Gone Shopping! An Odyssey of Discovery
Chosen "Pick of the Month" by Small Press Review
Winner of the Midwest Merit Book Award
What can a shopping mall tell us about life?
That life is a shopping adventure. Find what level of happiness you're at. Where to get the best buys for your money in the mall of life.
In this witty, thought-provoking debut novel, a day visiting a mall takes a surprising turn when the shopper finds that each of the five levels of this megalithic shopping center symbolizes one of the essential ingredients of happiness.
As he wanders the boulevards the mysteries multiply- why does he have to pay to browse in each store, and what's a backhoe driver doing zooming down the avenue shouting "truths?" On this exploration the shopper visits with a man who thinks government spies are going through his trash and sits in on a meeting of the "More is Better Church."
Arriving on the top floor he meets a spunky young woman artist, and a wise old man. In a café, over coffee, they piece together the puzzle of the mall and discover the essence of what it takes to construct a full and satisfying life.
Experience the adventure as you join our shopper on his (and your) journey toward happiness. Come, open the doors of the KT Mall in Gone Shopping! An Odyssey of Discover.
Who would think a day, let alone a day at a shopping mall, could change your life? As I was about to discover, it could. But this was no ordinary mall. Instead of shopping for merchandise I found I was shopping for happiness.
I had always thought happiness was something one stumbled onto, like a four-leaf clover. That day I found I was wrong. Happiness has components, like each of the leaves that make up that lucky clover. And if I could pay attention while wandering the thoroughfares of the mall I might discover what these elements were.
Not that I’m an unhappy guy; I’m really pretty satisfied with my life. But the reward for figuring out the mall—discovering the components of happiness—was that I might build an even more satisfying life.
I handed the man behind the register a ten-dollar bill from my billfold, and to my surprise, he wouldn’t accept it.
“Sorry,” he said. “We can’t take that kind of money here. We only accept Mall Money.” I was shocked and a little embarrassed that he wouldn’t take the cash in my hand. Washing dishes in this place wasn’t what I had planned for the day. He saw my anxiety and said kindly, “There’s Mall Money in your backpack.” I unshouldered the pack and opened the flap and found it was full of strange-looking currency!
“How did that get in there?” I thought. I asked the cashier when and to whom I would repay the money. “Not to worry,” he said, “everyone gets free money to spend while in the mall—and you can spend it any way you want.” Skeptical, I asked if there were any strings attached and he replied, “That’s just how this mall works.”
I was starting to understand why the parking lot was full. A free bag of money for everyone who came in! I felt a little giddy, like a kid just given his allowance.
Leaving the collectible section, I thought somewhat smugly that nothing else in this mall could shock me. But I should have known better. In the next store I saw a set of realistic mannequins huddled around a hospital bed. They were so lifelike that I took them to be skillfully crafted wax figures. They stood holding kerchiefs to their faces to hide their grief at watching someone dying. Then, I saw one of the figures move. Hesitantly I leaned in to get a closer look. These were real people!
I heard a faint clickity, clickity, clickity sound that began to grow louder. I had a vague feeling of dread. The sound was familiar. I looked down the hall toward the source and saw two paramedics wheeling a gurney down the thoroughfare—the same ones who had picked up the unfortunate lady on the first floor. They opened the door to the store, went in and carefully lifted the body from the bed. They loaded it onto the gurney, then left the store, business-like, and rolled down the corridor.
The people in the room were sobbing in grief and didn’t seem to notice that people were walking by the window. I suddenly felt embarrassed and conspicuous, and moved on hurriedly. As I passed the door I was both astonished and appalled to see a cash register! After this death scene and the realization that those poor souls had to pay to watch a loved one die I was ready for a rest. Thankfully, just ahead was a coffee shop nestled among some other odd “businesses.” I made a beeline through scattered tables for the entry.
As I left the church to continue my circuit among the other places of worship, (on the thoroughfare on the inside of the mall) I noticed three adjoining cells with heavy metal bars, rusty with age, each one empty. All three of these dusky, dank-looking cells had been bolted with ancient weathered padlocks long ago. As I peered into the darkness, my eyes dilated and started to glaze over. Why were they here and who were they for?
My reverie was broken by the now-familiar sound of the Digger driving by on his massive machine (a backhoe). He glared down at me with those deep lucid eyes. I was frightened, even though I realized I should be used to him by now. “You can’t plead ignorance to the laws of reality,” he shouted as he hurled past. In spite of my fear I had to grin at the truth of what he’d said. Did he pull people over and give them tickets for breaking one of the laws of reality? What were the laws of reality? Gravity came to mind. Maybe cause and effect, too.
Up ahead, noting some familiar stores, I realized I had almost completed the circuit. But I hadn’t seen the stairs. The rhythmic pounding of a bass drum pulsed onto the walkway. It was music from one of the storefronts, music that gets into your bones and makes you want to move to the beat. I found myself stepping buoyantly to the thump, uplifted by the powerful pulsing rhythm. As I passed by I could see flashing lights and bodies gyrating to the music. It looked enticing but the crowd, in their early twenties, seemed a little young for me.
But if I liked it, why shouldn’t I go in? I’m human; they’re human, right? I backed up and walked in, challenging my better judgment. A few disgruntled looks confirmed my apprehensions as I weaved my way through the dancers. I found a table and sat down, feeling uneasy, scrutinized. I enjoyed watching all that youthful energy but didn’t enjoy all their cold stares. The waitress walked past me several times, casting an acrid glance my way with each pass.
How come I felt like I was in a cage at a zoo? Probably because it seemed everyone was looking at me. How could I observe without intruding, since my very existence here seemed an intrusion? Strange, I felt alone while surrounded by people. Now I knew what it felt like to be an outcast. I had become an “other,” just because I wasn’t in the right age bracket. I realized I wasn’t going to enjoy this no matter how long I stayed. I got up slowly, disappointed that my experiment had failed, and started winding my way through the crowd to get back to the door. Just then a young woman with troweled-on makeup grabbed my arm and shouted, “You’re not leaving without a dance, are you?”
I was stunned but answered warily, “I guess not!” and grabbed her extended hand as she led me to an opening. With short skirt and low-cut blouse she was alluring. We revolved around the rhythm and halfway through the song, between energetic gum chewing, she asked me what color car I drove. That seemed a little out of context and I glanced around, searching for the EXIT sign, as I answered, “Dark blue, why?”
“Too bad,” she shouted over the music, still masticating, “my favorite color’s red.” There was a pause as I wondered what she was getting at, then she added, “I only go out with guys that drive red cars.”
“There are miracles,” I thought, glancing toward the exit. I was glad that I owned a blue car and that the song had ended, mercifully, because I was also gasping for air. It had been awhile since I’d danced. She grabbed my arm and started toward a table crowded with people. I slid free, dipped my head thanking her for the dance, and escaped before the music started again.
“Not so fast,” the old man said. “We have to put these blocks together into thoughts and ideas first, and all that happens in the thought factory—the mind.”
“Wait, if there’s a factory of thought then we have to have a receiving dock where everything comes in,” the artist said, her sharp mind swooping past mine. “That would be the stream of inputs from the five senses—where we pick up data from the world. Like the first time a basketball is bounced into your hands, you hear the thump, feel the little bumps, and see its roundness. Receiving has just found something new to send to the processing plant.
“No, I’m not going to smell it,” she said as the old man pointed to his nose. And she continued unabashed, “That means there’s a storage area, and a shipping department for the thought factory, too.”
“Shipping department?” the old man asked.
“Yes,” she answered, assuming we saw what was already apparent to her. She pointed to the pad with the drawings on it. “That came from shipping and what I’m saying right now is coming from shipping.”
“I never thought of my mouth as a shipping department before,” the old man said.
“I was browsing in the bookstore yesterday in the fiction section and ran across a copy of the Bible. I didn’t think much about it, but then it dawned on me, someone had filed the Bible in the fiction section! Now, a lot of people would be upset to find their Bible under fiction. It should have been in the religion section. That one simple connection makes a big difference.”
“I see,” I said. “If I connect the Bible to religion, not to fiction, that says a lot about my beliefs, doesn’t it? If I have conservative, liberal, or moderate connected to my ‘self’ block, that tells others about my political beliefs. And if socialism or capitalism is hooked on, that would make a big difference, too.
“That would mean we are what we hook on to our ‘self’ blocks, right?”
“You’re cooking on the front burner, go on,” the old man encouraged.
“We use words all the time to tell who we are and what we believe,” I said. “I’m a third generation Irish immigrant, a lover of birds and dogs, and a liberal conservative or a conservative liberal. I don’t know which. And by connecting me with Irish you know something about me and my lineage, by knowing I’m an animal lover, you know I’m a softy, and by knowing that I’m a liberal conservative you know a little about my political views. I’m the hodgepodge of words I connect myself to. And these combinations of words, these towers of blocks you mentioned earlier, make up our identities, don’t they? You are right. Our beliefs are combinations of words.”
“Now that I think on it, my parents and probably my culture did give me a particular view,” I reflected. “But my views have developed since I was a kid. I don’t believe in the tooth fairy anymore, for example.”
“No!” the woman said, feigning shock and disbelief, then, smiling, turned to the old man. “Our cultures do shape us, don’t they? If you give Greek tragedies to one culture and mindless sitcoms to another, you’re going to end up with very different towers.”
“One towering to the summits of human potential and one no higher than an ant’s antennae,” the old man surmised, to our knowing nods. “And the latter, offering only a dearth of blocks, eventually becomes a cultural cul-de-sac.
The artist burst in with a sudden realization, “Yikes! If we aren’t careful, the collective tower we’ve all built can crumble and fall, like the cultural towers of the Romans or the Egyptians or the Aztecs did. The winds of change can blow through and collapse a culture’s tower if they aren’t up to withstanding the gales of reality. And then we’re left picking up the pieces. It’s just as crucial for these gigantic towers to be braced by reality as it is for our individual towers. They have to be able to change and keep up as new truths are discovered. As I once heard the Digger say, ‘Learn or suffer.’ But in this case it might be ‘Learn or topple.’ And toppling towers suffer.”
“Learn or suffer,” I thought. That had to be one of the “laws of reality” that the Digger referred to. And she called the driver of the backhoe “Digger,” too. The same block I’d come up with.
I was beginning to think I was in over my head, free will, creativity, time, reality—it all seemed like a lot to sort out. . . . Did I want to go to all that trouble? . . . But did I want to live a life where I didn’t figure it out? . . . I didn’t think so!
She had a point. And I had to admit to myself that I didn’t have a list. I wasn’t sure of what I wanted. After all, I was just spending a day at the mall, browsing. There’s that word again, browsing—isn’t that what cows do? I realized now that I needed to work on a list. But at least I was searching for happiness armed with a day off. And I was beginning to think I was getting closer by getting my word blocks organized and making the right connections.