I walked down the middle of Pleasant Street this morning. It lived up to its name for once. There was a single shoe in the exact middle of the road. It wouldn’t have surprised me to find an unattached foot in it but it turned out to have a pair of sunglasses inside. I tossed it to the sidewalk, hoping that no one with sun allergies was wandering the metropolis sans shoe. I know it’s not safe or smart to walk in the road, especially when every fifth car is probably being navigated by someone smelling of the fumes of a Corona or Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. I’ve often mentioned how liberating it is to own the road and the slumbering town around it. It is a sensation that I already know that I’ll miss when infirmity eventually robs me of my ability to walk the abandoned nighttime roads.
Seeing the high school from every angle certainly amplified the size of the place compared to when I crawled the halls there. It is much more majestic in the deep night, each light inside highlighting a plaque, a shadowy doorway, or polished surface. It was the embodiment of an empty world awaiting its inhabitants, both timeless and anticipatory. It is a haunted place, its souls imprinted there from the thousands of students and faculty who’ve resided within, concentric lives centered upon a collective of buildings with a single purpose.
Walking around business 71, I couldn’t help but intercept a group of young people exiting an eatery. One of the young men had a mostly finished bottle of beer in his hand. He raised it in salute and then turned to laugh with his other friends. I couldn’t imagine drinking at 5 a.m. and still be laughing. It’s a sure sign of old age when a cup of coffee and a comfortable chair defeats the call of the wild and youth. Although they wouldn’t understand the joke, I wanted to yell, “Get off my lawn!” in mock humor.
As I passed McDonald’s, I had the momentary urge to run inside and order 15 breakfast sandwiches and eat them all, without even bothering to take the paper off the outside first. The aroma was momentarily maddening, like when you visit a pizzeria and get your first sniff of the yeasty crust, certain that you will literally die before getting a bite of it. After a moment though, the siren call of the aroma changed and soured in my head to one of cloying grease in a pan of cooling water.
Heading back to my car, my feet demanded that I walk another long circuit, this time around the circumference of Murphy Park, a beautiful place transformed by the recent modernization of its features. As I was watching the geese and the ducklings circling around them near one of the central fountains, I didn’t notice the form seated on one of the trailside benches. He was seated, motionless, a hoodie covering his head against the chilly air. Had he screamed “Boo!” as I approached, I would have undoubtedly needed a new pair of underwear. I said “Guten morgen” instead of “Hello,” and he didn’t reply, move or give any sign that he saw me – or indeed that he was even alive at all. I’ll admit I looked back at least twice as I moved away from him. For all I know, he was the grim reaper, having lost his scythe. I saw no reason to invite any trouble, despite that fact that trouble has me on speed-dial.
Peering into the library from a distance, it occurred to me that I’m a terrible criminal. I’d rather break into the library and sit among the million books than magically appear in a bank vault. At the heart of the matter is the insufficient number of minutes allotted in life. No matter how pronounced my greed to consume even 1% of all the books, life’s stop sign will reach me before I can fulfill such a desire. Even though I love libraries, I still dislike hoarding books myself. I have a very few at home, nestled in a box, ones with names like “Night of the Avenging Blowfish” and titles in Spanish. The best books live a little each day in my mind, memories of other worlds and people. They are far safer there, virtually comforting me.
If you find another solitary shoe in the road in Springdale, pick it up and drive by the park and library. Toss the shoe into the bushes. Just don’t make eye contact with the faceless void of anyone wearing a hoodie.