Omni, February, 1986
Lost Shopping Mall of Gold
Last Word Column by Terry Runté
“Here we have evidence that centuries before we ever thought of such things, the Mayans had built this mall, conveniently located and with plenty of free parking.”
The natives have a word for a legendary place in the depths of the Yucatán jungle: Mexzcapapapetalson. For centuries, this word has had a meaning of wonder and mystery for the villagers who live in the jungles. But it’s significance was lost on white explorers who didnt’t know what the word meant and couldn’t afford the costly English/Mayan phrase book, which was available only in hard cover.
Then in May 1985, a young archaeologist-TV miniseries producer named Brad Savage was shooting a pilot for yet another Raiders of the Lost Arc rip-off, when he made an accidental discovery. Buried beneath the dense undergrowth and crumbling from centuries of neglect, he found what at first looked like just another secret city of vast wealth and untold mystery.
In fact what Savage had accidentally discovered was the subject of a Mayan legend. A legend that has been so closely guarded by the natives that even they didn’t know about it. A great, unknown, obscure, secret legend.
There was no mistaking the huge, sacred logo that towered before the gates of this decaying mecca. And after several months of painstaking research, taking soil samples, excavating, and asking around, Brad Savage realized just what it was. Somehow, by sheer coincidence, the TV producer-archaeologist had stumbled across Mexzcapapapetalson: The Great Lost Enclosed Shopping Mall of Gold.
“Here we have evidence that centuries before we ever thought of such things, the Mayans had built this mall, conveniently located, with plenty of free parking and the kind of bargains you can only get with volume sales,” Savage said.
Even by the most modern, suburban standards, the Mall of Gold was vast. It covered two square miles and featured ceilings that towered more than 50 fee over the central waterfall.
“That waterfall must have been one of the great enclosed wonders of the wold,” says Savage. “Imagine water cascading down fifty feet over spiral terraces. The sound of the falling water would have made conversation impossible in more than half the mall. Fortunately, that was not a serious problem,” adds Savage. “None of the natives spoke English.
According to a little-known legend, the site of the Mall of Gold was chosen by a small, nomadic tribe that became hopelessly lost in the rain forest after booking a trip with a disreputable travel agent. As their supply of food and traveler’s checks dwindled, they despaired of ever seeing the primitive world again. So they built this mall. (It’s not much of a legend, really. But at least it’s to the point.)
“Since they couldn’t bring themselves to the people, they decided they had to bring the people to where they were,” explains Savage. “A shopping mall was the perfect solution.”
The mall quickly became the center of commerce in the Western Hemisphere, as thousands of Mayans, Incas, and other South American types converged on the complex that, according to stone carvings on the gate, touted itself as the perfect place for “One Stop Hunting and Gathering.”
The vast complex housed a myriad of stores where the natives could barter for virtually any item they needed for primitive living. Like any contemporary version, the lost mall had a great selection: 15 shops offered crude stone tools; 20, pelts and loincloths; and 75 footwear stores had everything from athletic thongs to more formal moccasins.
Archaeological evidence suggests the Indians strolled from store to store, sampling the food created especially for their consumption. Shoppers had a choice of prepackaged dishes, probably the first fast foods. They included: cacao (chocolate), cacahuates (peanuts), uahs (tortillas), and dabendies (hard pretzels). (Soft pretzels didn’t become popular until Cortez introduced mustard and kosher salt to the Mayans centuries later.)
As the mall grew in popularity, it began to offer other amenities. Bands of roaming flute players serenaded shoppers with bland versions of popular songs, and many of the local young people frolicked in something that resembled an arcade (although no one has yet figured out exactly what they did there.)
But the most popular entertainments were the human sacrifices. These ceremonies were once performed only in cities — at stuffy sacred temples or atop exclusive pyramids. Now, for the first time, they were accessible to the mall-going public.
“Initially the mall had one sacrificial center,” explains Savage. “But in time they expanded to a facility that had eight altars, each featuring a different type of human sacrifice. It was a lot like the modern multiscreen theater — only more so.”
One of the great mysteries of the Great Mall is the reason for its demise. “No one knows for sure,” says Savage. “But the best guess is that its demise was brought about by the popularity of the human sacrifices.”
Why? “Simple math, really,” says Savage. “The sacrificial centers had as many as thirty ceremonies a day. In only about thirty years, they had sacrificed half the population in the Western Hemisphere. At first they sacrificed virgins, but they ran out of them, pronto. Then they did teenagers for a while. Pretty soon, they did anybody they found loitering. Once people realized that they would probably get their hearts carved out before a god that resembled Big Bird, business dropped off.”
Not all the mysteries of the mall have been solved. Brad Savage will probably go to his grave pondering the greatest riddle of all: “I’ve studied every inch of this mall,” he says, “but I still can’t find a rest room.”
Terry Runté is a freelance humor writer from Milwaukee who hopes to open several human-sacrifice franchises in Chicago this year.