loud sun. old pavement.
in the parking lot alone. smoking.
Amityville Horror at the cheap theater. I am broke.
I have no job. stuck in an endless summer night, time lost rural diner sunsets.
this dying mall. a theater and a skate park.
everything closed. quiet collapse.
2005. the first enclosed mall in the U.S., five decades of celebration and here we are.
Valley Fair. Appleton, WI.
I imagine the optimism. the hope of its birth.
a hope that defined the physical space of consumer culture for half a century.
silent sky-cut sweat and I remember California.
I remember Brea Mall. two floors. glass elevators. wide and open. high ceilings.
the greatest cathedral I know. a space of lanes and sublime and light.
all water and glistening tile.
at peace there. wandering the expanse.
pulled back by a bobbing weed. I shake the dream off. a warm wind.
I walk to the ruin.
2006. I am in Poland. Gdansk.
I stay with my girlfriend in her mother’s house.
cold and ethereal. dense space.
walk through downtown. clean air. soft light.
its pulse slow and heavy. buildings tall enough to shout, but never roar.
I float through its dreams of history. a sequence of wide cobble roads, small cafes.
night clubs hidden in the corners.
we exit its ancient gates.
we ride a trolley to a different part.
I watch two drunks argue.
we get off. walk a bit. down stairs.
a crowded underground mall. small tent shops and store fronts.
a gentle swirling blend of noise, clothes, food, echoes off the concrete.
no heat. the cold penetrates my touch of this place.
is this what Kowloon was like? a hard intimacy of transaction?
nothing to revel at or in here. only a rushed mass to be a part of.
to be nimble with. to become engaged to.
monotone low ceilings. bad lighting. coffee steam.
I float in murmuring tongues I cannot understand.
this is anti-American. there is instinct to this.
imperfect. improvised. humanist.
we are all beautiful insects. all eager.
all of us fragile.
all of us sharp.
we walk out.
we ride to the Baltic Sea.
I walk onto the shore. a suffocating grey hangs.
I listen to the water. I walk to the end of the very long pier.
no one is around. my breath is slow.
I watch the fog bend and float. I imagine the endlessness behind it.
this is one ligament of the world. cloaked and infinite.
my heart slams against my ribs.
I open in awe.
how is this real? how is this not a dream?
my body rejects it. I can’t breathe.
I turn back.
we break up that summer.
text messages in an empty hotel.
bombs off in the distance. I look up at the high ceiling.
I imagine all the glass breaking.
and I wonder how much of it my eyes can swallow.
six years later. I lay in the sun.
I smell the Mediterranean. I stare into the face of Buddha.
a giant stone monument in the middle of the pool.
the water weaves between crafted rock formations. hidden grottoes.
waterfalls. some modern Arab translation of nirvana.
a muscled lifeguard spends hours hitting on a girl.
black helicopters fly above the shore.
the pope is here. touring Lebanon for peace.
I am full of anxiety. I am uncertain.
I want to evaporate. to become the cold face of some false prophet.
to wilt content in the polluted water of an over-engineered pool.
I walk through it all. I stand in one of the alleys.
I look at the sky framed.
I am not impressed by its gleaming oblivion.
I am not lucky.
1999. choke diesel in the heart of Beirut.
a giant banner for The Matrix whips near the entry to Concorde Square.
stairs from the street down to an open air food court. concrete decayed.
behind it is the cinema. scuffed white floors. stained glass entrance.
I enjoy its shape.
a giant square depressed in the middle of the city as if a Reboot Game Cube tumbled down from the sky.
there are stores here. none important enough to remember.
I stare up at The Matrix. I don’t know.
this looks like the end.
the end of the 90s.
it’s all so serious now. engorged on grit.
the pretext for the post-9/11 world.
the end of joy. the end of secrecy.
the end of blue skies.
December 2014. I am on a plane.
Vegas. headphones on.
I look out the window. the sun piling up the night.
cool and dark and raw blood orange.
Macintosh Plus oozes into my ears.
it all makes too much sense. my spine shivers.
I press my head against the seat in front of me. look at the floor.
there’s something here. Vaporwave has resonance.
there was a decadent optimism to the 90s.
joy and greed. world peace and capitalism.
A Computer in Every Home. pastoral interface.
family and Furby.
the peak of mall culture.
an era of warning shots that go unanswered.
LA riots. Gulf war. Kosovo. Al-Qaeda bombings. Soviet Union collapse. the first Palestinian Intifada. Columbine.
prologues of the end of the American Century.
90s consumerism was never pure.
Vaporwave explores its facade and its reality.
through Nokia ringtones. Windows 95 chimes. department store jazz. proto-synth voices. slow, synthetic beats.
through its gaudy, bulk aesthetic. everything big. everything sparkling. everything thick. everything amplified.
everything a clean, loud edge cutting through the dirt.
1987. The Beautiful You: Celebrating The Good Life Shopping Mall Tour ’87 begins in New Jersey.
Tiffany added at the last second.
a mall tour organized by the Shopping Center Network. sponsored by Clairol and Toyota.
‘I Think We’re Alone Now’ hits #1 on Billboard.
a cover rediscovered. the perfect pop song.
about intimacy and isolation. youth. desire. ideal.
its pinnacle success dependent on the inherent hope of the consumer space.
a song fueled by brands turning malls into spectacle.
there is an illusion of limitless joy to it.
an implication The Good Life cannot end.
that the American Way is righteous celebration.
that our malls are as much a part of entertainment as television or Hollywood.
they magnify our communal happiness the same way they illuminate sound.
they shine like Brea shines.
like California tide pools glimmering in the grey morning.
full of small, dense life.
ignoring fear the water will dry up some day.
apartments and black liquid streaks down the front.
Chinatown. looking up.
I think of Chungking Express. of Wong Kar-wai’s visions of Hong Kong.
I look down. another depressed space. something like Concorde.
old men playing board games.
I walk inside the building.
an Asian mall. somewhere between Gdansk and Brea.
small shops. kiosks.
imported clothes. dried fish. expired food.
a multi-story operation. low ceilings. tight halls.
I look over the edge of the second floor: a giant television on an empty stage.
no one around. a wide space that extends to the ceiling.
an implication of verticality.
I walk by glass elevators.
a jewelry store going out of business offers tax advice.
a schizophrenic market.
the intersection of the exotic and the practical.
of the American mall’s penchant for minimalist awe and a world that can no longer tolerate it.
I overpay for imported Japanese candies.
the shopkeeper irritated I pay in USD.
I walk out. I look over the edge.
I watch the janitor watch the old men play their games.
I look up at the sun.
I think of the end of Fallen Angels.
my wife takes my hand.
we push deeper into the hot city.
the road home isn’t very long…
and I know I’ll be getting off soon…
I am alone on a Friday. 2015.
I attach a Kinect to my 360 for the first time.
I wait for Child of Eden to load. the cursor pops up.
I move my hand around. the cursor moves.
I spend minutes in the menu realizing control.
this isn’t the first time I’ve played this.
but it feels like the first time.
I select the opening level.
I let it drag me through neon tunnels.
one lane into and through an interpretation of a higher will.
my body is an awkward machine rolling through space.
my hands have significance. they are warm.
the music is light dredging the soul.
I feel detached and intimate.
significant and small.
I feel a raw kind love.
I sit down. I am soft again.
haven’t felt like this in a long time. I want to cry.
or run outside and beg the universe to understand that I understand.
but it knows I don’t.
none of us do. this is not our era.
not our time.
the world is dark now.
the mask of multiculturalism, of cooperation, of false equity could only be sustained by pure belief in the optimism of the late 80s/90s and the bright, solid, dynamic worlds it polished.
Star Fox and its neo-pastoral galaxy.
malls as spectacle.
Sonic and its joy of speed and space.
Tiffany and the perfect pop song.
manufactured experience of success and holiness.
this mask was too heavy. too slow.
it cost too much to maintain.
and when it crashed into the earth, the dust was suffocating.
and here we are: staring down the self-deprecating subconscious of a cackling truth…
Sonic gets pregnant. malls die. Tiffany a D-list actress.
guns are the new worlds’ embrace.
and Star Fox revels in mockery of the era of its birth.
Welcome to New Lux Plaza.
the forum shops at Caesar’s Palace.
domed, painted ceiling sky. lights shift with time of day.
fountains. luxury. wide, organic walkways. bustling cafes.
towering Roman replicas of Italian decadence.
surrounded by desert.
ahead of its time.
a separation of consumerism from a higher morality.
a space of empty theater akin to the future of airport security.
a real-world walking simulator of The Good Life.
The Beautiful You translated into everything You want.
the year of Doom and Myst.
of Sim City 2000 and Star Fox.
Sonic CD and Cool Spot.
of the World Trade Center bombing.
a vast coming to terms of the structure of our worlds.
of the intersection between space. simulation. technology. money.
a time that will only be understood through nostalgia and a memification of its symbols: ads. music. style.
its crumbled peak and frayed, blunt edge mined for content.
and now 2016 and VR is here. and Amazon is here. and the App Store. and Steam. Ebay. Origin. Oculus.
amoral liquid purgatory.
detached and pure.
2018. find me by the virtual Dippin’ Dots cart.
bring that algorithm you’re sleeping with.
we will wash our feet in the fountains.
we will be clean for the new glass sun.
you can find me abandoned in the bookstore, crumbling into carpet.
or steeping in white tile beneath the palm trees.
slick and branded.
tranquil glistening chrome.
dead. silent and smiling into the screen.