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Mack Williams: From curios to technology

I went to the Danville mall the other day for a haircut (no, this is not like “On the way home I posted a letter” from the Moody Blues’ “Dear Diary,” which reminds me that diary keeping is almost a lost art).

On the way back out of the mall, I passed a store area which had some meaning for me a dozen years ago. It’s now a Sprint Store with about the same look of spotless, “chlorox clean” as that room in which the astronaut was eating his “gruel” in one of the last scenes of “2001 A Space Odyssey”(1968), just before he wound up as a giant fetus floating in space.

When I worked a few nights a week in that space, it was much more human; in fact, it was so human that it was in itself, a little “multi-cultural” museum.

The store was owned by a little Indian lady of small build, but business toughness. In much the same way as a person can be called streetwise, she could be called business-wise. But even if some customer gave her a hard time about a purchase (which was rare), she had the rare talent of being demonstrative without raising her voice.

What made that little store exotic was its “wares.” They ran the gamut: resin sculptures of John Wayne, Geronimo, Hillbillies, Samurai, Buddha, Christ, Shiva, The Dali Llama, wolves, Bengal tigers, Indian elephants in “parade” dress, grandpa and grandma “country” dolls, African sculptures from Ghana, essential oils, a variety of incenses, different scented varieties of “votive” candle wax (one deliciously maple scented block even looked “waffled” (but I knew better than to eat it), and a lot of what could be described as “knick-knacks” to be placed upon “what-nots.”

A little bit of science was represented in the form of lava lamps, “Newton’s cradle,” and electricity globes.

There were also practical things like iron bed frames and lamps, including that “Christmas Story” leg lamp. One gentleman kept coming in  every week to see whether or not his lamp had come; and he was overjoyed when picking it up! He seemed as “leg-lamp” centered as the late actor Darren McGavin’s character in “A Christmas Story”(1984); and I hoped his lamp didn’t have a fate similar to the lamp in the movie. I also remember Darren McGavin’s TV show “Riverboat” from my Old Concord Road days.

During the time that my son Jeremy and I worked there, the owner invited us to a Hindu festival in Hillsborough.Robed men served wonderful vegetarian Indian dishes; and this was actually the first time I had tasted Indian food! If that sounds’ strange, remember I was one of those “meat and potato” kids in Roselyn Misenheimer’s 1963 sixth-grade class at Granite Quarry School who had never before eaten pizza or Brussel sprouts until we studied Italy and Belgium and Mrs. Misenheimer prepared those foods for us.

Everyone was gradually making his way up to the temple to share in a blessing; and the scene of Hindu Temple and worshipers reminded me of that part in Bizet’s Opera “Pearl Fishers” where the Goddess’s appearance before the adoring crowd is described in song.

We had interesting shopping guests there, including one man who made medieval weapons and chain mail ( in great demand at “medieval faires”). A pen-and-ink artist always brought his wheelchair-bound wife. When I saw him some years ago, he told me, with a lost look in his eyes, that she had passed away.

The store carried body jewelry; and one man’s earlobe hole was so big, I could see the mall store across the way “framed” by his lobe. Another man’s large, “swine-esque” nose ring made me wonder if he were “easily led.”

Upon reaching my car I thought back to how the “humanness” of that store space had been replaced by “soul-less” technology. To borrow Star Trek terminology, the place now looked almost so sterile that no self-respecting “carbon-based unit” would be caught dead there!

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