From Traindancing: The life cycle of the mall, how the ducks get plucked.

“Oh, the huge Manatees! Oh, the huge Manatees!” I hear that sometimes, in the chuffa-chuffa rhythms of the train. What started as a tiny minority of very fat people – mainly very old, very fat people – has become a stout plurality of the middle aged. And the out-waisting of the Western world includes almost all of us, not just the folks who have already broken the bathroom scale. It is rare at the mall to see anyone older than a teenager who is not continuously outgirthing his clothes, and it is not at all rare to see two- and three-year-old incipient Manatees.

“Oh, the huge Manatees! Oh, the huge Manatees!” I hear that sometimes, in the chuffa-chuffa rhythms of the train. What started as a tiny minority of very fat people – mainly very old, very fat people – has become a stout plurality of the middle aged. And the out-waisting of the Western world includes almost all of us, not just the folks who have already broken the bathroom scale. It is rare at the mall to see anyone older than a teenager who is not continuously outgirthing his clothes, and it is not at all rare to see two- and three-year-old incipient Manatees.

Just for fun, here’s slab of red meat from Traindancing, a book of Willie stories I’m working on about the choo-choo train at the mall.

This is ha-ha fun stuff, but it’s also a fun way for me to wrestle with the canons of art: How tiny a stage can I use to enact all the universe? That much is humor for one, I guess, but without humor for one there would be no Willie stories.

This bit is extracted from Like Holden Caulfield – the second time as farce: Turning the mirror on Loco Willie:

More grotesque than the Grotesques at the mall, for all of me, are too many of the Normals.

First we have the sheer weight of these creatures, with the outrageous corpulence of Americans being a recent, and, we can hope, a temporary phenomenon. I called all of the morbidly obese mall patrons Manatees, at first, but I’ve since developed gradations of gluttony: Turnips are almost normal-sized at the head and ankles, but they bulb out like, well, turnips, in-between. Manatees are wide everywhere, even at the face, and they look like big rounded boxes from the shoulders down. Double-Wides are even-huger Manatees, and there are even some Triple-Wides out there, still able to lumber along on feet all-but-enveloped by their own ankle-fat.

All of these folks are big front-to-back, as well as side-to-side, so they seem to sail slowly through the mall like so many (so very many!) ungainly yachts. And while it may seem rude of me to see you so often as a slowly-moving obstacle, there are people at the mall who take up as much space on the ground as a car. And I never have to skirt around three or four cars in a clump of corpulence.

And they get fatter, believe it or don’t. The status of being a Flesh Mountain starts when you are consigned to a power chair – a comfortable place to engage in continuous eating while you shop. Eventually, the chair will have its own medical apparatus – an oxygen line or an insulin drip. Still can’t seem to shed those pounds? Not to worry! You’ll lose a ton of weight when they amputate your legs. The very fattest of the Flesh Mountains at the mall go about reclined, short-tons of humanity being ferried around on waist-high battery-powered Roman litters.

“Oh, the huge Manatees! Oh, the huge Manatees!” I hear that sometimes, in the chuffa-chuffa rhythms of the train. What started as a tiny minority of very fat people – mainly very old, very fat people – has become a stout plurality of the middle aged. And the out-waisting of the Western world includes almost all of us, not just the folks who have already broken the bathroom scale. It is rare at the mall to see anyone older than a teenager who is not continuously outgirthing his clothes, and it is not at all rare to see two- and three-year-old incipient Manatees.

This is the actual life cycle of the mall, how the ducks get plucked: First you waddle over to Wetzel’s Pretzels – where they turn flour and water into cash-packed piñatas – to snag a bag and a Pepsi. You snarf that down as you trundle down to JC Penny to score some roomier duds. Then to celebrate the surcease of pain at your beltline, you lumber over to Dairy Queen for a Blizzard. Are you being bad or good? Self-indulgent or self-responsible?

Good grief! Hansel and Gretel could not have had better clues that something had gone grotesque in their lives. They weren’t paying close attention to what was going on around them, either – but I am. Like Bonnie and Clyde, I look where no one else is looking, so I see what no one else seems to see.

So take a look at how the Normals dress. Expecting to see high fashion at the mall? Even though Greater Arrowhead is a pretty ritzy suburb, you’ll have to salve your disappointment. You may spot a little bit of middle-brow couture, mainly from department store employees. And there will be a little bit of office attire, mainly from folks who are running into the mall and running right back out again. All against an over-arching tableaux of tee-shirts, sweat-suits, gym-shorts, sneakers, jerseys, hoodies and backwards ball-caps.

That mix-’n’-match melange of what are, essentially, rumpled pajamas, is hugely popular for men and women of all ages, with half of all Americans seemingly desperate to camouflage themselves as the most thoroughly-useless kind of teenage boy. That look is stupid on underpubed slackers, of course, but they at least have the excuse of being young and stupid. For grown-up adults, parents and grand-parents, to dress that way would be obscene – except some of the women are hoarding all the obscenity to themselves.

That would be the girls who don’t dress like teenaged boys. Instead, they dress like strippers – only with less actual clothing. You may want to picture these gals as being young and svelte. That’s how they long to see themselves. Alas, this is rarely true – but very often astoundingly false. An outfit that would merely be arrest-worthy on a fit underfathered fifteen-year-old – a skimpy nothing of a top over peeky-cheeks Daisy Dukes – is a sight-not-to-be-beheld on a Turnip pushing fifty.

Tattoos, piercings, earlobes-with-hubcaps – you think these are afflictions of the young, stupid and broke, but that’s true only in the most elastic of terms. Young, yes, in that almost none of the Normals wants to admit to being a day over sixteen. Stupid, yes, in that all of these choices are foolish in the context of a fulfilled adult life. And broke in that, no matter how rich these folks are – and some of them are very rich – damn few of them have any sense about money. But those kinds of ornamental displays, once the marks of savages, slaves, convicts and – oh, yes – strippers, are by now ubiquitous on teenagers of all ages. Someday soon I plan to write an educational bedtime-book best-seller called Let’s count Grandma’s tattoos!

And I could go on and on – so I won’t. Like the Grotesques, the Normals are who they are as the consequence of their habituated choices. Many of the Regulars are more normal than any Normal, away from work, and the Specials are made special by circumstances beyond their control. But unlike the Grotesques, the Normals represent themselves as being normal – all while being all-but-exclusively outrageously grotesque.

Why does that matter? Because there are children at the mall – and the Normals are presented to them as exemplars, as role models, as fitting representatives of the perfect practice and of the worth and benefit of the fulfilled and fulfilling self-responsible adult life.

Is that what the Normals are doing at the mall? Not so much.

No fathers, no families. No families, no future. The art we need is not about politics or economics or warfare. It’s about families – how they break and how to fix them. Traindancing is a benedy, so here you are seeing the dross from which Willie will spin up his gold. But this idea – Loco Willie as the pied piper of the Arrowhead Mall choo-choo train – is a book, a series of books, a feature film or a TV series. Want to change the world for the better? I need a lever. I already have a firm place to stand.

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