essay Daily will be publishing these, sorted (loosely) by state, in February 2021 and beyond.  These #Midwessays will be collected here and on a separate site at a later date. If you'd like to submit a report / essay, send it our way. Details and coordinators for each state are listed here. You can also ping Ander (link at the upper right) if we don't list a coordinator yet for your state. —The Editors

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