It's not hard to find Mall Guy, the seemingly ubiquitous Cleveland character who wears slogans like "One Sexy B" and "YOLO Swagg On" or "UNFORGETTABLE" in rainbow letters on his T-shirts and an LED belt that unfurls boilerplate city boosterisms like "Go Browns" and "Cleveland Rocks" in scrolling red letters across his waist.
You just go to the mall.
He's not always there, mind you, nor at Indians games, nor at Blossom, it just feels like it. But every Saturday you can find him at SouthPark Mall in Strongsville right after lunch.
You've seen him, undoubtedly, and maybe even snapped a selfie with him as Mall Guy gives the camera a thumbs-up. But that's about all you know, which is maddening considering that Mall Guy's been pulling this act for ten years now.
And so as the busy weekend crowd blends together awash in Abercombie and Hollister, sweatpants and dad jeans, flatbrim hats and Uggs, Mall Guy emerges from the casual saunter of indistinguishable apparel above the shoppers, taller than the rest – a staunch 6-foot-4 frame – with perfectly coifed hair, an Elvis-looking pair of sunglasses, and the color palate of a bag of Skittles splayed across his chest. He's hustling on the second floor of SouthPark between the massage booth kiosk, GNC and Anne Taylor.
Nice to meet you, do you have a minute to talk? We'd like to do an article about you.
An article, for the newspaper.
"Hi. Oh, have you read the article they did about me already?"
Mall Guy's talking about a very brief write-up in the local community newspaper, just a few paragraphs really. It says his name is Jim, helpfully provides the definition of YOLO, and says he's from Hungary. Certainly not comprehensive stuff. Why Swagg with two Gs? What's in his bag? So many mysteries.
Oh, we have a few more questions than that.
"No, no. I don't want to repeat myself. I already did that interview," he says, already motoring toward the food court by the time he finishes the sentence, escaping once again without baring any information back into his natural habitat.
Jim has been patrolling area malls and events for nearly a decade now festooned as a garish billboard to pop culture language that at once serves as a reminder of its half life and inserts Jim into that fabric into perpetuity.
There were the posts on The Dirty back in the early days of his LED belt – "Cleveland Mall Trout" was the headline -- and the #mallguy hashtags on Twitter and Instagram, and the Facebook tribute page – "Creepy Mall Guy" -- that boasts 11,236 fans at last count. (SouthPark mall itself so wishes to distance itself from the man they requested that Facebook page administrator to remove their name from the title of the page.) He's even a regular footnote in the user reviews for SouthPark mall on Foursquare -- "Creepy mall guy is really, really weird," and, "Watch out for creepy Mall Guy. He's always by Starbucks." – appear right alongside notes on dining – "Why did Mrs. Fields cookies close?" – and thoughtful critiques of the mall's general atmosphere – "Where all the fly honeys kick it!"
But with no last name attached to his moniker to mine for history, no real interviews, and a tabula rasa backstory waiting to be filled in by the curious public, the origin story of how and why Mall Guy became Mall Guy is a cyclone of rumors all masquerading as truth in the absence of a real story.
"He owns a strip club, fucking moron," reads one post on Facebook, repeating one claim that you'll hear regurgitated by plenty of folks.
"The story behind him is that he owns a strip club and he goes from mall to mall searching for talent," agrees another.
"Someone said he owns the mall," says Mary, a fortysomething clerk at SouthPark. "Another person said he's working on a thesis."
Ah yes, the thesis theory. Also popular among the conspiracy sect. Because Mall Guy couldn't exist in a natural state. No, something that strange could only be conceived as a laboratory experiment.
"He is a college professor doing a study!" counters one Facebook commenter to the strip club recruiter assertion.
"The cops interrogated him and he is a college professor studying reactions from people," chimes in another.
You hope for one of these to be true, for the inner narrative to fit the outlandish exterior. But it's not. It's less sensational, predictably, but no less fun.
After the earlier brush-off, Jim is perched in the front corner of the SouthPark food court, just where mall staffers said was his regular spot. He's sipping hot tea and eating some Chinese food – he always eats Chinese food during his visits, or Japanese. And today he's selected a blue U.S. Soccer zip-up decorated with the usual blast of vibrant homemade lettering across the chest. Ah, an in.
You a soccer fan?
"Yeah, I made this one for the game when the U.S. played here this year," he says. "I've owned it for like, ten years, but I made it and started wearing it this year."
The team's got a good shot in the World Cup.
"They're good," he says, chippering up on the topic. "Michael Bradley, he's the best."
Play really dies in the midfield when he's out.
"You know he plays for Roma, first place in the Italian league," he continues. "He controls the whole thing, so good. And [Landon] Donovan is good too, and [Clint] Dempsey, but he's winding down. He's a wild man. He played in England, the toughest league in the world."