The best chicken on the east side of Los Angeles is at the Glendale Galleria, a dish of the Bulgarian variety that I have come to call “Mall Chicken”. The International Grill is located in the food court in the Galleria, and has the most prominent spot: on the right side as one enters, next to the only retail shop in the eating area, Helzberg Diamonds. I frequently eat Mall Chicken, and as a result have analyzed mall restaurant and store locations, building design, and dÈcor. It’s weird that a food court in Glendale would have an ocean motif. There are blue neon waves above all points of entry, and hobie cats, kites, and windsurf boards hanging from the ceiling… but this is, after all, Southern California. It may take a bit of effort – the tide is non-existent in landlocked Glendale – but the connection can be made.

Truth be told, the dècor of the food court is not the only disconcerting element in the Galleria. It is the old folks that sit on the benches and people watch in front of JC Penney, and the more fit ones that walk briskly past you with their New Balance sneakers on, getting in their exercise for the day. Why aren’t these people outside? Over the past few years, Glendale has redeveloped an area on Brand that boasts a movie theatre, new restaurants, bookstores, cafes, sitting areas, and the like. Yet it appears that many still prefer the air conditioning and artificial lighting provided by an enclosed shopping center.

The Galleria also provides a backdrop for activities geared toward children. Teen fashion shows, (my former hairdresser worked one), Magic the Gathering competitions, (today’s equivalent of Dungeons & Dragons – my friend’s son participated a few months ago), and of course your all-around Disneyesque entertainment catering to children up to 8 years of age (I don’t know anyone who was involved in that). When I think about my own childhood, the mall was never a place where I went to be entertained. It was simply where I bought music, and first got my ears pierced. Entertainment came in the form of looking across the street from the mall at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium at Emmy time, and being lucky enough to get a glimpse of the girl who played Rudy on “The Cosby Show.”

Much has changed since 1983, and the opportunities are now far greater for me to be entertained at the mall than when I was a child. I recently went to the Northridge mall to buy a computer, and as soon as I walked in I saw a ten-year-old in a body tube getting water massaged. Now that’s entertainment. Apparently I missed the really great installation, the oxygen bar, by just a couple of weeks. A friend emailed me the following day:

Too bad you missed it on your visit to the mall, but a few weeks earlier the place with the water massage had an actual OXYGEN BAR attachment to it. People, young, old, whatever, would be leaning against this bar with oxygen masks over their faces whiffing in colorful gases named à la Ben & Jerry’s flavors. Oh man…. Talk about surreal.

Surreal, indeed, a scene that recalls Don De Lillo’s “White Noise”. Jack Gladney, the novel’s protagonist, describes the Mid-Village mall as a “ten-story building arranged around a center court of waterfalls, promenades and gardens.” As the narrative unfolds, a fictionalization of the Gruen Transfer comes into focus: “When I could not decide between two shirts they encouraged me to buy both. When I was hungry they fed me pretzels, beer, souvlaki… I kept seeing myself unexpectedly in some reflecting surface… We moved from store to store, rejecting not only items in certain departments, not only entire departments but whole stores, mammoth corporations that did not strike our fancy for one reason or another. There was always another store, three floors, eight floors… I shopped for immediate needs and distant contingencies. I shopped for its own sake, looking and touching, inspecting merchandise I had no intention of buying, then buying it… I filled myself out, found new aspects of myself, located a person I’d forgotten existed.”

Back to Forum Issue 4: Consuming the City