With the lengthening days, my inability to sleep soundly in the mornings once again dragged me from the bed and out into the morning. I chose to walk a byzantine and unplanned path through the bowels of Springdale’s downtown.
The brightest and most vivid storefront at 4 this morning was that of “Mr. Taco Laco.” I pitied those who would work there later today as the throngs of goofy Americans crowd in, each trying to eat their weight in appreciation of Cinco de Mayo, a dubious excuse to imbibe.
I stopped and admired the neon promise of salvation at the next corner. I was about to snap a photo of it but the inclination passed as I remembered that the worst logo in modern American history was just across the street. As I walked past it, I considered buying a large black sheet to hang over it, one to conceal its hideousness. The Chamber of Commerce is the furthest thing from a comedy club, though, so perhaps I’ll continue to just imagine doing so.
The store near the corner barbershop on Blair Street caught my attention. Despite the hour, its lights were blazing. The mannequins all seemed trapped in mid-step, waiting for me to pass and begin their secret dance. The store was strangely lit, like an aquarium.
As the theme song from “Stranger Things” started, an image of “The Langoliers” came to me. Though I was the sole owner of the morning, I knew that soon the streets would begin to hum with people as they began their days. I think the feeling was amplified by the empty and newly-renovated Tyson hatchery building. Its front was dark and I could see empty tables and chairs awaiting their occupants, each one preoccupied with whatever business they might be engaged in.
As I turned on to Grove Street, I surprised a man standing on the landing of his upper story converted apartment. He was smoking. The converted house he lived at was one I had lived in almost 30 years ago. Knowing the people who would need to live in such a place, I knew that his day was probably not going to be filled with pleasurable pursuits. When I lived on the lower floor of that place, the upstairs neighbor loved blaring “Opposites Attract” by Paula Abdul. He played it a dozen times in a row, day after day. He was one of the meanest and ugliest people I’d met and he certainly didn’t look like a person who would listen to Paula Abdul; his preference, based solely on his looks and personality, should have been a drum track against the backdrop of people screaming. (Not Top 40 material, I would imagine.)
When I passed the creekside behind the Montessori School, the one which began as First Baptist Church and then served as a drug rehab facility for years, the thickening mist on the creek rose to about shoulder height. As I passed the curve behind the fire station, I didn’t see the opossum until my foot was next to him. I did a stupid dance backward and the possum scrambled away. Unfortunately for him, he chose to run forward and was trapped against the black wire fence as it ran up to the underpass of the railroad trestle above it. I stood for a moment under the train tracks, unable to see where my new friend had hidden.
About 100 feet further along, a skunk was hunkered down on the rise to my left. He didn’t pay me any attention as I whispered, “Here, kitty kitty” to amuse myself. I survived another day without being sprayed by a startled skunk. I’ll tell my wife later that it’s a certainty that I’m going to get sprayed at some point. Walking in the deep dark has its benefits and dangers.
Crossing Johnson Street, I remembered a rainy Friday afternoon long ago when I was driving too fast and failed to stop soon enough at a stop sign. I hit the driver door of a souped-up Honda. The driver had borrowed his roommate’s car without permission and I had rewarded his bravery by hitting him. The owner never filed a claim. The policeman who came to the scene was a little irritated at me. Not because of my excessive speed, but rather due to his dashed hopes. He had spotted what he thought were empty beer cans in the back floorboard. He had excitedly reached for one with an “Aha!” expression about to pass his lips. The cans were non-alcoholic beer cans. I couldn’t help but laugh. And laugh some more. He ticketed me and I didn’t complain because I deserved it. The officer should have received a commendation for not screaming at me as I smiled at his diminished glee of catching me in the act of driving while drinking non-alcoholic beer.
The aura of older homes in the dark streets always appeals to me. The defects are hidden, the owners tucked away in slumber. I pass the houses, seeing only the splendor of the intricate woodwork, covered porches, and elaborate trim inside the living rooms.