Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Decline and Fall of American Consumerism: The View from the Trenches (Part IV)

Alma and I wanted to see the new release of Shakespeare's The Tempest. And we had to buy a Christmas gift or two today. So we headed back over to the Westside Pavillion whose Landmark Theater was showing the movie. (I will write more on the movie tomorrow but suffice it for now to say that it is well worth watching.) Since we were going to be at the mall anyway for the movie and the gift, we decided to do our walk there today. And I had promised a few posts earlier that I would update you about what I saw on a 2nd return visit to the WP.

We arrived at the WP at about 2:30 p.m. in order to put in our 90-minute walk before the movie began at about 4:30. The WP's layout resembles that of the Westfield Culver City Mall, about which I have also posted previously. 3 stories, the uppermost of which is partially occupied by a food court. However, the WP is far more upscale than the Westfield CC Mall, anchored on one end by Macy's (which it has in common with the Westfield CC Mall) but anchored on the other end by Nordstrom's. (The Westfield CC Mall is anchored on one end by Target and Best Buy and on the other by J.C. Penney, but it also has a Macy's mid-mall on the bottom two stories.)

How shall I put it? Activity at the WP in mid-afternoon on the Saturday just two weeks before Christmas was decidedly muted. Sure, there was more activity today than there had been a few days ago when we went there mid-week. But big-name outlets like Zales, Foot Locker and Sleep Number had 0 customers on multiple passes by each establishment. The Mall was even more of a ghost town after the movie had concluded and we returned to it to buy the gift. Alma seemed to think what we were seeing was normal for this point in the holiday shopping season. But I couldn't help wondering if California's 12.4% unemployment rate might be casting a pall over holiday shopping this year. With 1 out of 8 able-bodied workers out of work and probably another 3 out of 8 worried they might lose their jobs, it's a surprise that any of these shops is able to stay open.

Just as we were concluding our walk today, Alma and I witnessed a site that still bothers me. As we headed towards Macy's on the first floor, I happened to notice two uniformed Los Angeles police officers escorting a middle-aged woman in handcuffs towards us. In her mid- to late thirties, the woman was dressed conservatively in white slacks and a yellow top. She did not look like one of the homeless waifs one sees constantly in Los Angeles but also did not look like Nordstom's material either. Decidedly average looking, nothing exceptional. The two male officers passed us with the woman in cuffs between them. I turned to look and observed that they were walking her the full length of the mall towards the end anchored by Nordstrom's.

Alma and I turned to one another and our reaction seemed near unanimous. "That's not cool," I said. "There's no need whatsoever to humiliate and degrade this person by making her walk exposed to public view for the entire length of the mall." Alma agreed and said she thought the woman had probably been arrested for shop-lifting.

I expressed astonishment that anyone would risk shop-lifting at this time of year when security is apt to be tighter than usual. Alma quickly rebutted me "Oh no," she said. "Even if she is unemployed, I can see that if she has kids, they expect Santa to bring them something. I can just see some dough-eyed kid saying, 'What's Santa going to bring me this year, Mom?'

As we continued to walk, we each grew more incensed that this person, no matter her social standing, should have been forced to walk the length of the mall exposed to public view. Alma said she thought the fact that the two LAPD officers were men and the alleged perpetrator was a woman allowed them to think there was nothing wrong with what they were doing.

So when we reached the Mall's Concierge and Welcome service, we mentioned to one of the "hosts" there how unseemly we had found the whole matter. This host was quick to make excuses for what we had seen. First she said, "Sir, if it was LAPD we don't control what they do." We continued to protest that the LAPD had no business perp-walking this person through the mall to humiliate and degade her.

"They could have taken her out of the building through Macy's," I said. "They didn't have to make her walk the entire length of the mall in public in handcuffs."

Then the host said, "Sir, i was unemployed and I never shop-lifted." I pointed out that I was not saying that shop-lifting was justifiable but that I was objecting to the LAPD pulicly humiliating a citizen when there was no need for them to do so. She fell back on the "We don't control the LAPD" line as Alma and I walked away, me saying that what they had done and the Mall allowing it was the height of 'tacky' and very 'declasse' (classless), I could just tell that this person who had to be working class was decidedly not getting why what we had seen was so offensive.

However, after the movie was over, Alma and I somewhat undermined our high horse when we returned to purchase the gift for our friend at Brookstone. I only remembered how offended we had been after we were in the car and heading home. I hope this woman we saw is able to salvage something of worth from this holiday season and can only say that we wish her well and that her troubles dissipate.

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