The last place I ever thought I would find something useful or significant was a shopping mall. Malls are generally good only for maintaining our nation’s teenager-based economy, and for giving high school girls a chance to wear hootchie clothing in a parent-free environment, and for retail clerks to practice making you feel stupid by looking for the CD in the same place YOU just looked for it and it wasn’t there and that’s why you asked them about it in the first place and what do they think you are, an idiot? So you can imagine my surprise when I discovered Provo Towne Centre selling, of all things, my childhood.
Allow me to set the scene: My insane boss had made a demand for Mrs. Field’s cookies, slathered in frosting. (I don’t mean my boss was slathered in frosting when she made the demand, though it’s possible she was. I only mean that she wanted cookies which were slathered.) In fact, what she really wanted was the frosting. If I could obtain a vat of it sans cookies, all the better.
Since I wanted to negotiate some additional vacation time, I agreed to perform this bit of monkey work. And so I found myself at the mall, despite my aversion to malls. And it was while walking through the concourse that I heard a song playing:
“Mister Wind is a mischief,
Mister Wind is a pest.
He blows my papers everywhere.
He never lets me rest.
Immediately and metaphorically, I was transported back to the early 1980s. My siblings and I are traveling with my parents to my grandparents’ house, about 75 minutes away. In our van we are listening to a tape called “I Have a Song for You,” featuring songs by Janeen Brady. These tunes are about people, families and nature. Themes include being special, snowflakes, brothers, and wiggling. We listen to this tape every time we go anywhere, which means we know the songs better than anything, including our own names. All it takes now, at the mall, is one bar, and I instantly know the entire song, as well as which songs come before and after it.
I determined the source of the music: a cart near the Mrs. Field’s booth. Now, in the hierarchy of mall stories, the cart is at the bottom. First you have your flagship stores, like Nordstrom or Sears. Then you have your basic mall stores, your Gaps and Banana Republics and whatnot. Some of these basic mall stores are based on very simple and/or stupid ideas, like the stores that only sell socks or aprons or paper clips or whatever. And then you have the kiosks, which sit in the middle of the mall and which are apparently based on ideas so lame, they don’t even merit their own stores, which is saying something, considering the aforementioned tie and flyswatter stores.
Below the kiosks, which are semi-permanent, you have the carts, which can be moved around at will. My childhood, in musical form, was emanating from such an ignominious location. A man was selling all manner of Janeen Brady products, including CDs, tapes and songbooks. All my life, I remembered the “I Have a Song for You” tape, but I didn’t know Brady had written other things, too. Heck, I didn’t even think anyone besides me and my siblings would remember the songs. I thought they were obscure. Little did I realize there was a Janeen Brady cottage industry.
Out of nostalgia, I bought the tape from my childhood, except I bought it on CD, because you have to draw the line on nostalgia somewhere. I also purchased the accompanying songbook so that I could play the tunes on the piano, though at what sort of occasion or gathering this would be appropriate, I could not imagine.
The songbook includes tips on helping children enjoy the songs more. For example, the previously quoted “Mister Wind Is a Mischief” suggests you use dancing to “let children express their own interpretations of the mischievous wind.” It then adds: “Brightly colored scarves might enhance their creativity.” I believe this is true in almost all situations.
Hearing these songs again inspired a strange and sudden burst of wistfulness. (I have not even mentioned my other favorite, “Sharing,” which goes, “If I had a penny/And you hadn’t any/I’d buy a candy stick/And let you have a lick.” It always seemed exceptionally cruel to me to offer one lick of a piece of candy and call that “sharing.”) When I visited home and played the CD for my family, I was glad to find they remembered the songs, too, and that since last hearing them 15 years earlier, we’d been imbued with the ability to create vulgar parody lyrics for them.
But back to the mall. As I completed my purchase, I saw three too-cool-for-school teenage boys walk past the cart, hear “Mister Wind Is a Mischief,” and dance around in a spirit of mockery. I was going to be angry with them, but then I realized they were right. In their position, I would have done the same thing. The mall is not a place for introspection.
The events described herein occurred in October 2002. I knew I wanted to write about it, but it was a few months before I could get the column to sound the way I wanted it to.
Every time I type the word "hootchie," which is alarmingly often, I spell it "hoochy" and have to be corrected. Do you ever wonder how they arrive at the proper spelling of brand-new, made-up words? Or who "they" even are? I do.
I encourage you with all due speed to visit Janeen Brady's official website, where you can download her songs. There is also a very good chance that you could hear "Mr. Wind" if you clicked this link.