Big Time Mallin'

Living, loving and loathing in the mini-cities of the Valley's malls

Essentially, says Stephen, being a Juggalo requires listening to the Insane Clown Posse religiously and drinking Fago, a hard-to-find Detroit-based soda the KISS-faced rappers like to spray on their audience from the stage.

"A Juggalo is within you," adds Michael Lueke, 21, who goes by the nickname Felix. "When you listen to their music, you find out whether it's in you or not."

Sergeant Wamsley says the Juggalos mostly keep to themselves -- although the panhandling and the occasional sing-along chants like "Juggalettes, show your titties!" can be an unwelcome distraction for the families lunching in the food court.

School chums meet up at Desert Ridge every Friday 
night. "You just know that everyone's gonna be there," 
says one.
Jackie Mercandetti
School chums meet up at Desert Ridge every Friday night. "You just know that everyone's gonna be there," says one.
An early billboard for Phoenix's first "air conditioned 
mall," Chris-Town, touted the values of nagging.
Spectrum Mall
An early billboard for Phoenix's first "air conditioned mall," Chris-Town, touted the values of nagging.

"If they're homeless and they've been abused at home, they wanna hang out in the same spot," he acknowledges. "They want that culture, that companionship -- that 'family' that they've never had. And that's what they're looking for. They're just a little bit lost. And we're not there to beat 'em up, we're there to help them. But the mall also has a business to run."

There have been scuffles between the crews outside the mall exits and at the bus stop, where one Juggalo recently had his head cracked open by his own ninja stick, which a boy from a rival Chicano group managed to whack him with while it was still chained to his belt.

Nevertheless, despite being beaten up and "almost killed -- four times" by warring mall populations, Jack believes each of the different groups belongs there.

"They are all part of this little community," he admits. "The mall's got a society all its own."

Crab Man and Diamond Lady

The crab man is gone.

At the beginning of November, considered by retailers the true start of the holiday season -- which mall management celebrates by raising the rents for the freestanding kiosk operators for the remainder of the year -- Serkan Akgun, the Turkish-born owner of the Krazy Krabs booth at Metrocenter, started worrying that he wouldn't have enough capital to keep his little booth going through Christmas.

A few days later, the colorfully painted hermit crabs that are Akgun's specialty were relegated to a lower shelf on the pushcart, their showcase tabletop now cluttered with toy robots and Alien Blaster guns.

"For most of the year, crabs are popular because they're different," Akgun explained in his heavy accent. "But Christmastime, toys, always a popular item."

Now, a week before the Thanksgiving holiday, Akgun himself is gone -- although the crabs and robots remain, unattended, in the center of the crowded corridor.

The young woman at the guest information booth volunteers some help. "He comes and goes," she says. "But if you need help with the crabs," she adds, pointing to the Zales jewelry store that faces the kiosk, "you can talk to the lady in there."

It's a curious arrangement; nothing could feel odder than walking past the swanky display cases of octillion-cut diamonds and solitaire pendants to say, "Actually, I'm looking to buy a crab."

And yet, Shy Khan, the smiling Pakistani woman behind the back counter, has no trouble switching gears between talking up the fire and brilliance of Zales' best diamonds to pitching the easy care and maintenance of Akgun's feisty hermit crabs. "They're all $8.99," she says. "The smallest cage comes with a shell, crab and food for $24.99. But I'll throw in another crab and sell it to you for 30 dollars."

The following Saturday, when a new crab shipment arrives and the critters are once again showcased at the top of the table, both Akgun and Khan are busy packing up the hard-shelled crawlers for a circle of amused customers. Khan scoops the buttery-smelling cereal the crabs eat into bags, then dashes back into Zales, rubbing the grainy crab chow off her hands, to assist a couple interested in a three-quarter-carat engagement ring.

"We're not really partners," Akgun says, smiling. "We just met here in the mall, and she helps me out when I can't be here."

It's hard to detect whether there's any romance going on between the two immigrants, although several customers have proposed they make a cute couple. When it's suggested she and Akgun pose for a photo, Khan giggles, "Me and him, together? Oo, scandalous!" (She later insists, "We're just friends.")

Khan admits the Middle East heritage they share was an icebreaker.

"That helped a little bit, because we come from the same background," she says. Akgun adds there are malls in Turkey's bigger cities, but operating a pushcart in the middle of Metrocenter (he also owns one at Arizona Mills) feels more like the marketplace atmosphere common to both their countries.

"We're all merchants," he says. "Yes, crabs and diamonds are a different product. But she knows about pricing, she knows about people, how they buy."

To Akgun, it's perplexing why more stores in the mall don't work together. With such abundant opportunities for mutual back-scratching, it's a wonder, for instance, why Suncoast doesn't display signs plugging the movies playing at the Harkins theater in exchange for the multiplex propping up displays in its lobby for the latest DVD releases at Suncoast.

"The people in the stores are helpful to each other," Akgun explains. "But in order for us to do that kind of thing, we have to talk to the owners, and to do that, we have to go to their headquarters. It gets very complicated."

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