Once, ages ago...
There was a time when malls mattered, believe it or not. A time before ecommerce and Amazon's manifest destiny over retail. It was a time of actual music and movie stores where you could buy CDs and DVDs. Suncoast Video, Sam Goody, The Wherehouse. And not Blu-rays, not 4k UHD, just regular DVDs -- the ones with the cardboard case and flimsy plastic lock that held it together.
It was a time of lawlessness. We ran around free, no one controlled us. Alexa didn't listen to every conversation, no one cared about kidnappers, and the color of the walls of West Valley Mall in Tracy, CA consistently gave me diarrhea.
I was still a pre-pubescent boy at the time. The mid-90s. Weird sweaters and scruffy hair, between the eras of Nirvana and TLC. And before I ever saw Mallrats, I was one myself. A precocious, little mallrat (or mouse, honestly.)
My first time.
There was a carousel in the food court at West Valley Mall. It felt grand, as if we didn't have to travel to the Mall of America to experience the greatest thrills shopping had to offer. No, this was the height of entertainment -- a carousel surrounded by greasy, deep-fried, obesity-fueling foods. It was all the fun of a carnival without the specter of sketchy carnival employees my parents never seemed concerned about.
Like the mallmouse I was, I never seemed to remember one key thing about this place.
The moment I entered that mall, some combination of the color of the walls and the smell of food (as well as any combination of other invisible things) made my stomach rumble and before I knew it... I was about to shit my pants. Every visit, without fail.
The first time it happened, I said nothing. I just tugged at my mom's pant leg and said I had to go to the bathroom. But the damage was done.
I pooped my pants.
Luckily, I was just a kid.
No one chastised me. No one even seemed to care. It wasn't very messy, I finished my business on the toilet, rid my underwear of the nugget, and went about our day.
Then, it happened again. My stomach turned, I tugged at my mom's pants, and this time, we made it on time. This almost never happened. Why now?
Nothing about the day was out of the ordinary. We just wanted to visit a different mall, mostly because they had a better Sam Goody than Vintage Faire in Modesto. And, of course, that carousel.
Maybe it was a sign.
As of 2020, there are only 2 Sam Goodys left on earth.
The carousel was removed sometime after 2010.
More than a few of my childhood malls have closed in the last decade.
I believe my prescient pants-shitting was a sign of things to come. A warning from the depths of intestines that "this won't last forever. Get out now."
For years, despite an immediate trip to the restroom every time we entered, we visited this mall. I bought my first Slipknot CD here. A lot of Korn. I even bought Stanley Kubrick DVDs before I was old enough to understand his movies (or, in the case of A Clockwork Orange, old enough to watch it at all.) I remember, I bought Jackass Vol. 1 there after falling in love with the show late nights on MTV.
There was a joy to the mall. You could go anywhere, buy anything. Ride a ride, eat some bad food, who cares? My mom would let me roam for hours because she knew she would just find me with a CD and/or a DVD in my hand, waiting for her credit card to bring this trip home. There was a predictability and a comfort in the freedom of choice the mall afforded.
"All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain."
I still think it was the walls.
Unlike other malls in our area, this mall was painted stark white and had the color motif of a dixie cup or Lacroix. It was 90s to the core.
Every time I laid my eyes upon the walls, that's when it began. Yet, we returned again and again. Maybe it was the danger, maybe I wanted to live like we were going to die the next day. I was a renegade, living on the edge (of a toilet.)
Yet, I'd do it all again just to have my favorite mall and my favorite carousel and my favorite music store back.
Maybe I just long for a simpler time when that was my biggest worry and not, "Can I help raise my son to be a good person? Am I a good person? What is a person anyway?"
Existential peril > Bowel peril.
Being an adult is a frightening thing, full of responsibility and complication. Clear decisions do not exist anymore. So much of what made things so simple do not exist anymore.
Yet, West Valley Mall is still open. Though it changed, it somehow (mostly) weathered the storm of the great mall closures of the 2010s.
Maybe I'll visit again one day, engulfed in melancholy and nostalgia, adult diapers at the ready. Maybe I'll discover the truth behind the mall that made me shit my pants.
About the Creator
Author, music snob, husband, parent, amateur neck cracker. A quintuple threat, if you will. This is a space for personal essays, life stories (and lessons learned), as well as unfinished/belongs-nowhere-else fiction. Enjoy!