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Category: Culture

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.
Shoot the Moon
Multimillionaire Richard Branson finally did it. He built a quasi-rocket ship, got on board, and rode it into outer space.

Well, sort of outer space. It was more like the edge of outer space, really. Far enough up there (40 miles, he said) to experience zero-G and float around for a few minutes before returning safely to Earth.

It was a so-so achievement, but at least he has bragging rights in the rich-guys-in-space race. Jeff Bezos has bragging rights as the richest guy in space, but he could only manage second place behind Branson. Bezos did go a bit higher at 55 miles, and he used a real rocket ship (not a tricked-out airplane) to make his trip, but he did not get the winner’s trophy.

Neither rich guy orbited the Earth — much less travelled to the Moon — so we’re not going to call them astronauts. Alan Shepard, the first American “in space”, bar-r-rely earned that title when he went up 116 miles. Still, you have to hand it to them for putting their butts on the line for their commercial venture. They could have died.

But they didn’t. And so they have a right to stick their chests out and grab some headlines. Their success, however, leaves a large question now begging to be answered: what about the other super-rich spaceman? Where is the irrepressible Elon Musk in this battle of egos? When is he going to show the same kind of confidence and daring for his product?

I don’t want to get into testosterone-shaming, but I think it’s time for Elon to show us what he’s got. Not just the big rocket ship, but the cajones to get in it and blast off. Either that, or his epitaph will be “Third Place”. Or worse, “Participant.”

Furthermore, he will need to up the ante if he wants a win in this rocket-measuring contest. That means going in orbit, at least. And not by hiring some poor schmuck to do it. If Elon really wants to win this thing once and for all, he’s got to go himself.

Musk on the Moon or bust!
All things considered, I think our relationship is pretty healthy. We seem to work pretty well together, at least, and we have learned to accept each other’s shortcomings.

I can only speak for myself, of course, but I don’t sense any serious doubts or resentments between us. There is never the slightest hint of blaming if I refuse to honor her ideas. And if I become a little cross if her advice proves faulty, I know she won’t harbor any ill will.

Apologies are not necessary from either one of us. I can’t honestly say that ours is a relationship built on trust, but there is a mutual assumption that we are both trying our best to reach a common goal.

We are different in many ways, but those differences are what makes our collaboration work. I’m a big picture guy, she’s a number cruncher. I’m goal-oriented, she’s all about the journey. And, perhaps most important, I am a man of mature years, and she is a relatively young automobile navigational device.

Don’t laugh; I don’t know where I’d be without her…but she does.
They Stopped Making Those
Back in the 80s (that’s the 1980s), I bought a pair of pants out of the L.L. Bean catalog. They fit perfectly.

Let me repeat that: the pants fit perfectly! I had never had a pair of pants that fit perfectly, not from a catalog, not from a department store, not from a tailor. I don’t think that is an unusual experience for any of us. I believe, in fact, that many people live their entire lives and never find such a garment. That is because no two people on earth have quite the same hip/butt/thigh/waist/crotch configuration. It’s like fingerprints, except that the HBTWC index, as it is called, is much harder to ascertain.

As soon as I realized what I had found, I called L.L. Bean to order another pair, possibly more. “I’m sorry sir. Our supplier stopped making them. Would you be interested in our stretch chinos? I hear they fit like a glove.” No, I said, and hung up. Why would I want pants that fit like a glove? Any more than I’d want gloves that fit like a pair of pants?

If you are wondering how something so ordinary as a piece of clothing could roil the normally placid waters of my peace of mind, let me tell you about these trousers. Right out of the padded envelope, when I put them on, they stayed right there. No binding, no bagginess, no sensation that I was wearing them at all. They came in an earthy sage green with just a hint of blue in the stitching. Very nice. Free-thinking and a little rough, but with a clean-cut feel that matched the self-image I try to project to the world. They didn’t even need a belt — unless it added to the free, clean-cut, rough elan I was already styling.

I could go on, but I sense that I am losing you. I will only say that I wore those pants until they disintegrated. I will always treasure our time together, but that last day was numbingly sad. Kind of like meeting your soulmate, then having her die that same day in a gruesome haybaling accident. That’s never actually happened to me, but I can’t help feeling that the sense of tragic loss would be similar. Yes, it was a sad day, but also an omen of a dark awakening in me. The Law of Supply and Demand, I began to suspect, might be an unjust law.

A few years after the L.L. Bean incident, a show debuted on American TV that seemed to have everything. Max Headroom was funny and edgy and hip and British. Instantly, it became my favorite television show. I was sure that it would not only become a smash hit, but change television programming forever. It died quietly after 14 episodes.

I wanted more, but that did not seem to matter. Americans just didn’t get the joke, or something, so the creators just stopped making them. Stopped making them! How could that be?

This same injustice has been visited on me a number of times since then. In the 90s, I found an athletic/outdoor shoe that was perfect as well. Perfect shoes, as any Zappo’s aficionado can tell you, are almost as hard to find as perfect pants. And yet, there they were on my feet! This time, I was able to order two more pairs from Chaco (even though they were only available in a ghastly color). Once the last pair fell apart, I could not get another. No matter that I really, really wanted those shoes.

And my favorite beer (Ruthless Rye from Sierra Nevada)? No longer available in my area. A small, practical pick-up truck that was cheap to operate? Sorry, they were just too popular. And so on. I have concluded that the so-called Law of Supply and Demand, and capitalism itself, are nothing but a scam.

As proof, I offer these devastating struggles with the “free market.” They are the evidence that our demands, no matter how keenly felt, will not be answered by a correspondingly adamant supply. Oh, once in a while you may get what you want, but it will be cruelly snatched away from you. Truth is, the market just doesn’t care.

I guess I could demand a better system, but that would almost certainly be futile.
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Yes, voting matters. Polls do not.
~ H, Santa Cruz