Modern life doesn’t suit me. It’s noisy, fast-paced and, generally, crass, filled with gadgets and run by cynics, those who, in the classic definition of the term, know the price of everything and the value of nothing.
But, truth be told, I’ve always been out of sync with my times. As a teen in the 1970s, I couldn’t get my bangs to feather right, I couldn’t solve a Rubik’s cube, and I hated disco. Thirty years later, I don’t have a cell phone, I’m not on Facebook, and I pay for every transaction with strange handfuls of worn paper and coin. I know, I know, I’m a dinosaur. Or, to put it more politely, I’m an antiquarian, someone for whom the past is attractive mostly because it’s quieter. I like used bookstores (which are disappearing), libraries (which are rapidly going electronic and therefore disappearing), phone booths (I think I saw one somewhere six weeks ago), and manners (that ship has largely sailed).
So, how do I find the strength and inspiration to keep going in a society that’s built on power, profit and pornography? In Edmonton, there’s one jewel of a refuge for my out-of-sync kind, one place where I can free myself from the mouse-race and feel comfortable: The mall.
No, not that mall. I speak of the glorious Old Strathcona Antique Mall on Gateway Boulevard with two storeys, hundreds of vendors and thousands of vintage goods on offer, everything from 1960s Peanuts toys in their original packaging to antique rolltop desks to carousel horses, vinyl records and signed Gordie Howe photographs. There’s even a little cafe in the corner for when it becomes too much and a rest is needed.
Of course, any trip down Memory Lane can be perilous: Do I really need to be reminded of the Smurfs and the Bay City Rollers? Ah, but that’s a small price to pay for a middle-aged man who needs to believe that his past and the past in general haven’t been completely obliterated by the Merchants of Penis (Viagra/Cialis) and the creators of the latest digitized drek.
There might not be any phone booths left, but as long as this Old Strathcona Clark Kent has the antique mall to slip into, the world will never be a completely cold and vulgar place.
Tim Bowling is the author of 16 books, most recently, Tenderman, a collection of poetry, and The Tinsmith, a novel about the American Civil War.