The Full MOA

Think Black Friday was bad? Try living at the Mall of America for a whole week

A few regulars came in and we all whooped it up. For reasons I can't recall, someone brought up the topic of the smoking ban.

Alcohol mixed with sleep deprivation mixed with the restlessness of being cooped up for six days does strange things to a person's inhibitions. It doesn't just lower them; it grinds them into the floor and leaves a three-foot deep crater of neurotic rage. It was time to take what I drunkenly assumed to be a principled stand. I demanded a cigarette from Brittany.

"I thought you don't smoke," she said.

Details

"Just give me a cigarette."

Cigarette in hand, I stumbled over to each patron, one after the other, and asked if they minded if I smoked. "Yeah, go ahead," some said. Others were more into the spectacle and shouted variants of "Do it!" Once I got everyone's blessing, I stood in the middle of the floor and held the cigarette to my nose. "Do it, already!" the crowd roared.

I lit the cigarette to the inebriated cheers of a few onlookers. I was soon raving.

"People say this law is about smokers' rights versus nonsmokers' rights, but that's not what this is about!" I bellowed. "It's a matter of principle. It's a matter of property rights!"

An uncomfortable silence descended. You could almost hear the record scratch. "It should be the owner's call whether he wants smoking or not! Not ours. Not the city or state government's. Even if our intent is good, what kind of arrogance makes us think we have the right to someone else's property?" I took an exaggerated drag from the cigarette.

A few people clapped, probably because they figured I'd shut up if they showed me approval. Unfortunately, I didn't.

"There's a lot of this shit going on right now. Saying we should give up liberty for security. Saying we should give up property rights for health reasons. It's all bullshit. Can't you see? You can't be truly free when you're constantly trying to control everyone else."

"Sir?" It was the manager, Nick, standing beside me.

"Just wait. I'm not finished—"

"Sir, I'm going to have to ask you to put that out."

"Sure. I—"

"Come with me."

"What?"

He pulled me aside. "I'm going to have to ask you to leave," he said. "I don't want to see you in here for the rest of the week."

I told him, okay, you're just doing your job, here, have the rest my beer, don't worry, I'm not sick or anything.

 

Day Seven

Last day. Feeling haggard. Embarrassed. Vaguely nauseated. Hungover.

I spent this morning meandering through the amusement park and listening to the screams emanating from the roller coasters. They no longer sounded like gleeful yelps of fun—more like horrified shrieks of the damned.

Any one of these screams could be from a victim warding off a mugger, or fending off a gaggle of pteranodons, and no one would bat an eye, let alone call for help. Not here. Not in a place where blood-curdling screeches are more commonplace than laughter.

At noonish, I left that hellish echo chamber and wandered through the myriad kiosks dotting the corridors, trying not to make eye contact with the gregarious workers who accosted me.

"Sir, do you have a moment?"

"Sir, come try this! It's nice!"

"Sir, are you okay? You don't look so good."

Many had accents. As I would find out later, kiosk workers disproportionately hail from Israel and Russia.

"Their work ethic compared to Americans is not even close," says Ryan Carroll, the 24-year-old owner of two Green Tea kiosks. "They'll come here for three or four months, work their asses off, go back to their country, and they're set for life."

The booths generally cost $50,000 a year to rent, and proprietors hawk everything from Confederate flag belt buckles to perfumed lotions to T-shirts that say things like, "I'll give up beer right after I give up breathing." In a way, the setup's a throwback to old market squares, only with worse puns. (The two worst offenders both sell purses: Sacks in the Cities and Sacks Appeal.)

I tried to talk to three Israeli chaps working at a booth called Natural Beauty, but they seemed suspicious. They must have thought I was doing some kind of investigative hit piece on their booth, because one of them took me aside and said, "Do not write anything bad about us. The owner is very powerful in the Israeli mafia and he will kill you if you do."

By the time afternoon rolled in, I was too exhausted to walk any farther. At 2:13 p.m., I lay on a bench near the entrance of Macy's and counted the seconds going by:

2:21: A woman sitting on the other side of the bench says to her friend, "I'm not racist, but I hate Mexicans."

3:23: I see Sharky entertaining a cluster of children outside a Caribou Coffee.

4:30: I discover a $3,300 pen at Paradise Pen Company.

4:50: I take 18th place in a race simulation at the NASCAR Silicon Motor Speedway Racing Center.

5:57: I observe a large woman mercilessly beating her child in Legoland.

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