We counted on America to be interesting. We counted wrong.

qa_boredIn case, you’re wondering, the answer is yes, the title is a spoof of the spoken soundbites at the end of Def Leppard’s song “Gods of War.”  And if you guessed the reference beforehand, I might even show you my boobs.  (Kidding.)

A few weeks ago, my partner and I went to–egads–the mall.  We went in search of the hip Asian store we’d seen there a few years back–you know the type–they sell those big Oriental fans, statues, wall art, and ornamental Zen room dividers.  After all, it was how he wanted to celebrate his birthday.  And we had an acupuncture room to develop and decorate.

No dice.  It’s long gone-daddy-gone.

What took its place?  A Hallmark store.  Or a Cali Nails.  Or a GNC.  Or some other no-name big-name mall staple.

Does it really matter?

The point is, something neat and unique was lost.  The salt in the wound is that it was replaced by something far less extraordinary, thus contributing to the bland and homogenized landscape that is the American Mall.

So we made a valiant attempt at Plan B: Earthbound Trading Company.  Although the mall’s website (yes I actually surfed on over) swears up and down that they have one, we sure didn’t see it.  My partner might’ve checked the mall directory–you know, the type that are more noisy, rolling ads than they are directories.  Although I’m not 100% certain, I’d lay bets that he did.

As far as we’re aware, Denied.

So what’s an eclectic to do?  (Besides leave the mall altogether, I mean.)

Well, we found our answer fairly quickly.  It was a combination of Earthbound Trading Company meets Z Gallerie.  (In case you’re not familiar, Z Gallerie is–kind of–what it sounds like; half the store consists of prints and other art, and the other half is first-decent-paying-post-grad-job-for-the-artsy set furniture, like silky magenta shag pillows and faux black-and-white cheetah-print bar stools.)

This particular place was nirvana, at least the ground floor thereof.  Paintings and prints from Indonesia, Japan, Thailand, France, Italy, and somewhere in South America, along with Buddhist statues, Native American wood art, Egyptian-esque cats, and vivid color palates.  There was even a mini Nirvana drum set (yes, I mean the band this time), tiny penis keychains, paintings of Gandhi, prints of French lovers entwined, naked but cleanly and Rated G/PG, and silk-screened cloth painted with African sunsets.  Tiny Zen sets consisting of small trays with tea light candles and other large wall art that gave head-nods to The Simpsons and Star Wars.

Another glaring observation kept nagging me: this store is awfully messy.  It seemed like no one had vacuumed in weeks; the floor was littered with scraps and old Coke stains.  Packaging was everywhere, and the merchandise was stacked kind a bit more haphazardly than is normal for the pristine mallscape.  I was bewildered on some level, but so enthralled and enchanted with the offerings and their colors and original concepts that I put the aesthetic chaos out of my mind.

And then I saw it.

The sign hollered loud and clear: “Going out of business!  Store closing, everything must go!”

Say what?  As in what the fucking fuck?  Seriously?  Yep, sure as sugar, this awesome little dive that I had only now stumbled upon…was on its way out.

To state the painfully obvious: retirement and unforeseen circumstances aside, a business/store only ever really shuts down for good when they can’t sustain as/where they are.  This means that they couldn’t draw enough support from the surrounding population; that population didn’t spend enough money there to keep them afloat.

As with any crime (and this store closing is indeed a crime), there is a list of usual suspects.  In this case, there are two: the store and the customers (or non-customers).

The store itself?  No problem, based on my admittedly limited observation.  The products were fantastic and the staff friendly and plentiful.

Which leads me to suspect #2: the surrounding population.  Although the evidence in this particular case is circumstantial, it’s almost enough to bring forth a conviction.  Americans.  Are.  Boring.

Oh, we think we’re all hip, trendy, and Zen because we sip on flavored lattes, drive little Euro Fiat cars and Mini-Coopers and we don contempo casual clothing.  We pat ourselves on the back because we are so green, Fair Trade, and authentic.  We brag about the tiny size of our carbon footprint and we think we deserve the Nobel Prize for all of it.

But when it comes right down to it, these oh-so-counterculture people still drive through Starbucks every morning.  They’re still glued to their smartphones and Bluetooth headsets (“aren’t I important?”).  They still shop at The Gap, Forever 21, and Best Buy.  They still get their China-packed supplements from GNC.

They still swallow the bullshit the media feed them.  And they still fork over obscene amounts of money to unelected local dictators that collect your money and tell you how you can use your property under the guise of “homeowner’s associations”.

And the lower tier?  It’s all about sex, sports, and reality shows like Extreme Couponing and Hoarders.

I know this appears to run quite contrary to my live-and-let-live philosophy.  “So what?” you say.  “Who cares if other yuppies sell out and follow the trends like sheep?”

I’ll tell you.

My first beef with the above is this: I could have described Pittsburgh, Sacramento, Indianapolis, Waco (Texas), St. Cloud (Minnesota), or Chattanooga, Tennessee.  And you really wouldn’t have been able to tell.  We are losing our local mom-and-pop businesses, character, and flavor.  Indeed, we’re losing our very identity.

My second beef with the above is in regards to the disappearance of the pure, rich, diverse cultures of everyone (and I mean everyone, except the Native Americans) who emigrated here: where did they go?  When the Japanese came over in larger waves, they attempted to assimilate as best they could (good for them, actually)–but where did their Shinto or Zen Buddhist religions or their Kampo traditional healing go?  When the east Indians came over, did they bring their Hindipop music and Bollywood films with them?  What about the South Americans?

The US of A has long been known as a melting pot, a welcome place (at least, theoretically) for all nationalities, cultures, religions, and what-have-you.  It was supposed to be a blend of cultures living seamlessly side-by-side, in which you had access to–and contact with–any aspect.

Essentially, we’ve had the opportunity to be next-door-neighbors with people from halfway around the world.  We’ve had information about–and access to–information on culture, healing, language, customs, etc, the world over.  We’ve even had a prosperous enough market economy to sustain such trivialities enjoyed only by the most developed of nations.  And we’ve long enjoyed Constitutional rights guaranteeing us freedoms such as the right of association and freedoms of press and speech.  We have a Federal Trade Commission that oversees free commerce, ensuring (theoretically, that is) that nobody gets too big for their britches (monopoly).

And we blew it.

When I look around me, do I see any Thai herb stores?  Nope.  And we have very limited Greek food selection choices.   And you’ve got to look under some pretty deep crevices to find Persian pop music (i.e. from Iran).  Native American?   African?  Fuhgeddaboutit.

Nope, rather than go explore something novel, the average schlepps default to Walmart.  And then to McDonald’s.  But they have to be back home in time for the game.

Sometimes, some realize they weigh too much.  So they gerbil down on the treadmill, chewing up their bodies as they do so.  When they realize they’re not losing any fat and not gaining any muscle, they plunk down way too much change for craptastic mass-produced protein powder, thinking that’s their quick and easy magic bullet.

Take a pill, buy a product, they say.  And you can be as cool, beautiful, sexy, buff, and alluring as anyone.  All your problems will dissolve into the ether.

But what if we all just picked up a damn book instead?  What if we picked a new subject to study every year that had nothing to do with work or school, but rather, was just for fun?  What if we were curious?  What if we took the time to read?  What if we took the time to explore?  What if we if we put some of our pent-up energy into creating something?  What if we made a genuine effort to think?

What if we actually took the time to learn about other cultures and their customs, concepts, philosophies, music, food, clothing, and values?  The fear would melt away, and be replaced with understanding and openness.  No longer would we be ignorant, fearful, and divided.  No longer would the race-baiters and the social engineers have any influence.  I’m under no delusion that we will one day all join hands and sing “Kum-ba-ya”, but can we at least take the first step–a step out of our own little tiny microworld and into the world-at-large?  She’s vast and she’s got a shit-ton to offer, if we would only look up, wake up, and open up.  We Americans of all people should have this down to an art.

Screw Hoarders.  Screw the Cowboys.  Screw the rat-race.  Screw the Mini-Cooper.  If I can’t go to Ibiza or Gibraltar or the Shetland Islands in person, I’m at least going to read up on them, even if the best I have is Wikipedia and Google Street View.


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