My sister stood and cried
--"Come Dancing," The Kinks
It's a hell of a thing to find out on Facebook first thing on a Monday morning. I've found out about births, deaths, and my ex getting remarried on Facebook. This, however, was different.
We didn't have anything like the Palais in the small southwestern Virginia town where I grew up. What we did have was The Mall, always pronounced with capitals.
And now it is closed. And on the auction block. And is likely to be bulldozed for something newer, shinier, and a lot less meaningfull. At least to me.
Friday nights growing up in Bristol were pretty much the same for everybody. Up until sixth grade, everyone was at home watching television with the family. Granted, there were those rare, joyous occasions where someone had a birthday and their mom (it was always mom) was brave enough to host a slumber party, where you got together with a half dozen of your friends...and watched tv at someone else's house. But the snacks were better. And, if you were really lucky, there was a brief respite from annoying younger siblings.
Fridays in 7th and 8th grade were "skate and mingle" nights at Skate Fun, sponsored in turn by various youth groups. Other than determining that you would be grounded for life if you thought twice about going with someone from another church and providing a steady stream of ankle injuries for the local ER, I never got the point.
But if you were very, very good and did your homework and your parents considered you trustworthy, come 9th grade, you got to spend Friday nights at The Mall.
(Okay, if your parents were too busy running an illegal NASCAR betting ring and dealing weed out of the back of the trailer, you got to go, too. But this is my story, damnit!)
Looking at the pictures on Facebook, I'm surprised at how small it looks. How dingy. When we were 14, 15, 16, that was OUR Palais, and we ruled it in stompy boots and black trenchcoats and secondhand smiles. Granted, it wasn't as cool as the Johnson City Mall the next town over (and fuck them. They're snobs and preps anyway) or the Knoxville Mall, where you get to go once or twice a year, usually for school clothes or to shop the after Christmas sales and snap up half-price perfume sets at JC Penney's with mom and grandma while grandpa eats his way through the food court.
This place was ours.
Looking through the pictures the empty storefronts sing with memories. The Gold Mine, turned into a shoe store....but it will forever be the arcade where I taught boys that girls could play video games and kick their asses.
B. Daltons. The only bookstore in town. The place I spent most of my allowance. The rest of my raven-clad brethren would stand outside, trying to look cool. The raven girls would swarm in the shop, snapping up books and magazines. This is where I discovered Anne Rice wrote "other" books under an assumed name. One copy purchased because it was a trade paperback, passed around and around with us girls.
We smirked behind their backs, knowing we'd be shoving their hands away because the stories spun in forbidden book were more interesting than the fumblings in the back of the movie place.
The Record Bar. All black and white checkerboard tile, red neon, and every album you could wish for. I plowed through the cut out LPs, finding Thompson Twins were more than the top 40 hits I adored. I met Sinead O'Connor there for the first time, picking up 'The Lion and the Cobra' with shaking fingers and knowing my life was about to change.
I sift through the pictures. Empty storefronts. Gapaing maws. Swallowing a life I had, dark clad and loved. A moment of solidarity. Dark warriors and freaks, the lost and the lonely, the broken and the defiant.
There's Parks Belk, the bastion of everything we weren't and could never have. We run through, scary, ravens and crows, cackling on our way to the elevator.
It is glass and smells like money. We jump up and down, hoping to hit the sweet spot where the elevator starts to move and you are suspended in air, coats and laces and dyed hair and family left behind. Suspended.
You run to the Picadilly Cafeteria. Nine coffees and a piece of cherry pie. Maybe a cheesecake, too, if someone got paid that week.
The kids who have the five finger discount spill their bounty out of hidden pockets. I smile weakly, turning down offers. Finally, I smile a bit and palm a strawberry lipgloss. A pair of hoop earrings. I sip my coffee.
The memories shift from then and now.
I touch the screen for the final slide on the show, the offer of selling those days to the highest bidder.
The day they knocked down the Palais
Part of my childhood died, just died
--"Come Dancing" The Kinks