As I was working on stuff, I followed a couple of links, and found a performance of Morten Lauridson’s Lux AEturna

28. April 2020 · Comments Off on Lament for a Mall · Categories: Uncategorized

Malls were the latest, trendiest, most oh-there thing in retail development about the time that I was in high school and college. There were a couple of them that I went to, early on, and they were … OK. A nice diversion if one was in the mood or purse for retail therapy. Most of them were enclosed, two or three levels, almost always expensively decorated, adorned with plantings, sometimes with dabs of architectural creativity here and there. All of that made sense in places where the weather was bitterly cold for at least half the year or boiling-hot for three-quarters of it – still does, in the upper mid-west and mountain west, especially in snowy winters. It was, however, a serious and time-burning excursion to go to the mall; finding a place to park nearest an entrance, walking … and walking, and walking, and carrying whatever you had purchased. If there was a nice and varied selection of shops, not wall to wall big chain outlets, exactly the same as every other mall – so much the better.

There was a certain sameness to almost all big-city malls, though – which is why I believe that all but one merged into a bland beige same-ness in my memory, no matter if they were in Burbank, Albuquerque or the Newgate Mall in South Ogden. Pretty much the same set of stores, the same look, the same amenities, and many of them hanging on by a thread at present. I suppose the reasons for this are as varied as the malls eventually weren’t. The inconvenience of the mall experience, a preference among the shopping public for on-line ordering, the fact that interesting one-off merchants were pretty much priced out of even setting up in a mall in the first place, that some malls became notorious for lawless behavior, and even something as other formats in large-scale retail becoming fashionable among the movers and shakers in our civic planners. In the city where I live now and of the four malls that I know the best, only one seems to be doing pretty well in the upscale carriage trade; expensive clothes, shoes, jewelry and household goods eventually replaced a more varied set of shops within. The second closed entirely and was transformed into Rackspace’s HQ and operating location. A third closed and was almost entirely demolished and remade into a shopping center of free-standing mercantile outlets, restaurants, a small hotel and a Drafthouse Cinema. A fourth keeps going, zombie-like; a nearly empty dead mall walking. It’s been that way for the twenty years that I have lived here. I have no idea how it remains open.

I was unexpectedly depressed and grieved by hearing that the one mall which vividly lives in mine and my daughter’s memory as the most fantastic and memorable shopping environment ever created in the heart of an urban downtown closed a couple of years ago (after a slow decline) and is now in the process of being transformed into an urban office complex with a bit of park attached. This was San Diego’s Horton Plaza … which opened in a formerly blighted set of city blocks in the mid-1980s, according to this potted history. Obviously, the designer had won the contest for creating the most colorful, confusing, exuberant and off-kilter open-air mall on the face of the earth. The central mall avenue ran diagonally, from one corner of the bloc of shops and parking to the opposite corner, zigging and zagging, so it was almost like walking the twisty lanes in a medieval European city. (and we had experienced shopping in a good few cities of that nature, so we would know.) The various levels in Horton Plaza were staggered; ramps, bridges, arcades and stairways went up and down between them. There were pavilions, bump-outs, ornamental domes and yet more arcades, a little plaza with a massive ornamental clock on the mezzanine level, colorful streaming banners, lush and well-tended plantings everywhere.

My daughter and I first visited it late in 1988, in between tours at Zaragoza AB, Spain. Because I had signed on to a second tour, the military footed the bill for a return trip to my home of record, and offered a month of leave, (IIRC) because my doing so saved them a bundle. And we were charmed and enthralled, after more than a decade away from the United States. The sky was blue overhead, from the top levels there were occasional views out over San Diego all the way to the ocean. The parking structures – and there were two, one each side of the diagonal. The one had every level named after fruits and the other named for vegetables. So, one had to remember if you were parked on the Avocado Level, or the Plum Level. We sampled the bookstores – there were two at that time, a Walden’s on an upper level and a large Brentano’s on the mezzanine. There was a Laura Ashley’s, a tiny toy store with games and puzzles, a cinema multiplex on the top level, and an Italian restaurant opposite it, with a spectacular view all the way over the downtown rooftops to Coronado Island. The usual mall outlets, of course and a couple of big department stores – but other oddball stores, such as a gourmet grocery at street level on one end of the concourse, and a yardage store at street level on the other – the only place in the US where I found lengths of silk printed to make scarves. (The pictures here give an idea of how eccentric the design was.) Yes, we thoroughly enjoyed that visit, and again some three years later when we came home from Europe for good. For the three years we were in Utah, I drove home to Mom and Dad’s for the Christmas holidays – and we made subsequent visits to Horton Plaza then as well. By 1995 I took an assignment in Texas; a much longer drive than from Utah, so we didn’t spend Christmas at Mom and Dad’s quite as often.

I think that our last visit to Horton Plaza must have been in 2008 or ’09 and it was clear that the place had declined. The Brentanos’ was closed, many of the unique stores that we remembered had been replaced by the usual outlets in malls everywhere else. The colorful banners and flags were gone as well, and all of the landscape plantings. The place looked grimy, rundown, and a bit tatty. There was no special reason to go there, really, and we left, vaguely disappointed. Mom said that all the really upscale stores had moved to Fashion Valley, north of downtown anyway.
So passed the retail glory of downtown San Diego; sad to me personally, because I remember it so fondly and so very well, much better than malls that I shopped at much more frequently. It looks from the potted history on Wikipedia that first one big anchor outlet bailed out, then the other, the cinema multiplex also closed, the specialty stores shuttered one by one as shoppers went elsewhere – nothing is more depressing than a dying mall – and soon all that was left was the faded but still colorful walls and architectural features, empty walkways and blank spaces where display windows had once been.

“But the hanging mob, Miss Letty,” Clovis Walcott urged, while Richard meditated on the odd turn of events which led a Scot from Fife named Magill to become –apparently – the long-serving and much respected senior law enforcement officer in Luna City. “How did that come to involve a respectable merchant of the town and a socially non-conforming spouse? I take it that having received a pardon from the office of Ma Ferguson … he was unjustly imprisoned for violating the laws prohibiting alcohol consumption?”

Clovis Walcott, as a practicing open-air historian specializing in 19th century Americana, was perhaps even more thoroughly steeped in the Victorian ideal of social conduct than Miss Letty, Richard mused privately.

“As it happens,” Miss Letty replied, every inch the stern Methodist church lady, “He was not unjustly charged and condemned. Mr. Dunsmore was operating an illicit saloon – a speakeasy, as they termed such an enterprise then. A secret subterranean storeroom behind the grocery, with a triple-barred door opening into the alleyway behind. I believe the current owners use that room as a wine cellar. It came as a surprise to everyone, everyone save those who knew of and patronized that establishment. It seemed – from what I overheard when my parents talked of it – that the men of town were … indulgent regarding Mr. Dunsmore’s speakeasy. It was only when three drummers … that is, traveling salesmen, as they called them back then – were poisoned by bad alcohol that Chief Magill was forced to take action… This is a long story, gentleman. Are you certain you wish to hear it?”

“I’ve got nothing but time this morning,” Clovis Walcott gestured for another a fill-up of his coffee. “So, I’d admire to hear the full story, Miss Letty.”

“I don’t,” Roman added, “But I’d like to hear it anyway. And if I have to rush away in half an hour, I can always ask Great Uncle Jaimie for what he might know. He was around then… And what he doesn’t remember, Cousin Mindy can find out.”

“Indeed,” Miss Letty nodded magisterially. “Jaimie Gonzales is about the same age that I am – but his family hardly ever came to town at that time. They kept themselves to themselves, back in the day: Spanish nobility, you know.”

“That, and a lynch mob coming for them, on the off-chance of some criminal outrage being blamed on some poor idiot Tejano,” Roman nodded, in cynical agreement, and Miss Letty sighed.

“In a way, the presence of Charley Mills served as a kind of social lightening-rod. Any notable criminal goings-on happened in Luna City … were blamed on him. And on the Newton gang, of course. His presence and his well-known record of criminality and anti-social behavior served to keep the social peace in very sad times, as curious as that might seem.”

“I do want to hear the full story, Miss Letty,” Richard insisted. “Although … I have only forty minutes before I must go and oversee preparations for lunch.”

“Very well,” Miss Letty sighed. “Although the full story may take much, much longer.”

***

From the Karnesville Daily Beacon issue of March 5, 1926 – A Fatal Poisoning Among the Traveling Fraternity!

Three traveling drummers were discovered dangerously ill or dying in their rooms at the Cattleman Hotel in Luna City this Monday just past. Identified through their personal effects and the hotel registry, the deceased are Mr. Arthur Montgomery of Dallas, Texas, (aged 27) and Mr. James McArdle (aged 25) of Tulsa, Oklahoma. They were employed by several respectable commercial enterprises and were traveling through the region seeking business on behalf of their employers. A third drummer, Mr. Dennis Charlton, (aged 30) of New Orleans, Louisiana remains desperately ill in the Karnesville Regional Hospital. Doctors attending on him fear that he may lose his sight, if he recovers at all. Interviewed briefly by investigating authorities, Mr. Charlton insisted that nothing had been out of the ordinary in his visit to Luna City, where he had been received by regular clients among the commercial enterprises there, including representatives from Abernathy Hardware, and Dunsmore Groceries and Sundries.

***

From the Karnesville Daily Beacon, March 9, 1926

Mr. Dennis Charlton, a traveling salesman for the California Perfume Company, stricken by a mysterious and dangerous ailment last week, perished of that condition at the Karnesville Regional Hospital this day past. Two other traveling drummers had previously been discovered dead in their rooms by the staff of the Cattleman Hotel in Luna City this previous week. An investigation into the circumstances of this sad affair is ongoing, according to Chief of Police in Luna City, Alistair Magill.

***

  From the evidence file pertaining to investigation of case #26-3-005: item 4

A handwritten note found in the possession of the accused C. E. Mills when taken into custody by the arresting officer at 3:24 AM, 15 March 1926. (Not actually in his possession, but in his trouser pocket – note by AM)

Dearest C – come to me tonight. Mr. D in K’ville. The window will be unlatched. Love. E

***

From an untitled and unpublished memoir by former chief of police, Luna City, Alistair Duncan Magill, found among his private papers by his family, after his death from natural causes at the age of 98 in February 1987.

Chapter 47 – The Mills Lynching

The matter began as part of an entirely separate case; that of the three traveling salesmen, discovered by the staff of the Cattleman Hotel to be dead or near-death in their rooms on the morning of March 3. Simple case, you say. Three adventurous young fellows on the road; of course, they went out drinking of an evening, and the liquor they had the ill-fortune to consume that evening was adulterated with wood-grain alcohol. Nasty stuff; deadly as a matter of fact. Never was a strict dry, myself; always of the opinion that a real man could and ought to exert control over his baser urges and I never said no to a drop of the good creature, even during Prohibition. Only a weak namby-pamby would look to a higher authority to control it for him. But enforcement of the Volstead Act was the law of the land and I was sworn to uphold the law, no matter what my own private feelings in the matter. As for Prohibition in Luna City, as long as there was no harm done to any, save perhaps a thunderous headache the next morning for those who had over-imbibed, my fellows and I kept the law as sensibly as it could be and looked the other way as often as we could in good conscious and in accordance with our oath.

There was but one serious bootlegger in the vicinity, and that was Charles Everett Mills; his general criminality was a well-known matter, and a thorn in my side as well as that of many others. Mills, as scabrous a villain as I ever encountered, none the less had the wit and purse sufficient to employ an excellent and creative lawyer – Newsome by name. Gabriel Newsome. Had an office and partnership in Karnesville: Newsome, Porter & Daws. Never saw a whisker of Porter and Daws; between you and I and the gatepost, I shouldn’t be surprised to learn that they were imaginary, indeed. It was a matter of growing resentment among those residents in Luna City who had cause and clear evidence sufficient to bring criminal charges against Charley Mills as well as the persistence to follow through with charges, regularly had those charges dismissed by the judge in Karnesville.

“Look, you,” I said to Mr. Newsome – sometime late in 1925, as I recollect now after many years. This was after another charge against Charley Mills was dismissed, following upon Newsome, Esq.’s eloquent defense of the character of the defendant along with a subtle impugnment of the character and eyesight of those testifying witnesses – those few brave enough to come to Karnesville and testify. The jury’s verdict went for Charley Mills, of course. I believe that they were all foreigners from Karnesville and farther afield. “This can’t go on. Your client is a menace. Too many local people know what he is, indeed.”

“That may be,” the rascal replied, impertinent, as he gathered together his paper briefs. “But his money is good, and I endeavor to give full value for it. Are you intending to intimidate me, Chief Magill? My hours are flexible; I may complain to the judge about this, if you persist.”

“Consider it a word of professional warning,” I replied, considerably irked.

Indeed, there was little that I could do, and I was full annoyed at having my good advice spurned so. For Mr. Mills was indeed walking a thin line, for all that his lawyer could keep him from a conviction and a term in the county jail. My reading of local temper was acute, as were those of my constables. Charles E. Mills had offended against too many law-abiding citizens; openly flouted the law, in matters other than the bootlegging of spirits. Indeed, it was my sense that this was the least of his offenses against the laws of God and man. If he had only kept himself to his distilling enterprise, most in Luna City would cheerfully have looked the other way. Our Lord was one who relished the taste of good wine and saw it as a pleasure available to all in celebration. Indeed, the Miracle at Cana attests to that inclination, and in that, my good friend the Reverend Rowbottom of the First Methodist Church of Luna City agreed privily with me. Most in his congregation did not agree, though. Father Antoine of Sts. Margaret and Stephen also agreed, citing the same scriptural accounts. Aye, but that is neither here nor there. Father Antoine was a Papist of the stern old school and the Reverend Rowbottom was unusually broadminded for a hard-shell Methodist..   

11. April 2020 · Comments Off on It All Started With a Single Doorknob · Categories: Uncategorized

No, really; the renovation of a single room in my house – the hallway between the garage to the living room was kicked off by a single doorknob. I asked for it from Amazon Vine on a whim, and after I installed it in my bedroom door and wrote the review, I began thinking how really nice it looked. Too nice for the ratty old hollow-core contractor-grade door, which was original to my house when it was build in 1985. Being a bit of money ahead, I thought of replacing the door … and when I looked into interior doors, cost of, and availability at Home Depot, it came about that I could actually afford to replace not just one door – but the doors to the closet, the guest bathroom, the second bedroom door, and the door into the garage as well. Hurrah, hurrah! And – adorn them with the same glass doorknob as I had gotten through Vine. A gallon of good paint, and a few hours on the part of Roman The Neighborhood Handy Guy; done and looked amazing!

The Doorknob!

But the new doors, with a coat of pristine white paint made the existing trim and walls look grotty and gross – especially the wall where the cat litter boxes had formerly been lined up, and so there was a trip to Lowe’s … and another to Home Depot, and while there, saw some nice laminate flooring on sale. And the Daughter Unit mused, “I wonder how easily that peel-and-stick linoleum will come up?”

At Work In The Hallway

I looked at the row of narrow shelves in the hallway, stacked with paperback books … the shelves were just simple lengths of MDF and plain brackets, Serviceable enough, but not all that attractive. Surely, we could do better; and when consulted, Roman TNHG suggested knocking out the drywall and setting the shelves between the studs. That way, it wouldn’t narrow the hallway as much. He could do a bang-up job with fancy molding trim and beadboard; a bookcase that would truly be a built-in.  And if we started the work ourselves, he wouldn’t charge for the demolition. The following day, I began boxing up the books while the Daughter Unit was at work, and when she returned home to a relatively empty and echoing hallway, we took out the shelves, and bashed away – carefully – at the drywall. Today, we applied bead-board pattered wallpaper to what will be the back of the bookcase. (Anaglypta wallpaper from Wayfair, which I swear must be about the only place one can even find nice substantial wallpaper anymore). Tomorrow, when the wallpaper has dried, we’ll paint – and next week, trek back to Lowes’ or Home Depot for everything else to finish off the hallway in style.

The beadboard wallpaper, installed between the wall studs

I swear, it all started with a single doorknob…

“I think the branch on that big oak at the corner of the square looks dead,” Roman the builder remarked one bright spring morning, as brilliant sunshine flooded into the Café. The oaks in the square – the oaks which gave an air of nobility and something of the atmosphere of a green forest glade to Town Square – were covered in the green of new foliage and dusty springs of blossoms, which shed a kind of bright yellow dust the length and breadth of the heart of Luna City. All but a single barren branch; a branch the thickness of a man’s body, and which stretched out some twenty feet above the paved promenade opposite the front window of the Café. Roman continued. “I better tell the Mayor, get the work crew out to take out that branch, before it falls and kills somebody.”

“Do, please,” Miss Letty agreed. “I have noted several woodpeckers in that tree, and they prefer dead wood, of course. If the oak wood can be salvaged, and sawn into planks …” she added, thoughtfully. “It’s a historic tree, you know. They called it the ‘Hanging Tree,’ back in the day.”

“Was it, indeed, Miss Letty?” Richard was fascinated. He hovered around the stammtisch now that the morning rush was winding down, attending on his most valued regular customers. “I never knew that …”

“Well, the historical marker is around on the other side of the tree,” Miss Letty added sugar to her second coffee, sounding especially acerbic. “You cannot see it from here, I suppose. But that is the tree from which Old Charley Mills was nearly lynched in 1926.”

“I knew that,” Clovis Walcott gestured for the hovering Araceli to add a refill to his own coffee cup. “Local history, of course. But I’ve never really heard the full tale. I suppose that you know of it, Miss Letty – as president emeritus of the Luna City Historical Society.”

“Better than that,” Miss Letty took a dainty bite from her just-from-the-oven cinnamon roll. “I was there and witnessed what happened, although much of the aftermath was kept from me. I was only a child of six or so,” she added hastily. “Shopping with my dear mother on that morning. You know – the Wild West Emporium next door used to be a dry goods store. Mother wanted to purchase a length of calico for a new apron, and a spool of thread. And a quantity of fine linen for a dress for me. For my seventh birthday, you know. She had a nice pattern from the Simplicity Company. Mother had ordered it from Sears. We were going to pick out some nice fabric there, and then go shopping for the weekly groceries at Dunsmores’ Grocery. That grocery is the real estate office now is, next to Abernathy Hardware. In my young days, it was the general store. Luna City had one, you know. Then we didn’t need to travel all the way to Karnesville to buy groceries. Mr. Dunsmore was a fine-looking man, who always gave me a piece of peppermint candy. I liked him. His wife was much younger than he was. She came from the East – she was the first woman in Luna City to have her hair bobbed, and wear skirts above her knee. Mother thought she was fast – and wore too much lipstick and powder for a properly married woman,” Miss Letty added, in mildly-arctic disapproval. “Mrs. Dunsmore was even said to have rouged her knees.”

“The scandal of it all,” Richard commented, privately thinking that the senior Mrs. McAllister sounded like a perfectly dismal, po-faced old trout.

“It was a small town,” Miss Letty didn’t disdain the obvious. “Mother was raised with the understanding that it was unsuitable for a lady to improve upon nature with anything more drastic than papier poudre. She thought Mrs. Dunsmore’s free and easy ways made it most difficult for the Dunsmore’s daughter, Caroline. Caroline was, I think – eleven, that year. She helped her parents in the store, after school. We were not close enough in age to be friends, and by the time I was older, Caroline Dunsmore had been sent back east to her mothers’ kinfolk – because of the scandal. The Governor, Mrs. Ferguson, issued him a pardon after he was put in prison for running an illicit saloon … but the scandal when it all came out! Memories are long in small towns…” Miss Letty added apologetically. “Especially when it comes to … affairs of the romantic sort.”

Clovis Walcott snorted. “Not long enough, Miss Letty – I’ve never heard of this, and I’ve read Dr. McAllister’s history so often the pages in my copy are ragged.”

“My brother did hit the relevant points,” Mis Letty agreed. “That Charley Mills was nearly hanged by a mob, from the Hanging Tree in Town Square, after being accused of molesting Caroline Dunsmore in her bedroom at two in the morning. He was such a disgraceful character that practically anything might be believed of him. But it was a complicated matter, and some of it didn’t come out until after my brother had written his history. And Douglas was more nearly Caroline’s age, you see. They were friends, of a sort, and my brother was always sentimental about his friends. And it may have been the one time in history,” Miss Letty added thoughtfully, “That Charley Mills was actually quite … well, not innocent, exactly. But blameless. Blameless in the matter of which he was accused on that particular occasion. It was all made clear when Phillip Vaughn found his father-in-law’s unpublished memoir and donated it to the Historical Society. That would have been in 1990, or so – some years after the centenary. Alistair Bratten was the chief of police in Luna City for many years. He had …” Miss Letty reflected, while Roman, Richard and Clovis attended breathlessly, “The most imposing mustache. It really was a monument, that mustache; Chief Bratten being a notable monument in himself. He was a Scot, originally – from Fife, I believe. On Founders’ Day, he wore a kilt and played the bagpipes as part of the observations. My father respected him enormously. For Douglas and I, there could have been no higher testament to his worth. His only daughter married Frank Vaughn, who had a small property near Beeville, which was foreclosed in the first year of the Great Depression – that is how the Vaughn family came to Luna City and inherited a kind of traditional role in law enforcement …”

“But the hanging mob, Miss Letty,” Clovis Walcott urged, while Richard meditated on the odd turn of events which led a Scot from Fife to become –apparently – the long-serving and much respected senior law enforcement officer in Luna City.