The Beverly Center of the Universe
Hope in a bag
This week, quelle surprise, it was once again 10000 degrees in Los Angeles. Survival meant finding indoor air conditioning in large quantities so I headed to the worst mall in town: The Beverly Center.
The Beverly Center, contrary to what its name might suggest, is not in Beverly Hills. It’s in the West Hollywood hinterlands smack on Beverly Drive, hence the name. To be honest I’m a bigger fan its sister mall, The Beverly Connection (someday we’ll find it, the lovers the dreamers and me), which is located directly across the street. The Connection is a place where you can find all your problematic faves: Saks Off Fifth, Target, Nordstrom Rack, T.J. Maxx, Jamba Juice, Johnny Rockets. Unfortunately, it’s outdoors, and wandering from outlet to outlet just didn’t seem feasible given the current weather.
So I wandered across La Cienega to the shiny city on a hill (it’s not really on a hill but at four stories it’s as big as one!) and entered another dimension. Or at least what looked like one, because after a recent redesign the Beverly Center looks like a futuristic utopia with a cynical undercurrent.
Despite the veneer of futuristic fascism it really is a classic mall, full of escalators and atriums and polished white floors. Its main claim to fame is the “upscale” stores it houses: Gucci, Prada, a Sprinkles Cupcake ATM. I will never understand this. If you’re luxury shopping, why seal yourself in a terrible mall? If I had bad taste and a lot of money I would absolutely opt for a stroll down Rodeo where my bad taste could be on full display and I could absorb some fresh air in the bargain. Apparently I’m not alone in this opinion because the mall seemed woefully deserted. There were people there, sure, but it all felt like we were the survivors of some apocalyptic event, staying close to familiar things (H&M and Starbucks) until the world outside returned to safety.
There were also the mall stores that present an economic riddle. They’re the places you’ve never seen before or since that seem to exist in some loophole outside of the time/space continuum and also, no matter the trends of the current era, sell at least three different types of fedora. They are called things flat-earthers would name their children: Bronxton, Politix, Urbinique, and Eilatan. In the case of twins: Urbanly (sic) Chic, Rich & Rotten, and Maybe Crazy.
As someone who has spent the past few years reading about the horrifying effects of the retail industry on the environment, a casual trip to the mall can feel as morally repugnant as a casual trip to a gun range. But that doesn’t mean it has lost its seductive, addictive luster. As someone who grew up rifling through discount racks (see the aforementioned Beverly Connection) the feeling of acquiring a new piece of clothing, purchased at full price, wrapped in tissue, and placed in a paper bag is beyond euphoric.
As it happened, I needed a bra. Online shopping and second-hand shopping for intimates can be an emotionally harrowing experience, so I went to Bloomingdales. One forgets the advantages of an old-fashioned department store—the possibility of trying on many things at once and leaving with the one that works immediately, rather than subjecting yourself to a weeks-long process of looking at websites and then losing your nerve. Also, due to the staffing shortage, perky salespeople are few and far between, so you’re largely left to your own devices. I was able to try on a bunch of things, largely undisturbed, and one of them, shockingly, worked. It was made in the good old U.S.A. and seemed to be as eco-friendly as humanly possible even though, so the saying goes, there is no ethical consumption under capitalism.
I checked out at the closest counter (another luxury of department stores: multiple checkout counters!) with a woman who looked like a vampire, which might have been a style choice but also might have been because she spent all day in a place without windows. She handed me my Little Brown Bag™, crinkling with tissue paper. I left the mall with it swinging by my side, riding the retail high until I got home and that special little package became just another piece of my own crap taking up space.