The Downward Spiral


by Amanda Witherell

Ezra wanted to see The Departed and I was angling for Borat, so we decided to let public transportation pick the movie and time and just BART to the new Westfield shopping mall at Market and Fourth.

I loathe all malls, but it seemed the Westfield's theatre had an ample supply of what we were looking for. And I was in a charitable mood, feeling like I could just forget about where the profit from the $10.00 ticket was really going. After catching a train and pinning down a non-popcorn based meal we were, of course, cutting it very close, possibly into preview time (boding well for me and Borat.)

DisemBARTing at Powell Station, we escalated up into the city's functional levels and directly into the new shopping mall. This is when the Westfield revealed the true fascist nature of its architecture and mission.

A touchscreen greeted us at the entry. With no time for punching buttons, I approached the first male shunned by his shopping wife and asked where the movie theatre was. "Fourth floor," he said, with indisputable confidence, pointing to the conveyance that would take us there. Ezra and I plunged onto the escalator.

Rather than employ the practical direction of linear ascent, the Westfield escalators attempt to thwart all directed desire by sending the patron on a whirling dervish tour past every display window of every store on every floor before one achieves the proffered cheese in the trap. The escalators slowly curve with the graceful arch and speed of a winter's first falling snowflake that can often be pushed skyward by an upwelling of warmer air. The escalators flank an open spire that lends a Paul Gauguin-like view of "Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?" They are, of course, too narrow for the average claustrophobic and inevitably clogged with overstuffed Banana Republic shopping bags, rendering upward mobility a desperate dream.

Ezra and I, though braced for meandering crowds and implacable children, had not prepared for this -- had in fact, never conceived that the Fibonacci sequence could be put to such evil ends. It's impossible to navigate the Westfield on a direct compass course. This mall really breaks the mold, as far as sinister commercialism is concerned. While the building has maintained a spectre of elegance, the joy of opulent beauty is destroyed by the experience of shuffling along with the masses like cattle to the slaughterhouse gate, ever upward through the rising tide of Nordstrom floors...only to discover there's a whole other wing where the object of desire sits atop the cake.

Offshore sailors returning to shore always speak of the smell of land. The mates of the Mayflower probably caught their first whiffs of the new territory from the fragrance of the pine trees that covered it. Spanish conquistadors stumbling into the Caribbean islands might have smelled rotting breadfruit. Sailing into Richardson Bay past the flanks of San Francisco today, it would be the stench of commerce that would greet all intrepid sailors who dock not far from this new hub in Union Square. It's unfortunate this is what the city offers as a first landing for so many visitors.