Closeup of two large pine cones in the snow

New Year 2009 at Washington Square Mall

Published 2009-01-02

For the New Year, Jenny, Orion and I took a trip to Washington Square Mall. This marks the first time I’d been to an indoor-style mall since, I dunno, months? Years perhaps? The last time I can definitely remember visiting a mall with a roof was when Jenny and I bought matching cel phones at the Verizon in Lloyd Center the day after we returned from China. So: July 5, 2007?

I’ve made more than a few visits to Bridgeport Mall however, which despite not having a roof is definitely a mall. I’m not on some anti-consumer high horse here. I like consumer goods.

Washington Square was sufficiently crowded. But not crazy-crowded. It seemed like shops were doing pretty good business. But I couldn’t help playing a mental guessing game: which of these stores is gonna go outta business first? As much as I love the Lego store it might be hard to argue for its continued existence after another year of economic carnage. I hope Build A Bear dies before Orion learns of its existence.

Weird to imagine, also, that this particular economic activity undergirds America. And, by extension, the whole damn planet. I can’t help but wonder if the dismal performance of our retirement funds doesn’t actually reflect a realignment of fantasy to reality. Everyone talks about how many more “points” a particular market will slide — what “percentage” of pain will we endure before housing prices, stock prices, commodity prices, wages, etc. etc. resume their expected trajectory of up, up, UP!

Over the last eighteen months I have come to wonder whether the “correction” to the American economy won’t so much be fractional as geometric. As in, maybe we’re not overvalued by n percent, (where n < 100); maybe we’re overvalued by a factor of n (where n > 1).

Seeing first hand how “middle class” people live (happily and prosperously!) in places like Malaysia or China, and thinking a little bit about peak oil and other probably-not-unrelated scarcities, I wonder how much fat we can actually cut here in America.

Answer: a lot. I once knew a person who lost half her weight: she went from 300lb to 150lb. She was an entire person overweight. We might be talking about that kind of financial weight loss. If our standard of living declines by a half, we’ll have whole different conversation about wealth and money and possessions and jobs and time and priorities. Our household budget can withstand a pay cut of, I dunno, 30% maybe. But what if we had to live on a third of what we have? Not just a third of the money but a third of the stuff: a third of the house, a third of the car, eight hours of electricity a day, a hot shower every third day.

That’s still a pretty luxurious lifestyle in most of the world.

Despite all of which, Orion really loves the mall. (He has a little more experience than I, because Jenny has an occasional Mommy Boot Camp at Lloyd Center.) Lights and people and that huge huge cathedral ceiling, perfect for games of airplane, much to the horror of onlookers (including Jenny). We didn’t spend any money on Orion at all and he had the time of his life. I hope I get to take this memory to heaven: holding my six-month-old son face-forward against my shoulder, zooming through the crowd at Nordstrom, while he shrieks for joy at the top of his lungs.