For the past few years a childhood friend of mine and I have picked one day during the summer to meet in the town where we grew up. We retrace our teenaged steps, relive memories and see what changes have been made during the decades that have passed.
And then we eat hot dogs and drink beer.
This year I discovered that for the first time I can remember, my old hometown has new construction. An entirely new neighborhood of homes has been built and an old, abandoned warehouse has been turned into office space. That was the good news.
The bad news is I discovered I have now entered my creepy years.
Whether I have always been a creep and did not realize it or my creepiness is recently developed has yet to be determined, but the fact was established this past weekend. I am now creepy.
Here’s how it happened: There is a house in my hometown that once was part of an amusement park. The park was closed and boarded up when I was a child. Chester, West Virginia, in the 1970’s, consisted of a lot of buildings that were being closed and boarded up. We used to joke that it was the town where things used to be. The amusement park used to be there. The bridge used to be there. The brick factory used to be there.
Until they closed them down.
Now, as I mentioned, things have changed for the better. There is construction rather than destruction. It was a good thing to see.
A family I knew bought the house that was once part of the park, a beautiful stone and log chalet, and had the entire house moved, chimney and all, a few hundred yards down the road. My childhood friend did not remember this event, so we walked to where the park once stood and then walked the path (as I remembered it) the house took on its journey to its current resting place.
As we stood in front of the cabin (still there, still beautiful) a man drove up the road, stopped beside us, rolled his window down and asked, “What are you doing here?”
And I, because I was in my hometown, automatically answered as I would have forty years ago. “Nothing.” It was Pavlovian. It couldn’t be helped. Once you’ve attached a certain age to a certain place, it’s extremely hard to keep from returning to that age when in those particular surroundings. That, combined with the fact that I was there with my childhood running mate, made it easy for me to answer as a fourteen year old.
I am not fourteen.
In fact, I am now in my fifties, which, I have now realized, is the decade of creepiness.
A man in his thirties or forties, walking around your neighborhood, could easily be explained as a Dad looking for a new place for his family to live. A man in his sixties or seventies, walking around your neighborhood is someone’s Grandpa, visiting from out of town, out for a walk. A man in his fifties, walking around your neighborhood, pointing, is a creep.
Fortunately, my friend salved the situation by explaining the details of our northern panhandle walkabout to the concerned citizen while I stood by like a teenager with a chip on his shoulder. We used to live here, my friend told the man. We knew the people who bought this house. Yada yada yada. Taking a look around the town. Looks really good. Blah blah blah. It was then that I realized had I been in the man’s situation and saw two middle aged guys walking around, I may have reacted the same way.
It was then I realized I look like a creep.
The rest of the West Virginia adventure went well, with the possible exception of having people stare and hide. There was some pointing. The few times I offered a “Hello!” to porch dwellers, I was met with frightened growls as ladies scurried to move their children inside.
After about an hour, plenty of time to note changes, jog memory banks and have multiple people call the local police and report creepiness on the streets, we called it a day and moved onto one of our favorite hangouts, the Hot Dog Shoppe in East Liverpool, Ohio, where we ordered chili and cheese dogs and fries and tried our best to not appear to be an old gay couple, fresh from a day of browsing for antiques.
“How ‘bout the Steelers, huh?” I said in a voice too loud.
“Why are you talking so loud?” my buddy asked.
“Yeah. How ‘bout them Steelers?” I repeated.
“Dude,” said the friend I’ve known for four decades. “Quit being so creepy.”