boring brown

Visit Home Part 2

A recent convention trip to Florida provided me with the opportunity to visit my home town. This is part two of a series on that trip. Here is part one.

Leaving my first stop, the Catholic church I had attended as a boy, I immediately noticed, as I drove along one of the main drags, that there were no, or at least few, new buildings. Most if not all of the old buildings, which had been there as long as I could remember, were still there. The donut shop I had known was in its place, probably with the same grease in the fryers. The grocery store across the street from the church, the parking lot of which we had always used every Sunday. The Haven Condos, in a building that had once been a rather grand and old-fashioned hotel.

I drove into the center of of town. In the park an event was occurring. Music was playing and booths were set up. I couldn’t detect a theme, and the event was sparsely attended, even though it was Saturday. I left my car and started walking.

Most of the shops and offices were closed. Beyond the range of the DJ in the park, there was an oppressive silence. I began to feel the deadly boredom that I had known as a youth, that particular level of tedium usually reserved for the young. That horrible dissatisfaction that had driven me out of this town at 18 years of age, seldom looking back.

The sepia clothing store

On the corner I saw a building, empty now, but soon to be a boot store. It was the building where my mother had bought my clothes when I was very young. I’m certain I’ve told this story before; how like the town this store was. To walk into the shop was to suddenly go color blind and see everything in a sepia tint. Drab drab drab. Drab clothes, drab people. So unlike the glittering bazaars I saw on television. Shining, colorful, bright, exciting. Not here. Solid, no-nonsense, don’t ask questions, stay in line, blend in. That was what the walls whispered.

Matrons glided through the aisles, the dementors of their day, waiting to assist with a sale. As I looked out through the glass entrance, out onto 3rd Street, one afternoon, one of them sidled up behind me. I watched a man with long hair and a beard walk across the street. “You don’t want to be like one of THEM.” the sales clerk said to me, who was surely no more than 7 or 8 years old. I didn’t even know what one of them WAS, but because she had told me I didn’t want to be like one of them, I resentfully felt that I DID want to be like one of them. I certainly didn’t want to be like her, the creeping ghoul.

Buster Brown and Tige

Around the corner from this clothing store was Buster Brown’s, where I always got my shoes. Brown shoes. Brown shoes that were not sneakers. Brown shoes that were not cool or fun. Brown shoes with arch support. Brown shoes to avoid flat footedness. Brown shoes that said, “You’re different from the other children.” Thanks Buster Brown, you and your stupid sailor hat. Thanks to your dog, Tige, too, that rabid, freakish-looking, mutant devil dog. More a crocodile than a canine. And thanks to Dr. Ryan, my pediatrician, who almost certainly made the referral to the now unknown, now forgotten, podiatrist who must have sentenced me to these two brown devices of torture and humiliation. THANKS! THANKS A LOT!

The Buster Brown store was no more. I had outlived it, and the need for arch support. 18 years of wearing flip flops or bare feet in the Florida sunshine had not only prevented flat feet but had practically given me prehensile toes like a bonobo.

Only a few businesses were open. One of them, the beloved used bookstore I had frequented as a teenager. Or one like it anyway. And a sandwich shop. New by the looks of it. I ate lunch there and then walked back to my car.

Winter Haven public library

I was surprised to see that the public library had not only moved but had expanded greatly into a new looking building. Optimism returned and I continued my journey with new hope.
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