The San Fernando Valley
There is a small man waddling in the middle of the road and I am silently stalking him in my stealthy Prius. This man has not wronged me in any way, but I do not like his paw-like hands. I am wary of him. I have idled for some time now with my foot on the break, and I believe he is leading me astray. This is a vast and menacing parking lot though, one I do not wish to be in for even a minute longer, and this man just may hold the key to the car parked in my spot. He needs to hurry. His leisurely pace is completely unjustifiable. Only several minutes remain until I’m socially obliged to give up entirely and drive home, defeated. I cannot let that happen. But the rat bastard beeps open the trunk of his Mercedes, tosses a bag in, and turns the other way back towards the mall. Unforgiveable. Not even a nod of empathy from the crook. A Porsche piloted by a collagen-lipped troll honks at me; I recover from my disappointment, and drive onwards.
I have come to buy a pair of pants, I think. Its twelve hours past Black Friday, and holiday junkies are writhing all around me beneath powerful white tube lights. An anonymous singer hiding in the speaker system is wishing me the merriest Christmas possible, as are two enormous Christmas trees and three thousand Christmas wreaths. A lady in a black tracksuit rams her stroller into my hips and sneers at me. A family of aardvarks walks by smearing Cinnabon rolls into their large nostrils. A space alien in an unconvincing human suit nervously paces around inhaling a cup of Starbucks whipped cream, and a sign above calmly tells me that if I don’t own a very specific television model this holiday season I am a slovenly piece of shit.
The wisps of seasonal fragrances do little to calm me down. I have a specific store in mind, and I’m glad I’m going alone. Asia acclimatized me to a world of profoundly cheap prices, and the idea of spending astronomical sums on a pair of jeans has me feeling guilty and anxious. So I arrive at this specific store, which is called something to the effect of “city clothiers” or “municipal tailors” or “civic suppliers,” in a weird and vulnerable state.
Everyone at the entrance looks extremely cool. They’ve got avant-garde haircuts and dream catchers on their ears and they’ve got on Bolivian necklaces with thrifted jean vests and Parisian v-necks and Navajo printed belts with African leggings and Alaskan boots with exposed socks knitted by the Inuit tribe and I bet their purses are even from Japan. The diameter of their denim is flawless and their Ray-Bans match their fitted beanies, which hold their perfectly disheveled bangs in place. They’ve got those ponchos from Mexico while rocking that hint of American greaser fused with some Papua New Guinean flare. There’s no Christmas kitsch inside either, no, inside the play list is Gambian acoustic.
Inside this store, called “metropolitan attire” I think, there are red brick walls and unvarnished wood shelves. Its so relaxed and unadorned, nothing like those tacky facades smothering the rest of the mall. By the time I make it to the jeans section I’ve passed a hundred world cultures aggregated into just a few hip garments. They are undeniably cool. Impossibly cool. This store, “urban outfitters,” ah yes that’s it, has figured it out. They’ve commoditized cool. They’ve figured “it” out, and they’ve scalped “it,” giving it a nice vintage retro trim, and in doing so have managed to aestheticize worldliness. And then sell it. They are purveyors of more than globetrotter chic – they’re merchandising culture itself – and so with just a credit card you too can assimilate the stylings of the globe into your impeccably unique wardrobe without even having to leave the confines of the San Fernando Valley. How cool is that? Not as cool as that tribal dashiki paired with those pre-ravaged commuter jeans in beige. Its confusing and infuriating and a girl at the exit with some sort of witch doctor septum piercing hardly looks up from Instagram to ask you if you’ve found everything alright. No, actually, I was wondering if you could point me to the Oceania section so I can save myself a trip to the Solomon Islands.
Outside the mall is white and sterile and the whiffs of licorice and lavender are infused with industrial detergents and recycled air. I’ve been inside there before, but this time I feel duped. I fell for their ploy, that oasis of listless cool in a desert of tacky mall-swag. Its not real, of course not, its just another cubicle tucked away in its respective crevasse, a brand, a material idea, a monetized trend posing as something else. I feel ashamed for responding so positively and so thoughtlessly to the bait of some marketing gurus who’ve branded the demographic that I apparently fall under.
In the past 15 months I’ve been robbed in Mumbai and food poisoned in Rajasthan. I spit on a man on a train South of Udaipur and vomited more than once in Bangkok. I’ve seen lepers laying on street corners and dead dogs left to rot, I’ve seen butchered goat hides fester under equatorial suns and I’ve seen lone naked children crawl beside bustling intersections. I wiped my butt with my hand for a few months straight. I’ve woken up with cockroaches on my feet and I’ve come within inches of stepping barefoot on a cobra in Myanmar. I’ve been chased by police in Vietnam and I’ve been force fed rotten shrimp guts in Malaysian banquet halls. For too long I showered with a broken bucket and for little apparent reason I kicked a hole through a hostel’s drywall. I’ve been stung by jellyfish and bit by sand fleas and sliced both feet open on volcanic rock. I’ve cried more than once in Kuala Lumpur and I’ve smashed more bottles out of rage and boredom than I can count. I’ve seen my friends get their faces kicked in and I’ve been thrown off a stoop in Kathmandu. I’ve been the victim of primitive pepper spray and I’ve lost all my money in Singapore. I’ve gotten heat stroke in Laos and diarrhea throughout Borneo. And now, after everything, I am still ravaged by anxiety in my very own backyard.
Upstairs I’m watching a demonstration for a new line of kitchen appliances: See, its blades oscillate at four times the rate of your standard blending apparatus. Those bad boys can chop through anything. Ice. Carrots. Bone. No problem. Its rust resistant, too, so you don’t have to spend any more sleepless nights worrying about all those citrus smoothies corroding the bottom. Yep. Its stainless steel you see, last ya’ uh-thousand years without a scratch, heck, even the glass is break proof, that’s how you know this deal is platinum. It’d probably take over uh-hundred years for this bad boy to break down on yah. A hundred years – no warranty needed. And the plastic fittings? Those’ll last twice as long, more, three hundred years of use, easy. Of course, the nylon apron I’ve got on, that’s only got, hmm, thirty years left on the clock. But the plastic bag I’ll sell you it in, well, assuming it don’t get burnt up its looking at a solid thousand year lifespan, probably most of it in an ocean somewhere. Of course, this mall will be gone by then, probably only has seventy, eighty years left till a big quake splits this place right in two. And at that rate, California, well, figure its got a million or two years till it slides right off the shelf and into that Pacific. Course who knows if there’ll still be humans running around buying groceries and blending up smoothies by then, could all be on Mars by that point. Either way give ‘em three and a half, four billion years till the sun gives out and takes all the planets down with it. Won’t take too long after that for a couple’uh black holes to shred this whole galaxy to bits, much like this blender, and soon there’ll hardly be anywhere left at all. Thirteen trillion years give or take, and even those holes will blend each other up till there is no universe at all.