On either end of the Chico Mall, the employees of Verizon and AT&T are inside their respective stores, quietly signing people up. But in the Mall’s middle, the T-Mobile guys take a different approach.

“How much you payin’ for your cellular contract, sir?” one of them asks me as I walk by. They ask something like that to almost every passerby. T-Mobile has some deal going right now where they’ll buy you out of your contract—or, as one of the T-Mobile guys calls it, a “contrap”—with the other carriers. At one point I see one of them try to talk a guy carrying an AT&T bag out of the contrap he just signed like five minutes earlier. I admire their hustle skills.

I tell the T-Mobile guy—who I’ll call Zeb because he talks a lot of shit and I don’t want to get him in trouble—that I’m writing a story about the Mall.

“The Mall shouldn’t be this dead,” Zeb says, gesticulating with his prosthetic arm (“Zeb” doesn’t really have a prosthetic arm, but I figure if I’m going to disguise his identity, I might as well take a liberty or two). “There’s no excitement. Usually you hear echoes of laughter and talking in a Mall; here it’s like…” Zeb goes quiet, indicating that we should take a moment of silence. It’s true. There are just the faint echoes of footsteps and the muted rustling of Mall employees straightening their already perfectly straight displays. The Mall is dead as fuck.

Why is that? I ask Zeb, looking into his eye (one of his eyes was disfigured, and he wears a Pirate patch over it). He points around the Mall with his hook. “It’s these stores. What the hell is ‘Christopher Banks?’ Never heard of it. I mean…’Buckle?’ Seriously?” Zeb asks rhetorically/disparagingly in his robotic voice, speaking through the electrolarynx machine he has attached to his throat.

I keep walking. “You wan’ massage?” one of the employees of Aaron’s Massage asks me as a walk by. “Free sample, you try,” he suggests. “No thanks,” I say. This conversation is repeated literally every single time I pass Aaron’s Massage (at least like seven times). The masseuse tells me he’s from China. “So’s all the stuff sold in this Mall!” I point out, excitedly.

As I leave Aaron’s Massage, the Security Director, Roy, asks what exactly it is I’m doing. I tell him.

“The guy who set fire to the Roseville Mall was doing the same thing,” Roy explains. “He was writing stuff down, too. So that’s why this looks like a ‘not right moment.’” Roy thinks it would be best if I talked to Lynette Myers, the Marketing Manager. So I turn around and head toward her office.

“You wan’ massage?” asks the masseuse.

“No thanks,” I say.

I find Lynette Myers’ office. Ms. Myers seems highly conflicted/deeply anxious about letting me wander around the Mall asking questions (I should point out that, like Roy, she’s a super nice person just doing her job). She keeps asking me what my “angle” is. I keep telling her I go in tabula rasa. I watch her try to read my notes upside down. She gives me permission. But she adds, almost to herself, “I probably shouldn’t.” From here on out, the moment I finish talking to someone, Ms. Myers pops up out of nowhere, wringing her hands and asking me nervous questions about my “angle.”

Back in the mall, I kick it on a bench with 18-year-old Omar, who is waiting to meet some friends. Omar wears a backwards baseball cap over his mullet/rat-tail, and a t-shirt that reads “Sex, Drugs, and Rap,” in bold letters. Omar tells me that the girls usually come out after three. “[The girls] are why they made this Mall,” Omar explains. “That and to sell stuff. You feel me, bro?”

We go over his t-shirt, point by point, but in reverse order. Omar freestyle raps “his feelings,” he tells me. And he does drugs (“But not illegal drugs, cuz I got my 215”). And sex? “I’m not the type of guy who meets girls and has sex, bro,” Omar says. “I’m the type of guy who meets a girl and gets to know them. And then has sex. You feel me?” he clarifies. But Omar has a girlfriend now, so he just meets girls “as friends.”

Our conversation turns toward family. “Oh, my mom is an Angel! She gave me $20 before I came here. And my dad drinks, but he’s an awesome dad. The best dad ever. Always respect your parents, bro,” he tells me. Omar is a sweet kid.

I get up and head toward Spencers, but before I get ten paces, Ms. Myers manifests at my side as if through teleportation. “So… what sorts of questions, for instance, did you ask that guy?” she asks. I give vague answers and continue on.

“You wan’ massage?” asks the masseuse.

“No thanks,” I say.

Spencers has a beer bong/pong section, which has shirts that read, “Drunkest Bitch at the Bar” and “Let’s Get Red, White, and Wasted.” There’s also a dildo display. Did you know you could get dildos and guns (“Dick’s Sporting Goods”) at the mall? Me neither!

Out in the hall, Ms. Myers is pacing around reading my column from the previous week (which opens with a philosophical rumination on the bravery of strippers baring their buttholes), looking very agitated, or perhaps caffeinated.

I head back toward my car. I understand Ms. Myers’ skittishness. She doesn’t want some dick wannabe writer coming in and talking about how this place is filled with corporate propaganda and sweatshop-made crap all contributing to the looming environmental apocalypse. (I would never do that, personally, but I could see how she’d worry.)

“You wan’ massage?” asks the masseuse.

“No thanks,” I say.

The doors, the obliterating sun, the end.


About Emiliano Garcia-Sarnoff

View all posts by Emiliano Garcia-Sarnoff
Former busboy, sauerkraut-mixer, and Japanese hair model, Emiliano Garcia-Sarnoff is a writer and father of two, living in Chico. After quitting a job as an Erin Brockovich-like legal investigator, then hitting rock bottom in a scene that involved roommates, tears, nudity and police officers, the UC Berkeley graduate decided to go for broke (and he’s accomplished his goal!) in the exciting world of small town weekly newspaper writing.