Taking a tangent break from working on my manuscript to bring you a special episode of VH1 Behind the Music — Behind the Writing, whatever. I’m working on a piece that explores identity — and you’ll be able to read the full thing next week after it stews in the crockpot longer and burns down my brain. Part of me is a place I’m calling Trash Mall. I am Trash Mall. And now I am going to show you Trash Mall.
Trash Mall is in my hometown — the dena, as the reject kids who never got out of town after graduation call it. They did what every disenfranchised group does when they want a new identity other than “reject.” They reclaimed the land and called it the dena. And suddenly it was something that belonged uniquely to them, an identity, to be from the dena.
I call it Pasadena, but then again, I got out.
Now I live somewhere when a store goes out of business, it’s hot real estate. It becomes a high end gym offering crossfit classes and personal trainer sessions. When something goes out of business in The Dena it rots and gets demolished, or becomes a vape shop. When the town’s anchor grocery store went out of business — an 82,000 square foot hub off a major roadway with high traffic volume — the Dena did not get its new crossfit gym. It got an indoor flea market.
Trash Mall. Where you can buy a pack of generic adult diapers, an expired dented box of heartburn medicine, a laserdisc copy of obscure 1982 animated fantasy film The Last Unicorn which has CAROL scrawled across the front in blue marker, and the commemorative Michael Jackson death issue of TV Guide, which is locked behind a glass showcase.
I am trash mall. I am clutterfuck. I am arms full of trinkets and trash, stumbling around careful not to drop my trash or spew it on the yoga mat moms and leather flip flop dads. Infamous boxing promoter Don King once said his hair was God’s aura. My aura to God is my weirdness, my internal trash mall, my android state.
That’s enough context. That’s the shit I’m working on right now. It’s good, right? But what you’re really here for is to see TRASH MALL. Because trash mall is not some brilliant metaphor I invented. TRASH MALL is devastatingly real.
As you approach Trash Mall from the parking lot, you wonder what it is going to be. Is it really going to be the old grocery store literally just filled with trash?
Yes. Yes it is.
Nothing has a price tag at Trash Mall. Nothing. It is just rows and rows of folding tables, scattered with trash. If you’re interested in something, the invisible people always watching from all hidden corners of the building will begin calculating a price in their minds.
At Trash Mall you feel like you are always being watched, although you cannot see the other humans. But they are watching, calculating, measuring your level of want, longing, perspiration, and desperation — and that calculation is the price of the item.
Trash Mall is like an antique mall only nothing is an antique, it’s all trash. The dealers aren’t old ladies doing a side hobby in retirement, curating and arranging their nesting piles of pink Pyrex bowls. It’s roughneck dudes who look like they’re the scrap dealers in a post-apocalyptic video game, and the scrap is a giant pile of useless broken exercise equipment.
Some of these pictures are blurry because I had to take them swiftly. As I was being watched, I became acutely aware that they knew I was taking photographs on my phone. And this was not a case of me being paranoid. At Trash Mall, paranoia and knowingness intertwine with one another and become indistinguishable — the knowingness flows through you, it speaks to you through the sentient trash, the side glances, the distant sighs…
Trash Mall is also where every copy of Meet the Parents on VHS goes to rest for eternity.
Trash Mall heard the kids were into vinyl these days, so Trash Mall salvaged a few thousand records from a wet attic with a leaking roof, that were then used for target practice, that were then handed to monkeys who pretended to be DJs by scratching the records with metal scrapers robbed from the dentist office.
At least they’re all a buck. (Except for the eight Beatles albums that were plucked out like chosen children of Jesus and displayed propped up drunkenly on the table. Those are all worth a thousand dollars a piece. FIRM NO HAGGLING.)
And oddly, also chosen up and lifted from squalor is this bin of Kiss and Sonny and Cher records, which are two dollars, specifically. Because it’s fucking Kiss and Cher. (And Sonny.)
In Trash Mall, painters tape is highly valued like prison contraband. It’s versatile for labeling or for taping cardboard room dividers to the wall.
ONE STOP SHOPPING!
At Trash Mall, you can get your diecast NASCAR collectables, tampons, bambos, and dirty stuffed animals all in one foot cramspace.
Need some shit? They got shit.
Need to digest? They got digestive stuff to digest.
Old grocery store fixtures that got left behind are perfect for displaying the new merch.
Laundry baskets also great for displaying the merch.
The grocery store moved out real fast, eerily fast, like they knew the zombie invasion was coming, so they just left half their bakery supplies. Trash Mall hasn’t figured out what to do with it yet.
Go on, rummage through!
Trash Mall probably needs to be condemned. The flooring is warped in places, there’s water damage everywhere.
Trash Mall asks you if you want to play a game. The game is this: see if you can find the one treasure, the one coveted piece that might glue your broken soul back together. Otherwise the blackness will swallow you and never leave you. It will become you and you will become trash mall.
Go on. Find your treasure before it the blackness finds you.
Maybe my treasure is this Billy Ray Cyrus Poster Book.
By the register I hear a woman chatting. She has found a small ornamental ceramic rocking horse for her collection. She is glued. She is healed. Her husband is an addict. Her one son is useless, from the Dena, lives in her basement. Her other son got out but he don’t talk to her either. But for now she has that rocking horse and she is saved.
Trash Mall releases its grip and she leaves, but it’s closing in on me oh God.
Trash Mall also has a Tiki Bar. I mean why not? Don’t we all have a pretend tiki bar somewhere in the trashed parts of our beings?
I imagine Mike is like the Wizard of Oz.
I’m tapped out. I’m out of words. I found no treasures during my visit. I lost the game. I’ll leave you with a few more pictures to peruse. Think what you want of Trash Mall, think what you want of me, but I’ll tell you this, I am pure, I am honest, I am hoard piles and trash barges and broken baby dolls and tiki bar. I am one stop shopping for your pain for your kindness for your thoughtfulness and thoughtlessness. Give it to me, I can hold it all. Trash Mall.
TRASH MALL. It kind of rules.