Not everything is awful about Los Angeles, I’m not saying that. I don’t want to say that. It’s just that every joy there has a dark side, the kind of deep shadows that can only be cast in the blare of endless spotlight. Christmastime at the Grove Mall is gorgeous in a surreal way, for example, the air filled with swirling fake snow flurries twice a night for the month between Thanksgiving and New Years’ Day. The shadow, in turn, is the price one pays for miraculous displays. Not just the high costs of purchases and parking but also all the bizarre local history torn up to construct the thing. A hell of a show today for the bargain-basement cost of all tomorrows and all yesterdays as well. A Faustian bargain where you know the score and yet you’re still tempted by it anyway.
Frank and Mitzi didn’t go there to shop, though. None of the trendy mannequin draping on offer would flatter her and, other than the occasional book, there was nothing other than food there to interest the sasquatch. But for people watching, there is nothing like a performatively rich-folks’ mall if you really want to squander some free-time people watching. Nothing like Los Angeles.
They’d sit at a bench with coffees from the bookstore’s cafe, Frank’s black, Mitzi’s with enough caramel to induce horse-diabetes, and spin games out of their observations. “Are You Mother?” where they’d guess if baby-carriages were being pushed by a nanny or an actual parent. “Who’s Luckier?” where they’d determine which half of a couple was getting the better deal. Far crueler games too, too judgmental to recall in these pages if I ever hope someone might pay for them. He asked her once how she could even come up with such bitter cynicisms. She replied, “It’s a gift.”
The famous people would go through there sometimes too, athletes dressed to the nines as if to say they’re not just animals, actors dressed down in ballcap and stubble, hoping to buy the new iPhone without having to sign autographs. Mitzi knew all their names, though, and at least one juicy tidbit about each. This woman’s almost broke, maybe, or that man’s super into feet. Frank didn’t much care about such things but listened anyway, to be a good friend.
Every once in a while, though, they’d see a fading star or perhaps a person of limited renown go there, dressed in similar clothes to some part they’d once played, hoping to be seen, hoping to be accosted for a photograph. Trolling for an ego-boost of para-social worship. Even Mitzi didn’t have snark for that, it was just sad. Too tragic to mock, sad how none of the other shoppers ever give them that, though sometimes retail workers did, out of some mixture of brown-nosing and pity. Under the gorgeous dance of false snowflakes falling, those moments of desperation were shades cast by fantasies as well, before eventually melting away in the seventy-one-degree heat.