“Doubt is to certainty as neurosis is to psychosis. The neurotic is in doubt and has fears about persons and things; the psychotic has convictions and makes claims about them. In short, the neurotic has problems, the psychotic has solutions.” – Thomas Szasz
“It’s not paranoia when they’re actually out to get you. It’s right thinking.” – Kim Martin
In Ottawa South near Bank and Hunt Club you’ll find the South Keys Mall, a wide slab of black asphalt and off-white facade that is, apart from the vague resemblance to an office-building washroom all malls seem to share, completely unremarkable. Drive a ways west of Ottawa to Kanata and take the right Queensway exit, and you’ll find yourself in a mall that is almost identical to the one in South Keys; there are some minor differences in the layout, but they’re so minor that you need to look long and hard to see them, and it’s a mall, so you really don’t want to point it directly at your eyes, so just take my word for it.
If you should find yourself in the outer western reaches of Kingston, you might find yourself facing an imposing field of parking lot braced on both sides by ugly white stucco; in the east end of Toronto, you’ll be able to find exactly the same thing; same parking lot, same miserable little trees, same stores in the same general, not-quite-the-same layout.
Even on good days I feel like I’m holding on to my sanity with two fingers, and if any one thing in the world is going to stomp its heel down on that grip it’s going to be these clone malls. They’re wierd, creepy and frightening, and whenever I stumble into one it always takes me a minute to figure out where I am and what part of my life I’ve woken up in; the opposite of cognitive dissonance, a too-strong resonance, like an opera singer who’s got it in for a wine glass.
Stumbling into a clone mall unprepared is like being dropped into a crappy Pottery-Barn-sponsored remake of Dark City. I can feel my brain smoothing it’s wrinkles out, minimizing the surface area exposed to attack, and my limbic system starts pulling every rank it can grab, screaming panicked gibberish at my forebrain. Damage report! What city are we in now? Kingston? Ottawa? What year is this? Red alert! Set phasers to kill and monkeys to twelve!
Then my newly-smoothed brain starts scraping the environment for clues. Shut up, limbic system! Dial down those monkeys! Ok, so what’s my situation? Let’s see, I think I know who I am, I’m wearing a ring, so I’m married… it’s summertime… I think that means it’s at least 2007. That woman over there, that’s Arlene, she’s my wife, that’s good… Shut up, limbic system! Christ! Now where am I? I think I was in Toronto a few minutes ago. This looks like Kingston? Limbic system: shut up! This is not “Truman’s World All Over Again”! Ok, it’s a little different. Reused plans. We’re still in Toronto. OK, good. Clone mall, don’t panic, it’s unfortunate but that happens sometimes. Dewrinkle, brain, I’m going to need you in a minute, or I’ll end up spending money in a megamall, and we can’t have that. Jeebus. OK. Deep breath, let’s all calm down and find me a coffee. Work with me here, limbic system, I want to enjoy it. Find me a parking spot, limbs.
That’s about two minutes of internal dialogue, right there. I don’t think I even have a fight-or-flight response left anymore; it’s all sulk-or-surrealism now. Let me tell you, my wife loves me at times like these. Absolute, unfettered love. It’s amazing that she hasn’t hit me with a brick yet.