There’s no proof

For a new project I’m working on, I’ve been trying to dig up visual evidence of my memories of the Echelon Mall:

A vintage postcard of the Echelon Mall in front of Strawbridge & Clothier

A vintage postcard of the Echelon Mall in front of Strawbridge & Clothier

A place in which I spent hundreds if not thousands of hours trolling trying on silver hanging earrings, drinking bananaberry smoothies, and most of all, hunting for cute boys from neighboring towns.

My memories of the mall prior to adolescence are mostly of Strawbridge & Clothier, a Philadelphia-based department store that anchored the shopping mall when I was a child. My mind’s eye, when I think of those earlier days, is always at waist-level: watching and waiting by the Clinique counter for my mother to exchange lipsticks, watching and waiting next to the cash register while my mother returned an unopened pack of panty hose, watching and waiting inside a clothing rack with my brother until my mother finished browsing the winter coats.

Needless to say, as was the fate of many suburban malls, there is not much that remains of the Echelon Mall of my youth. From what I’ve heard, the Voorhees Town Center complex that exists on the property now is not a bad addition to the retail neighborhood, but it doesn’t serve as the community gathering place and youth social hub the mall was on Fridays and Saturdays when I was a kid and teen.

The Echelon Mall is gone.

It’s not only gone. It’s gone gone, and I’ll tell you why.

There are hardly any pictures.

I’ve searched the internet using a variety of search strings and there are only a handful of photographs to be found. One page of Google results identified the one above, another vintage postcard showing the same scene from a previous decade, a blurry shot of the “e” tower at the entrance on Laurel Road, and a sad-old-man version of the billboard that used to promote Halloween masks on sale at Spencer’s or the Easter Bunny’s impending arrival.

Why the dearth of photographs?

Well, it’s obvious when you think about it: No one had any need to take pictures inside the shopping mall. They were busy shopping. Or eating. Or looking at cute boys. It’s not that we weren’t taking selfies back then; we were. I have tons of photo strips of me and my friends, me and my siblings, me and my boyfriends. I have close-up, nostril gazing snapshots from camp, from the Jersey shore, from concerts. Narcissism wasn’t invented by Apple.

And yet, in almost a dozen saved photo albums and worn envelopes of doubles, there is no glimpse of the food court, nothing from Sam Goody’s, nothing from Woolworth’s or B. Dalton or Accessory Place, not even from outside General Cinema waiting by the street’s edge for my dad to pull up and take us home.

Maybe in a shoebox somewhere there is someone posing for a Polaroid with Santa in front of JC Penneys. And maybe in another there’s an out-of-focus 4 x 6 matte of a Girl Scouts crafts sale or a Gymnastics Academy performance.

I don’t have any of those pictures, though. I don’t have a single shot of the Echelon Mall.

I can’t tell you yet what it is I long for when I long for the Echelon Mall.  In its heyday, the place was a poor man’s Cherry Hill Mall which was a poor man’s King of Prussia. When I shake myself from my nostalgic slumber, I remember even how skanky it was when I was a teen, how sketchy. Guys with cigarettes outnumbered the skater dudes. And their girlfriends with sky high super-sprayed bangs were to be avoided at all costs. In fact, I don’t remember the bathrooms at the Echelon Mall. I think I was afraid of them and the older girls fixing their hair there or the rapists of the many Echelon Mall urban legends. Most likely, though, my bladder was just a lot stronger then than it is now.

I don’t know what it is I long for when I mourn the Echelon Mall. But I’m searching.

I think it has something to do with pictures. With my need for proof.

They said this outfit was 3D

I had the dream again last night in which it’s you and me and him and her at a dinner party and the lighting is for grownups, but for some reason there are children in the room. I made meringues for the children for dessert. They came out fluffy and perfect and I wanted them to stay that way – the meringues – except, inevitably they deflated. “No matter,” my husband said in the dream. “They’re still sweet.”

The dinner party is awkward even though the lighting is good. Like the last time I dreamed us at an awkward dinner party, the lighting is mostly by candle with a touch of track over a brick mantle and the scene is set for adults, which is to say there are things nearby that may be broken.

She is in black as she always is. As for me, I picked out something new to wear just before arriving. I tried it on for my husband in the store, invited him into the dressing room. “The tag said the outfit was 3D,” I told him, but only when I take my glasses off am I able to see the shapes moving in the mirror.

A short reflection on showering

keep telling myself to take a shower. “In 20 minutes, take a shower.” 20 minutes pass and I do not take a shower I do this thing where I look up people I admire on Twitter and see who they admire and then follow them  — half because I want to learn from them and half because I want them to pay attention to me. Not showering yet is evidence that the half that wants them to pay attention to me is diminishing because not taking a shower shows I want education more than I want to be pretty or smell good and so these days not showering is a good sign that the ego (or is it the superego) is deflating.

That

or the fact that my long hair no longer looks better after I shower so why bother. My hair which used to be the best of me after my breasts but now lies as flat as they do, shower or no shower, is no longer a win-win is betraying me is possibly falling out no not now but possibly soon. I think of my Nini that time I walked in on her adjusting her wig in the mirror at the dresser in her bedroom. This was before the cancer and I confirm it with my father who says “her forties, I guess.”

So I better

Key to the Treasure

I keep dreaming of my childhood home. I won’t bore you with the details; with the recalling of the coat closet next to the front door; the fur that once lived there, but didn’t appear in my dream. In my dream, my mother pulled out a vintage polyester shirt draped over a wire hanger steam-pressed and plastic wrapped years ago, now eager to breathe. She handed it to me, “Do you want this?”

I wasn’t sure how to answer.

= =

My middle son is reading a musky-smelling original hardcover edition of Key to the Treasure by Peggy Parish. It’s not the edition I read when I was nine — mine was paperback. But mine was lost in the Flood.

= =

I know for certain someone somewhere is reading my copy of New York Then and Now on a toilet. It’s a book meant to be read on the toilet.

They call them coffee table books, but no one has time for coffee anymore. They ought to be called toilet books. This is where I go when I want to pore over pictures from then and now.

Why can’t I manage to hang on to my books? Especially the ones I sought out, hand-picked, then coveted?

I found some of my lost New York books at The Strand last December. I had an urge to buy them all in an effort to once again build a carefully curated collection. This would have been a redux since once before — on weekday afternoons at Bookman’s in Tucson — I spent my lunch hour scanning the children’s section for the titles lost in the Flood.

= =

I say it, but I don’t yet fully believe it: That there is something worthwhile in losing.

==

Except this.

I accept the hardcover original edition of Key to the Treasure, but I do so with a gentle stab of reluctance. I understand it’s the story I was wild about when I was nine — Jed and Bill and Liza and the feathered bonnet and the sorrow of missed connections passed down through the generations — not the texture of the pages or the color illustration on the cover. And yet, I want back what was once mine.

After all, if I had wanted to part with it I would have. I would have piled my copy of the book on top of the others that were going to Good Will. But I didn’t. I kept it on my shelf and then placed it in a cardboard box which I labelled “Jen’s books” before my father carried it down to the basement.

Those books, I believed, were meant to be found again one day.

= =

I say it, but I don’t yet fully believe it: That there is something worthwhile in losing.

= =

I can have almost anything I want: a Fisher Price Sesame Street set, a pair of gently-used docksiders, a Speak and Spell, an autographed pull-out poster of Mackenzie Astin. People are buying and selling my faded memories…and yours… all the time.

I can have almost anything I want.

==

And yet, there is something worthwhile in the losing. In the being lost.