The Vaults

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RIP, Richard Pryor.
His voice was already missed over the last several years, so it’s not so much of a loss in terms of current performers, but he was a titan in his day and one of the most influential comedians of all time.

When I was a kid Phipps Plaza was the almost forgotten little brother to Lenox Mall across the street. I had a friend in the neighborhood and when I’d visit we’d sneak over to Phipps and roam the nearly-empty halls, running up the down escalator with security tailing us as suspected shoplifters. They’d kick us out when we got too loud or started sliding down the stair railings.
A while back Lenox added a second story and massive food court, so Phipps had to reinvent itself to compete. Once-drab halls are now paved with finely polished marble. Once half the storefronts were empty, but now they host stores whose very names scare me away, clutching my wallet in shock. A light jacket at one store would cost me a month’s salary.
But I had time to kill on Tuesday, so I wandered Phipps in search of a bookstore, only to find they don’t have one these days. There’s a Borders across the street, but in the mall there’s only a tiny “newsstand” featuring half a dozen of the most mainstream of magazines (but 50 copies of each, for reasons unknown), a handful of newspapers, and variety of junk foods.
The marble floors are slippery, as if lubricated with fine graphite. I fantasize it is the dust from old money, since you’d have to have a lot of it to shop here. But I know better. Nobody uses money any more. Plastic gets swiped through the machines so frequently it doesn’t get a chance to build up dust. Phipps makes Lenox look like a ghetto mall these days.
Even the rent-a-cops have been upscaled. No longer the sleepy-eyed security guards of my youth, now they’re APD in full uniform, complete with firearms.
It makes me wonder where these people shopped before the renovation. Somewhere out in the suburbs, I suppose. I don’t know much about mall culture. Visiting Phipps as a juvenile delinquent a few times a year was as close to a mall rat as I ever got.
I gave up wandering when I realized there’s no bookstore or music store to distract me and got a seat in the food court to write this crap.
What is it with mall people all dressing alike? How many pairs of khaki pants must third world countries produce to satiate the thirst of American mall denizens? Not one but two separate pairs of twins go by dressed identically. I wonder if the Menedez parents dressed the brothers alike?
Aside from the food service workers, there is one group whose fashion stands out. Some young African American males still dress like rappers - jeans so baggy they have to be held up with one hand, fortunately paired with a shirt so long it more than covers the ass you know is hanging out underneath. To me they look like midgets in clown clothes, rather than the gangsta chic they’re going for.
At one end of the mall they’ve cordoned off an intersection for Santa. The usual brown-skinned labor vacuums the carpet while White-American-Suburban-Upper-Middle-Class-Woman sets up the display of t-shirts, frames, mugs, DVD’s and countless other ways you can immortalize the moment your child was terrified by a man in a Santa costume. The spot takes on the look of some Roman arena with enormous fake presents stacked around in a semi-circle like grandstands.
The only up-side to Phipps is that mid-week around 5ish it’s kind of quiet, even during “the most wonderful time of the year.” They don’t pipe in the Christmas music that chased me out of the Borders when I was trying to waste time there back before Thanksgiving (I haven’t been back since.) Phipps’ Christmas décor is classy and understated compared to some.
We liberals cannot possibly win the War on Christmas any more than Bush can win the War on Terror, but I’ll launch a few missiles at the pagan-ritual-turned-Christian-propaganda-turned-capitalist-wet-dream, then beat a retreat as the New Year rolls around in search of spectacle and sin to wash the saccharine aftertaste out of my skull.
The thing that riles me about Phipps is the women. They won’t look me in the eye. Most slide by without so much as a glance. I don’t dress up to code, I don’t have the cold confidence of the upper class, and these dogs can smell fear a mile away. It makes me want to go off on a Dennis-Hopper-Style rant, “LOOK AT ME!!!”
Pointless though. I’ve already been kicked out of this mall before, probably before you were born, officer, so it seems redundant to go there again.
“Settle down,” I tell myself. I’m just here to see a movie.
Maybe I shouldn’t have cut back on the antidepressants so close to “the most wonderful time of the year.”

Speaking of depressing, I was at Phipps for a screening of Steven Spielberg’s Munich. The film tells the tale of the aftermath of the terrorist attack during the 1972 Olympics - Israel's assassinations of Black September members and leaders. It's an interesting story, despite the three-hour length. Don't read any further if you prefer not to know details of a film before you see it.
If you don’t know anything about the attack on the 1972 Olympics in Munich, this film doesn’t provide a minute-by-minute account. Instead, it shows bits and pieces of the day’s events in flashbacks as justification and motivation for the Israeli assassins. The film may be a bit too long. You get the point that killing for revenge is a dirty business that robs you of your humanity, and that it will spiral out of control - and there’s still an hour left of movie to go.
As the terrorist leaders are killed, they get replaced with new terrorists and the assassinations inspire others to join the terrorists and the whole situation continues to escalate. A bigger picture emerges - revenge and violence will only result in more revenge and violence. It's an interesting story in itself, but triply interesting in that it still going on in Israel and Palestine today, and perhaps representative of the U.S. efforts to create a new democracy in Iraq through the use of warfare, propaganda and torture.
It’s a good film, but a downer. There is no message of hope here and even if you ignore the larger meanings, even the main characters don’t come away as winners. But it’s an important work of art in that it makes you think about some of those violent impulses we all feel when we react to violence.
If you’re interested in a more detailed account of the attack during the Olympics itself, rent the documentary One Day in September.
It doesn’t do a good job explaining the motivations of the people involved, but does an excellent job explaining what happened on that fateful day.

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