Friday, December 24, 2010

Ghosts of Christmas Past

Well, no.  Not the ghost of old Jacob Marley.   But as I  walked around the Oakdale Mall today, memories of Christmases LONG past shanghaied me on what I'd planned as a simple "in and out" visit.

On a whim, I parked at the Sears entrance - at the Mall's one end - and walked the Mall. See, for about three years I literally lived there during the holiday season. My freshman year of college I lived on campus at BU. May sound pathetic, but it was a pretty big deal for this country boy to grab a bus  to the big bad Oakdale Mall.  

The following two years I spent at Broome Community College.  Because I had no car - and there were no dorms - for semester break basketball practices I rode in with Dad every day on his way to work. He dropped me off at BCC, I blew two hours at the library, then grabbed a bus to the Mall - where I spent the whole day until I grabbed a bus back to campus for practice.  

I have very fond memories of those years, spanning 1992 - 95. In the BCC library (a place I still love to write, where I wrote the majority of Hiram Grange two summers ago), I wrote my tentative - and awful - but special first short stories.  I discovered Issac Asimov's Science Fiction & Fantasy Magazine, Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Ellery Queen's Mystery Digest in the library's collection.  THIS was when my life-long dream of being a writer actually started to crystallize, even if only a little. 

After two hours at the library I grabbed a bus to the Mall and spent the whole day there.  Hard to do? NO WAY. Not back then.  It was SO much more interesting.  Now, it's filled with half a dozen indistinguishable clothing stores like Abercrombie and Fitch, seasonal stores, dollar stores, and who knows what else. I think CVS is still there. And Subway.

Back then, the Mall had the coolest stores.  TWO bookstores, in the pre-Barnes & Noble era, Cole's Books and Walden's Books.  Double the fun, and what little money I earned got spent there and in the best store ever, the Reader's Island, which had EVERY comic book imaginable, from DC to Marvel to this new brand called Image...I spent countless hours pouring over obscure titles like Darkhawk and a bunch of others.

And then, the store I think I miss the most - besides The Readers' Island....Saturday Matinee.  This store had TONS of movies.  Back then I was into Sci Fi, so I salivated daily over all the movies - popular and obscure - that I didn't have the cash to buy. I was pretty bummed when  it left our Mall.

I had a pretty set routine.  For the first half of the day, I'd roam the Mall and check out stores like Kay-Bee Hobby Toys, Spencers, and Saturday Matinee.  Usually, I scoped all the Star Wars/Strek Trek/Sci Fi memorabilia. For writing research, obviously. 

Then I'd crash at Burger King, (which ALSO left the mall), had a Whopper and burned two hours or so reading whatever new Star Wars or Star Trek or science fiction novel I was devouring at the time.  Then, the second half of the day I'd split between Cole's and Walden's Books and The Readers' Island, checking out the new offerings, blowing my money, and in the Reader's Island, literally camping on the floor in the corner and reading comic after comic.

All the time, I dreamed of being a writer.  That's all I wanted for Christmas. To be a writer someday.

I'd just turned twenty-one.  Barely had written anything.  But I filled my days with reading and reading and reading and dreaming of this thing called "writing". 

None of those stores remain in the Mall today.  That happens.  Time passes. Things go away.  I could feel sad about this.  But guess what?

I don't.

Because I'm on my way, I think.  Towards those dreams born back in '93, dreams that slowly came to life and percolated while I bummed around the Mall.  And because of that, those great stores and that time will always live on - in my head and my heart, if nowhere else.

Merry Christmas, everyone.