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The Gift
You bet
For everything
Yes, even really
Crappy parts
At least
I’m here
To complain
Open and Shuttered
There was a time when the grand hallways and escalators of the Lloyd Center teemed with shoppers. Families crowded into the Food Court, devouring platefuls of mediocre fare. They packed the ice rink. They had meet-ups and hang-outs and bump-intos under the wide, soaring rooftops of this indoor mall.

But most of all, they shopped. They flocked here from all over Portland, surging in and out of thriving retail venues, purchasing many millions of dollars worth of the goods and services offered within this wondrous temple of American consumerism. It was, literally and figuratively, a towering success — a success matched by other giant malls all across the country at the end of the last century.

But that was then. The economy and the culture have since shifted under the foundations of these complexes. Amazon and other online sources, seizing on their tax advantages and the freedom to set up shop anywhere, as long as a freeway was close by, made retailing ultra-convenient. Who wouldn’t want to order a computer, say — of the exact model and specification desired — and have it delivered the very next day? Bye-bye, brick and mortar.

And then came the pandemic. After that blow, it has been either adapt or die. A few of the big ones, like the Mall of America in Minnesota and the American Dream in New Jersey, are still going, but a midsized operation like the Lloyd Center struggled to handle the changes in the world outside. And now it is a zombie mall, still open but decaying from the inside.

The flagship stores have sailed, and all the mall rats have moved on. The Food Court on the third level has gone dark, and the vaulted spaces above it that once seem to speak of the limitless power of in-person commerce are now filled with gray emptiness. A few uncertain shoppers poke their heads into the outlets whose leases have not yet run out, but even though we are only weeks away from Christmas, there is none of the usual holiday hustle and bustle.

Out on the ice rink, a man teaching his daughter to skate has all the space they could need. The teenage elves employed by the mall still gamely smile and pirouette, but their gestures are empty. There can be no holiday joy without the symbol that most represents the season of giving. No, not the baby Jesus…Santa! His altar of Christmas wishes, the beating heart of any healthy mall, is conspicuously absent.

The mall Santa is a sad enough spectacle under the best of circumstances. If he is not there at all, why even bother? Take down the giant bows and tinseled spruce and fir. Give the elves their severance pay, and send them home. Shoo out the hapless merchants and whatever shoppers remain. Christmas is cancelled. The mall is dead.
Dear Departed
Dark matter
I read last week
Does not exist

Seven eighths
Of the universe
Is just not there
They now insist

It was invisible
Could not be touched
(Or much less kissed)

But even though
We never met
It will be
Sadly missed
It's a Sign
There was an odd scene down at the local Costco this week. At the entrance to one of the aisles, a young woman (apparently a store employee) stood holding a sign that read “No Toilet Paper.” I can’t help but think that the sign — and the whole tableau — were also a sign of the times. A sign of what, exactly, I am still not sure.

The very fact that the woman was there to begin with is absurd. A stick with a sign stapled to it would have served adequately. I suppose that Costco customers might want to ask her questions, but I can’t imagine that her answers could have been very helpful. “Yes, we have toilet paper on order,” “No, I’m not sure when we will be getting more,” and especially “Yes, we have no toilet paper” wouldn’t really add much to the basic message on the sign.

Perhaps she could be persuaded to offer an opinion of her own as to why a human was needed to hold a No Toilet Paper sign when a stick and a staple would have worked just fine. She might suggest, for instance, that the specter of supply chain breakdown figured into it in some way. Or the pandemic, or labor shortages.

But if the problem is a shortage of workers, then why is this young woman’s valuable time being wasted on an unnecessary task? She is not needed here. She should be on a loading dock somewhere, wrestling 24-roll bundles of Charmin onto waiting big rigs. Or driving the big rig herself, rushing the 4-ply bathroom tissue to Costco’s desperately waiting members. But no. She stood mute as the tissue-less swirl all around her. Even if she wanted to help, there was nothing she can do but hold her sign and perhaps appear sympathetic.

I have begun to wonder if we will all be in her shoes someday soon. Not because of supply chain issues or plagues but because modern civilization itself will render us useless.

How? By assigning our jobs to automation. Much is made of the pandemic revealing the fact that workers are dissatisfied with the kind of work they do and how little they get paid for it. Well, they aren’t they only ones who’ve noticed. The Invisible Hand of the marketplace has also been watching. Why bother with a bunch of grumpy, demanding human workers, the Hand is no doubt thinking, when computers and robots can do it all? Even the most demanding professions — law, medicine, architecture, the arts — will be reduced to 1’s and 0’s soon enough. And then what?

Our lot, it seems, will be to hold up signs that are meant to be read by other useless humans. Or to answer their pointless questions. We would still be ridiculously expensive when compared to a stick and a staple, but we would be providing that all-important human touch. Even more importantly, we would be getting paid something for this service, and we would be spent that money keeping the Invisible Hand of the marketplace alive and well. Until it finds some other way to keep itself going, that is. Ina world with or without toilet paper.

In the meantime, friend, hold tight to that sign. Twirl it if you like, dance with it, wear goofy costumes, act like a fool. Or simply display it with a quiet dignity. The Hand respects your freedom.
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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon