GETTING MORE TALE #649: Denizens of “The Mall”
Every mall has its questionable denizens. I’m not talking about mall rats or bargain hunters. I mean the people that are there every single day, not doing much of anything, just…being.
Stanley Park Mall in Kitchener, where I spent most of my childhood and early work life, had plenty of characters.
One of the first I was aware of was named “Butts”. Nobody knew his real name, but he earned the nickname Butts by fishing cigarette butts out of ashtrays. He was there frequently, and if not he was mining the ashtrays at Fairview Mall instead. We left him alone, but one kid from school named Kevin Kirby decided to make fun of Butts one day. Butts responded with a flurry of F-bombs. It all seemed rather sad to me and not at all funny. A kid making fun of this guy, and him telling a little kid to fuck off? Why not just leave him alone? I’m sure Butts was made fun of regularly, but Kirby was generally a dick. (Any time he teamed up with me on a school project I did all the work and he coasted off my grade.)
Sue came along a little later. She was in a bad car accident and was in a walker. She really liked the Record Store I worked in, and had a bit of a crush on the owner. We didn’t actually know about the crush until she gave him a Valentine’s Day card. She used to park her walker at the front counter and talk to him for hours. We didn’t assume that meant she had a crush, because there were lots of lonely people in the mall who just liked to talk. It was one of the drawbacks of working there. One day before leaving she gave him a card, and the owner didn’t realise it was a valentine. He opened it in front of us, and we all saw it. He was super embarrassed and really tried to avoid Sue after that. I witnessed him taking a huge dive behind the counter to avoid her when she strolled by! And that wasn’t an isolated incident. I learned from it – I took a few dives behind the counter myself over the years.
The last regular denizen to discuss was the saddest and I don’t know what happened to him. He was known as Johnny Walker. Like Butts, nobody knew his real name although his first name may actually have been John. They called him Johnny Walker because he would walk around the mall all day, every day. The mall was like a big rectangle, and he would complete numerous circuits through the day. He talked to himself as he did, mumbling away as he walked. If you overheard him, it would sound like a normal conversation but with just one person talking.
I’ve been trying to find out what happened to Johnny Walker but nobody seems to know. People at the mall said he was rich and didn’t work or need to work. Maybe it was an inheritance. Maybe an insurance claim. Nobody knew. His clothes weren’t ratty and he was clean shaven, but there was clearly something wrong with him. It was no act.
The general rule of thumb was “just ignore him”. Sometimes kids would make fun of him and he’d get loud and violent. He’d been kicked out of the mall a few times after a violent or loud spell. Then he’d go to a different mall to walk around, before finally returning to Stanley Park again. He was never gone too long.
As told in Record Store Tales Part 6, I only dealt with Johnny Walker once at the Record Store. He strolled in, talking to himself. I took a deep breath and hoped nothing would set him off. He walked, talked, and picked out a tape. He came up to the counter and immediately stopped talking to himself. I sold him the tape, gave him his change, and he walked out again, sharply resuming his conversation with himself.
All I really know about Johnny Walker is that at one point, he listened to tapes.
I hated seeing highschool mallrat kids following him around and shouting at him to “shut up”. If Johnny got loud and violent, I have a feeling the kids were the root cause most of the time. I’m sure they thought it was hilarious to harass this obviously damaged person. But he was still a person, a human being. Although it was sometimes startling to see someone walking around talking to themselves, it would have been nice if parents taught their kids a little respect. We don’t know anybody’s secret battles. Walker minded his own business any time I was present.
If anyone knows what happened to Butts, Sue, or Johnny Walker please drop us a line or leave a comment. I hope they are all doing better.