Down at the Mall in the Debit Card Age

Post-Christmas brawls have been breaking out at various shopping malls around the country, according to The Washington Post and the social media cell phone videos that sure seem to verify its account, but we’re pleased to report that the Towne East Mall here in Wichita was eerily placid on Tuesday afternoon. At this point in this modern age, we found it strangely comforting.
Some years have passed since the last time we found ourselves at the place, which is way the hell over on the east side and was the first big newfangled shopping mall that started the decline and fall of our nearby and old-fashioned and much-beloved downtown, which we’ve always resented, and it was one of those modern hassles that drew us back into its automatically opening doors.
An Automatic Telling Machine in the parking lot of the ghost mall that was once the fashionable Twin Lakes Mall had swiped our debit card, so we got on the internet and found a number at what used to be the local bank downtown but has long since been bought out and re-bought out by a huge national bank where at least we could gripe about it to someone even after the old-fashioned banking hours, and the nice enough guy who answered the phone was profusely apologetic about it, after a series of questions regarding Social Security numbers and other passwords and a couple of security questions we’d forgotten our flippant answers to, and we were assured that a replacement would arrive in our old-fashioned mail box within five to six business days. Although we expressed our gratitude for the profuse apology, we also pointed out that five to six business days is an awful long time to go without with a debit card in this modern age. Given the difficulty of writing a check these days we envisioned ourselves diving into the local dumpsters for food and other sustenance, which seemed all the more grim after hearing a radio report about some local dumpster-divers who reported a human corpse they’d found in the back of a south side drug store, which the local police have deemed suspicious, but the nice guy on the phone at that late hour told us we could obtain a temporary replacement at any local brick-and-mortar branch during the old-fashioned banking hours. By early the next afternoon we were diligently at the task, but the branch downtown — not in the fancy glass building with the Sandy Calder mobile that the local bank built in the heart of downtown, but in the ugly little just-brick-and-mortar one a few blocks south that the big national bank uses — had run out of the plastic pieces. The nice enough lady at the bullet-proof window we eventually reached was also profusely apologetic, and offered to set an appointment about an hour later at the branch way the hell over on the east side in the Towne East Mall’s parking lot.
So with time to kill and a sociological interest at heart, we killed 40 minutes of a reasonably warm post-Christmas afternoon walking around the mall. We walked through those automatic doors with a Zen-like freedom from any faint to desire to buy something, and we didn’t possess a debit card even if we were somehow tempted, but we thought it was worth a look. The place seemed in good shape, clean and bright and well heated and filled with a variety of clean and bright and well heated businesses, including a few that even we recognize as being at least slightly fashionable. Business appeared brisk, too, as the foot traffic was heavy.
Post-holiday bargains are still on and school is still out, so the moms on a budget and the kids who like to hang out at the mall were in full force. The kids seemed alright, as The Who might have put it, and at least none of them were brawling. Many were wearing t-shirts proclaiming some state championship or another that their schools had won, and almost all of them were wearing sneakers that we noticed in a shop window are far more expensive than the old-fashioned Chuck Taylor Converse All-Stars that we were sporting. We couldn’t help noticing that almost all the girls were either worrisomely skinny or worrisomely fat, and that darn near every last one of them had jeans or black pants of some sort of fabric that tightly fit to their worrisomely skinny or worrisomely fat legs, and that most of them and their young male companions looked pretty dorky to our jaded eyes. A few of the bargain-hunting moms seemed to hit that sweet spot somewhere between fat and skinny, and let an appropriate but intriguing amount of fabric come between it and the passersby at the mall, and with all due apologies to modern sensibilities that’s just the kind of thing even our jaded eyes can’t help noticing when walking around to kill 40 minutes or so at the mall.
As always we took great care not to give any offense to any passersby, and everyone seemed to respond in kind. Business was clearly brisk, and at this point we’ll leave it to the partisans to decide if President Barack Obama or president-elect Donald Trump deserves credit for it, although we’ll note that those nice enough people behind the counters and in small stacks of goods in the middle of the hallway at the mall surely deserve some recognition. They conversed with one another in a conspicuously wide array of languages, and their skin tones ran the same dark-to-pale gamut as the customers, and there were a couple hijab-clad women and even a burqa-wearing woman pushing strollers up the escalators, and everybody seemed to be doing commerce and social intercourse about as well as can be expected by global and historical standards. It wasn’t like downtown back in the old days, but we suppose it could be far worse.
After waiting another interminable 15 minutes or so in the ugly little bank branch in the parking lot, behind a young Latina woman who was trying to open a joint checking account with her mother, who needed translation for all the difficulties involved, along with some more questions about Social Security number and addresses and security questions and all that, we did get that temporary debit card. We activated it in the ATM that you have to walk through a couple of doors to reach, and it purchased us some Kung Pao Chicken from the drive-thru at the Eggroll King over on the nearby westside and a six-pack of Coors from the Delano Liquor Store across the street, and for now our dumpster-diving days seem forestalled. We sure do hope that the police can figure out what happened to that dead body in the dumpster behind that drug store, though, and that the rest of us can continue to more or less get along.

— Bud Norman

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