I trail behind my toddling son down Essex street, past witch shops and street vendors, and he’s got a set of plastic keys with a large plastic remote attached to it, as if it opened some door somewhere. He holds it out in front of him, pressing buttons, looking all around, like somebody who’s lost their car in a Wal-Mart parking lot. He points it at entry ways, he presses the buttons, and it emits low-grade digital blurps. This isn’t strange behavior at all. We gave him a set of keys without a car, without a home. It’s natural to wonder where they fit and what it is they open.
He guides me into the mall, where there are plenty of closed doors to check. I wonder how anyone could be making money off of this deadly-quiet commercial space. There’s the little polish deli and the orangish photo gallery, featuring tourists dressed like sorcerers and pirates, contorting their faces into some half-hearted sexy/evil grins. There’s the back entrance to a fortune teller’s parlor, and the exit from a haunted house. And then a set of stairs, which is irresistible in his quest. From the top of the stairs I can look out at the skylights that are smeary tan, using the light from the sun to make a light unrelated to the sun.
He’s looking at all the glass doors, or panels, that have been papered over on the second floor, and have no signage or clue to their use. And as far as I can remember, there’s never been anything really up these stairs, except those derelict panels, and an elevator that goes down. He slips onto a very small walkway, too small for me to follow him, and shimmies his way between the banister and the glass panels, looking down at the mall thoroughfare, looking back at the hidden room, maybe looking for a key-hole, listening for a beep-beep.
Give a kid a set of keys, and he’ll search out the thinnest possibilities in the remotest stretches of civilization. His keen sense regards neither presentation nor excellence, intention nor pop-appeal. Not today, at least. He passed by candy stores, little kids, some lady in a bra singing loud blues music, and the beloved sunshine of a clear day, all for this uncanny little corner of neglect. I like being here too. It’s kind of funny, being in the most worthless part of an empty mall on such a lively and culturally explosive day (there is an arts-festival taking place outside). I might not have the courage to do this alone, but my half-me chum makes it legitimate, like it’s something to do on a Sunday afternoon. It’s also kind of scary, the fact of that big blocked-off room, and the existence of a foot-wide walk-way in a public building. They are haunted and unanswered architectural questions, hours of labor, thousands of dollars to make no meaning and no money. I like being with these things, and I like the trouble they cause me.