Death of a Mall

Is this for the door or the entire mall?.

Something I’ve wanted to do since we got back to Phoenix two and a half years ago was pay a visit Metrocenter mall to see how it’s changed over the past thirty-five years, but it seemed there were always more important tasks to attend to when we were in the area and I never seemed to get around to it.

Once upon a time this was the happening place in the (then) northwest valley. It opened my sophomore year in high school and I was immediately entranced by it’s futuristic, foward-looking architecture. Over the years it became one of my favorite hangouts, suppling clothing, music, sundries, and even an occasional fleeting lascivious encounter. I worked at two stores there: Diamonds (later to become Dillards) and Broadway Southwest. I bought Village People’s Macho Man and Michael Zager’s Life’s a Party at Musicland there the day they came out. My friend and great unrequited love Steve Golden worked at the Jox store. Needless to say, the mall holds many memories, so it was very sad indeed today when I finally had the time to stop see what had become of the place that played such a big part of my early adult life.

I knew that the mall was dying, but was unprepared for just how far gone the place was. Of the original 1970s anchors (Sears, Rhodes, Broadway Southwest, Diamonds and Goldwaters), only Sears and Diamonds/Dillards remained open. Broadway Southwest was demolished during the last two years to make way for a Walmart; the other stores (having long since changed corporate hands and branding several times) are now completely boarded up.

JC Penney

Vast stretches of the smaller stores are closed completely. When I was there at 10:30 am today, the few remaining stores that were still in business were all closed until noon. There were at most 50 people in the mall and four of those were extremely bored-looking security guards who couldn’t even be bothered to enforce the “no photography” edict I was so blatantly violating. Maybe it gets more traffic after 12 pm, but considering the number of stores that are outright out of business, I doubt it.

The view from the entrance to Sears
This is what death looks like

I made my way to the Food Court, a place that was once so vibrant you could be assured of waiting in line no matter which vendor you chose. When the mall first opened, the court overlooked a lower-level ice rink, and sported a bar that was built inside (or at least resembled) an aircraft fuselage that hung over the edge of the upper level and looked down on the ice rink. The ice rink and the bar were removed in early 90s, so I wasn’t surprised to see them gone. But I was a little surprised to see just how vacant the rest of the food court had become.

More than half boarded up

So another part of my young adulthood has died. This seems to be more and more common the older I get, and I suspect—is the same for every other person on the planet.

What surprises me the most about this (and the fact that Paradise Valley Mall seems to be suffering the same fate) is twofold. Firstly, the stores and restaurants on the ring surrounding the mall are booming. Secondly, “mall death” doesn’t seem to be the case in Denver. Denver malls are still alive and vibrant community gathering places. So what’s happening in Phoenix that the malls are rotting from the inside out?

He Would’ve Turned 60 Today

And I find that harder to wrap my head around than the fact that he’s now been gone for more years than he’d been alive when we met.

Steve Golden, 7/18/57 – 1/23/90

I’m a part of that subset of Boomers who didn’t have to go to war. Too young for Vietnam, too old for the Gulf. Hell, we didn’t even have to register for the draft when I came of age.

But that doesn’t mean we didn’t still suffer the loss of war; a silent, yet deadly war we fought in the streets, in hospitals and the halls of Congress that easily ripped as many of our finest from us as armed combat on foreign soil.

The Island of Misfit Toys

Or, as I like to call it, “Tech of Yesteryear: Stuff I’ve Owned.”

My first calculator, a Texas Instruments SR-10. Four functions plus square root, square and inverse!—$89 in 1974. I needed it for Chem/Physics.

My first 10-speed bike, a Schwinn Continental—$105 in 1972

My first (and only) typewriter, an Olympia Report Electric SKE—price and date forgotten (1974?). Sold in a fit of perceived poverty in 1990.

My first hi-fi turntable, a Philips GA-212—$200 in 1973. I had to have this particular one because it was touch control! Little did I know that when the bulbs under the touch controls burnt out, the controls stopped working altogether, necessitating a costly trip to a repair shop. It wasn’t like you could just go online and order replacements.

My first awesome, truly high-tech hi-fi turntable, a Technics SL-1300Mk2—$500 in 1978.  I took out a personal loan for this one. Of course it died within months of being paid for and then sat in a repair facility for months because the particular integrated circuit that had failed was on indefinite backorder. (Such is the life of an early adopter.) I finally retrieved it from the shop and shipped it back to Panasonic for repair. It was returned, and UPS left it with the neighbors’ unattended children, where they proceeded to destroy it. UPS and Panasonic wrote it off as “destroyed in shipment” and sent me refurbished unit. But it was never the same, so I sold it in 1980.

I replaced it in 2000 or thereabouts with a near-mint unit that came in the original packaging. The arm lift mechanism on this model was a notoriously bad design that self-destructed after about 5 years of use, so I had it professionally repaired by a friend back east (now, sadly deceased) and it’s worked beautifully ever since.

My first digital watch, a Novus—price unknown (but it wasn’t cheap) in 1976. It was a high school graduation present from my parents. Like all digital watches of the time, you had to hold down the button to make it illuminate and show you the time. It died sometime in the early 80s.

My first hi-fi amplifier, a Sony TA-5650—$550 in 1976.  I bought it for myself with money I received for my high school graduation.  Another piece of cutting edge tech that wasn’t quite ready for prime time, the 5650 had the very annoying habit of self-destructing every six months or so, necessitating a visit to the repair shop to have some diodes replaced  (to the tune of $75 a trip—quite a bit of money for the time). After the second or third time it happened, I decided to replace it, but nothing came close to the sweet, sweet sound the V-FETs produced, so I kept getting it fixed.

The last time it died, sometime in 1986, I replaced it with a rock-solid Yamaha amp and kissed it goodbye, leaving it in the laundry room of the apartment complex I was living in at the time. I did that because I just couldn’t bear to toss it in the dumpster.

My first computer, a Commodore VIC-20—$200 in 1981. It hooked up to a television, and since Dennis (my first partner) and I couldn’t afford to buy the external cassette drive to save the programs we spent hours meticulously typing in BASIC, it was an ongoing lesson in frustration. But it did light a spark that eventually culminated in my current career.

My first hi-fi cassette deck, a Sony TCK-555—$370 in 1984. I waited a long, long time to finally get a good cassette deck for my system. Little did I know that in only two short years they would start marching toward the graveyard of history.  It was a good—not great—deck, but it served me for several years before being replaced.

My first new car, a 1984 Toyota Corolla SR-5—$11,000 in 1984. Damn, I loved this car. I sold Dorothy in 1989 after deciding that owning a car in San Francisco was more trouble that it was worth. It was also reaching the point that it was needing some expensive repairs and I had no way of paying for them, so I had to say goodbye. It’s the one vehicle that still shows up regularly in my dreams, never having been sold, but merely put into storage all these years…

My first CD player, a Yamaha D-400—$360 in 1985. As I recall I blew my whole tax refund on this. I had wanted to get a Technics SL-P2 but it had been discontinued and I didn’t like anything in the Technics lineup that replaced it. I should’ve done more shopping before jumping on this one, however.  It sounded fantastic, but it could only display the track number or the time, but not both. Seriously, Yamaha? I replaced it in 1990.

My first portable CD player, a Sony D100 Discman—$400 in 1987. This was Sony’s second-generation portable, and I loved this bit of tech. The only reason I eventually got rid of it was the headphone jack kept coming unsoldered from the main circuit board (one day after the warranty expired, typical of Sony products). It was an easy-enough fix to do myself, but I finally just got tired of dealing with it.

My first 35mm camera, the Pentax ME Super. I got this from my second partner in exchange for some money he owed me. I adored this camera. I won’t say my ratio of good photos to bad was excellent, but I remember it being decidedly better than all my subsequent years of digital. In my rush to go digital, I sold it to buy a new camera. WORST. DECISION. EVER.

My first digital camera, the Canon A10—$125 (steeply discounted) in 2003. It ate batteries which severely limited its usefulness, picture quality was so-so, and it was a pain in the ass to actually get the photos off of it. I was so relieved when I finally got the funds together to replace it.

This was the camera I replaced the A10 with, a Panasonic DMC-FZ7. This camera went everywhere with me (including a road trip to Yellowstone), and together we got some stunning shots.  After a couple years, however, I tired of the all purple fringing showing up around bright areas in the photos and after replacing it with a Sony, sold it on eBay.

In Memoriam

He would’ve been 55 today. And it’s doubly sad to realize that he’s now been gone for more years than he’d been alive when we first met.

It was the night of the summer solstice, and typically warm for Tucson. I’d just come out of a disastrous three week affair with stunningly beautiful mortician’s assistant, newly arrived in Arizona from the wilds of upstate Michigan. The man was gorgeous and the sex was great; unfortunately he was completely and utterly unavailable. This was turning into an all-too-common scenario that had played out again and again in the year or so that had passed since I’d begun exploring life and love after having moved out of my parents’ house and into a place of my own.

In fact, I was becoming so disheartened by these turn of events that I started questioning whether this “lifestyle” was all it was cracked up to be. Did straights have it any easier?

Angry and depressed—and against my better judgment—I went out that evening. I was young and horny and figured what better way to get over a broken heart than to try and score a little skin-on-skin action with someone new? (Hey, I was 23. Cut me some slack!)

At the time there were less than a handful of gay bars in Tucson, and of those, there was only one real dance club: The Joshua Tree. JT’s as it was known, had been around in one incarnation or another for years and never failed to draw a nice crowd from the university. Just what the doctor ordered.

Not unexpectedly, the evening had not gone well. It was one of those nights where everyone sensed the thundercloud hanging over my head and steered clear of me completely. After about an hour of being summarily ignored, I decided to give up, drive down to the Bum Steer (a straight pickup bar a few blocks from campus) and see how the other team played. I mean, no harm in a little “experimentation,” right?

As I was getting ready to leave, I remember telling the Universe, “If you want me to keep on being gay (like I had any choice in the matter), you’d better send a sign—and quick—because I’m walking out of this bar—and away from everything it represents—and I may never come back.”

As I was pushing my way through the crowd streaming in through the narrow entrance hallway, I locked eyes with this cute strawberry blond boy coming in. He looked at me and smiled. Even as the crowd behind jostled me out the door, time stood still for the brief instant our eyes met.

Once outside, I thought about what had happened and I immediately turned around and went back in.

A few minutes later I found him sitting out on the back patio sipping a beer. There was only one place to stand where I could get a clear view to safely flirt from a distance (because there was no way I could just go up to him and say hello) and I grabbed it straightaway.

It didn’t take him long to spot me standing there. We kept making eye contact, and I was trying very hard to look cool while swatting away the insects swarming around the neon sign that was unfortunately located right over my head.

After several minutes, with a big smile on his face, he nodded for me to come over.

Conversation was easy, and it took very little time for us to decide to go back to my place and get to know each other better. During all this I remember thinking, “Oh LORD…what am I getting myself into this time?”

Little did I know.

Sex wasn’t great that first time, but there was something that drew us back together the very next night. And the night after that. And the night after that. And it was then that something happened. As we lay there, looking into each other’s eyes we simultaneously blurted out, “Something special is happening here, isn’t it?”

Yes there was. And apparently those simple words were all that were needed to help him come to a decision about something he’d been struggling with; he returned home the next morning and came out to his mom.

It was not well received. I believe her exact words were, “You can either not be gay, or you can get the hell out.”

All of a sudden, and quite unexpectedly I had a housemate boyfriend lover.

It was a first time relationship for both of us, and given the option, I don’t think either one of us would’ve chosen this particular way for it to begin. But as they say, you deal with the hand that fate has given you. Unfortunately, I didn’t exactly do all I could to encourage and nurture it, either. Being fiercely independent, after two weeks I was climbing the walls having this other presence invading my personal sphere. Sensing my discomfort (no doubt because I’d gotten absolutely surly), after long, drawn-out negotiations, he came to a working truce with his mother and moved back in with her.

But after only one night alone, neither one of us could bear the solitude, and that “something special” we noted would not be ignored. He started spending nights with me again.

This was in direct violation of the agreement with his mother, and a week later, finally accepting the sweet inevitability of what was happening between us, I opened my heart and home to him fully, and he moved back in.

Six months passed and we moved into a new apartment—one that was ours—but now neither one of us was happy. Once again he made peace with his mom and returned to his childhood home, leaving behind most everything he owned “to pick up later.” (I think he must’ve known it wasn’t going to last this time either.)

He was right. While we didn’t see each other for the next week, we were on the phone every night until finally his mother picked up one of the extensions while we were talking and said, “It’s obvious you boys love each other. Get back together and work things out, will ya?”

We did. And while as lovers we didn’t last more than a couple years beyond that fateful conversation, our friendship deepened and endured for another decade until AIDS snatched him away forever.

Dennis Shelpman
18 March 1961 – 29 January 1991

R.I.P. Edgar Mitchell

Edgar Mitchell, one of just 12 human beings who walked on the moon, has died. He was 85.

“On behalf of the entire NASA family, I would like to express my condolences to the family and friends of NASA astronaut Edgar Mitchell,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement. “He believed in exploration, having been drawn to NASA by President Kennedy’s call to send humans to the moon. He is one of the pioneers in space exploration on whose shoulders we now stand.”

Mitchell died Thursday in West Palm Beach, Florida, according to NASA. His death occurred on the eve of the 45th anniversary of his lunar landing, which took place on February 5, 1971.

Mitchell, Alan Shepard and Stuart Roosa were the crew of Apollo 14, which launched on January 31, 1971. Mitchell became the sixth man to walk on the lunar surface.

He and Shepard set foot on the moon two separate times during their mission, spending more than nine hours collecting rocks, taking measurements and (in Shepard’s case) hitting a pair of golf balls. Mitchell also took a famous photograph of Shepard standing next to an American flag. All told, the two spent 33 hours on the moon.

Mitchell, who was the lunar module pilot, found the trip to be a profound experience, telling the UK Telegraph in 2014, “Looking at Earth from space and seeing it was a planet in isolation…that was an experience of ecstasy, realizing that every molecule in our bodies is a system of matter created from a star hanging in space. The experience I had was called Samadhi in the ancient Sanskrit, a feeling of overwhelming joy at seeing the Earth from that perspective.”

Fascinated and frustrated by the relationship between religion and science, he was very public about seeking links between the known and unknown, being a firm believer in extraterrestrial activity, and was convinced UFOs had visited Earth.

In one interview, he told Bloomberg Business that the 1947 Roswell incident, which to some people is evidence of an extraterrestrial crash landing, was covered up, saying, “It’s not just military. It’s a cabal of organizations primarily for a profit motive.”

The astronaut was born in Hereford, Texas, in 1930. A Navy pilot, he joined NASA in 1966 as part of the agency’s astronaut corps. He was well-qualified: besides having served as a test pilot and college instructor, he earned a doctorate from MIT in aeronautics and astronautics.

With Mitchell’s death, of the 12 men who have walked on the moon, seven survive: Buzz Aldrin, Alan Bean, David Scott, John W. Young, Charles Duke, Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt.

Many have talked of their missions with joy and wonder. Mitchell went beyond, however: he believed we were all connected—to everything.

“We are not alone in the universe,” he told the Utica Phoenix. “We are just one grain of sand on a huge beach.”

Aspire to Greatness

Depression is something so profound it transcends being a comedian (or even happiness itself). It may even be correlated with the profession. But hearing that Robin Williams—who if only unconsciously we all expected to always be with us—took his own life, does make you step back for a moment and ponder the entirety of the human enterprise.