Shoppingtown (My Fantasy America III)

Inspired by Italo Calvino’s masterpiece “Invisible Cities,” Oakland author Elizabeth Gonzalaz James describes three fantastical cities encountered in her travels across an American landscape of dreams and fantasy.

[Author’s note: Italo Calvino’s masterpiece “Invisible Cities” finds the explorer Marco Polo describing to Emperor Kublai Khan various fantastical cities he’s encountered in his travels. Here I describe three fantastical cities I’ve encountered in my travels across this, my fantasy America.]

Shoppingtown is neon pinks and blues, lots of sand-colored faux Tuscan marble, glittering Santa Clauses, and nautical-themed food courts that stretch for days. 

No one lives in Shoppingtown. It’s just where all the abandoned malls and Circuit Cities and Paylesses and Gadzookses and Bennigans and unloved Red Lobsters have been put now that no one needs loaded shrimp poppers and buy-one-get-one pleather pumps. 

A fascinating place of empty pegboards and movie posters for Daddy Day Care; there the scent of orange chicken is never really out of the air. 

No one lives in Shoppingtown, but photographers are seen often prying open the steel gates of an Abercrombie so they can rearrange the anemic white torsos into something abject and postmodern and hopefully sell the shot to Esquire

Writers are also frequent visitors, hoping to see more than their reflection in a shuttered Mervyn’s, wanting to find spiritual meaning suffused inside a lone copy of The Celestine Prophecy left inside a display case at Borders. 

Shoppingtown is one of the fastest growing cities in America, with exciting new retail and dining locations added everyday. An ideal spot for escalator kayaking and parkour, Shoppingtown also attracts artists of the graffitti trade as well as local bands looking for a place to have a moody photo shoot. 

Parking is free and ample and visitors need never worry about ghosts haunting the dim corridors and musky pink-tiled bathrooms, as there isn’t enough spirit in the whole of the city to entice even one finger of any self-respecting phantom. 

That’s because, though everything is disposable in Shoppingtown, nothing really dies. 

The backwards R in the Toys “R” Us sign glows forever in memory. The smell of burnt hair lingers still outside Regis Hair Salon. 

And though trees may grow in the lingerie department of Sears, the building itself stands resolute as a Gothic cathedral, an emblem of a middle class that will not be so easily forgotten.         

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Elizabeth Gonzalez James

Elizabeth Gonzalez James

Before becoming a writer Elizabeth was a waitress, a pollster, an Avon lady, and an opera singer. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The Idaho Review, The LA Review of Books, The Rumpus, and elsewhere, and her stories and essays have received multiple Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominations. Her first novel, MONA AT SEA, is forthcoming, Spring 2021, from Santa Fe Writers Project. Originally from South Texas, Elizabeth now lives with her family in Oakland, California. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram: @unefemmejames

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