The Great Outdoors

Irony can be horrifying.

We call cities 'the concrete jungle'. But I have now regarded, with gaping, awe-struck eyes, the greatest, the most dreadful, the most fearsome and formidable and redoubtable of all possible man-made wildernesses. I saw it last night, and my brain is as seared by its transcendent, terrifying splendor as if I had stared into the very eldritch, seven-horned visage of N'yaarlahotep, the Goat With A Thousand Young itself.

This uncanny nexus of fantastic contradiction is known as Outdoor World. You cannot imagine the vistas of insanity there if you have not seen them first hand. But, with trembling hand, greying follicles and bloodshot eye, I will attempt to set forth a poor, dim, vaguely etched representation of them here.

If Galactus liked to shoot him some geese or get him a fine rack of antlers in season, tromping through the interstellar hills and plains, his enormous crepe-soled purple hunting boots crackling merrily in the gas and plasma undergrowth, clad in a black and red checked cotton jacket the size of one of Jupiter's moons, a wild game license roughly as large as New Zealand pinned between his cosmic shoulderblades... well, Outdoor World would be his hunting lodge. Four stories high, 250,000 sq. ft across, this is a brobdignagian site of astonishing proportions. Support pillars shaped like redwood trunks ten feet around and forty feet high rise from floor to ceiling, cunningly shaped of pressed, dyed concrete. Dense foliage made of pressed fiberboard and shiny green plastic dapples with wildernessesque shadow the cunningly yellowed illumination thrown by the carefully hidden track lighting. A small herd of beautifully stuffed and preserved woodlands creatures populates the place, frozen into various poses of interest -- deer graze at the painted concrete floors, mighty antlered elk stand majestically atop an artificial hillock, while a young bear climbs a cement tree trunk in hopes of ambushing an unwitting mannequin dressed in L.L. Bean's finest, standing on a faux perch that brings entirely new depth to the term 'hunting blind'.

It's like wandering through a petting zoo in Hell.

Returning to the galactic hunting lodge theme, one then must mix in a ten-fold helping of the crassest merchandising imaginable, as if Galactus had gone in with Lucifer on some Mephistolean marketing scheme. Everywhere one looks one sees woodsie commodoties and outdoorsie chattels, from 30 quart peanut oil turkey fryers to five man polyster-screened expeditionary tents. There are boats of every shape and description, outdoor garb and outdoor gear, crossbows, hunting bows, steelheaded, butt-befeathered hunting shafts and crossbow bolts, guns and ammunition, footwear, hats, mittens, scarves, many pocketed trousers, jackets, shirts, and vests, all in camouflage patterns (Real Men, it seems, Don't Wear Orange In The Brush, they just suck up the occasional misdirected hunting shaft or shotgun blast in stoic, macho silence).

A children's section sports smaller versions of all the garb, along with adorable stuffed plush representations of various endangered species, presumably so little Billie and young Johanna can practice on semi-lifelike targets at home with their suction-cup tipped arrows and autofire BB rifles before they graduate to real shootin' irons somewhere around the tender age of 9.

There is even a quadrant of the enormous place dedicated to home furnishings for those raised entirely on reruns of The American Sportsman; rough-hewn wood framed chairs and sofas bedecked with cushions fancifully preprinted with bright monochrome images of deer and pumas and heavily armed men shooting at them. Most of this filled me with vague distaste, but the ceiling fan pulls that were shaped like large bore ammunition were what truly turned my feet resolutely towards the door. Yet even after that I was distracted; one lonely nook held a truly beautiful leather recliner and couch that I admired greatly, until SuperGirlfriend pointed out to me that what I had taken to be a gorgeous, somewhat barbaric looking border of large bronze rivet heads on each piece was, in fact, composed of the bottoms of shotgun shells.

To be blunt, the place freaked my ass out.

I haven't even described the mall's arcade, a section called the Big Game where one wanders down concrete paths amidst the artificial forest, bemused by recorded bird warbles and the screeching cat calls of faux puma on every side, and at intervals of every ten or twelve feet, one can pause at various stations to plug quarters into voracious slit-mouthed consoles, after which one can pick up mock hunting rifles that have been fitted out with laser-emitters, and plug away at distant tableaux of vast stuffed animals draped with LED array, or large movie screens on wich images of woodlands prey stampede, thunder, gambol, and leap in grainy, often badly spliced and not particularly well focused splendor.

Nor have I described the cross section of Americans who congregate within this bizarre temple to mercantilism and man's technological subjugation of the great outdoors. Physiques of every shape and size stroll these well enameled pathways, pausing occasionally to wistfully finger slick, polystyrene crossbow bolts or help their four year old boychild bang away earnestly at a distant stuffed moose. From the tub gutted six and a half foot family man at the ammunition counter, his goatee resembling nothing so much as a footsore, mange-stricken caterpillar wearily trudging through endless laps around his mouth, to the lean, vaguely bored looking early 20s brunette with the enigmatic phrase SamIAm tatted across her hipbone neatly framed between the lower hem of her high waisted blouse and the upper denim waistline of her low riding jeans, nearly every imaginable sort of human being was represented there, provided, of course, you are not inclined to imagine non-whites among the spectrums of humanity. And, well, unless they were well disguised, I have to say that in my opinion, SuperGirlfriend and were probably the only adults in the entire store who hadn't voted for Bush in the last two elections, perhaps several times each. (But then, we must have been well disguised, too, or I doubt we'd have escaped with our lives; Outdoor World did not exactly radiate any 'welcome, liberals!' vibes.)

This, truly, is what the Lord intended when "he said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth."

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