There is a famous novel by Thomas Wolfe titled You Can’t Go Home Again. The novel, as the title eludes to, is about the changing relationship that an author has when he writes a book making references to his home town. The town folk believe he is being slanderous and exaggerating his characterization of the town and lash out at him. The underlying theme of the book is about societal changes in America and about how you can never go back to the home you once knew because of all the transitions. With that in mind I’d like to take a more brick and mortar approach to the three biggest changes in my hometown that gave me that feeling that you really can’t go home again.
1. Wal-Lex Becomes a CVS/Staples.
If I say it once I say it a million times, you know what kids need more than safe and fun recreation; endless amounts of paper clips and antacids. The first major change in my life that altered my view of my hometown was the closing of what was called The Wal-Lex. Children in the small hamlet of Waltham, MA averaged about 4.3 birthday parties a year at this recreation mecca. With the Wal-Lex you had a two-fer, a roller skating rink complete with arcade and right next door the best candle pin bowling this side of the Mississippi, actually I don’t believe they have candle pin south of Hartford, CT. There were school fundraisers and Halloween parties held at the skating rink where you would skate for hours away from those gross girls with cooties. Since we are in the trust tree that is American Appetite I figure I’ll let you in on a little secret story I have never told anyone. When I was 8 years old I loved sweatpants, I wore those things every where, to the point I started being called “sweatpants boy” for a while. Well the benefits for me as a child with sweatpants was the elastic band waste that was snug and easy to get on and off when rolling in or out of bed. Well that love of the light gray soft pantaloons came back to bite me in a big way when attending a birthday party at the Wal-Lex one Saturday afternoon. Not having been there for more than 20 minutes I had to go the bathroom, so I skated my way over to the lavatory. I started to have a little tinkle when all of a sudden I lost my balance and up snapped the front of my sweatpants creating a pangea-esque wet spot all down the front of my pants. Mortified, I didn’t know what to do. My mother wouldn’t be there to pick my up for another couple hours and I was too embarrassed to tell anyone. Now I have had my own personal battles when it comes to my bladder so even if I tried to explain it was a mistake no one would believe me. So I proceeded for the next 2-3 hours to stand wedged between a wall and one of those stop the clock arcade games. People kept coming over to get me to join them in skating but I would rebuff them saying I really enjoyed watching the lights and the circled around. Being a slightly off child they actually bought that and I got enough time until my brother came in to get me while my mom was waiting outside in the car. I did my best Apolo Anton Ohno to the door, jumped into the back seat and ran into the house the second I got home, no one the wiser. With such a traumatic experience there you would expect me to dance on the ashes of the remnants but that’s how magical a place the Wal-Lex was.
2. Brigham’s fades into obscurity
A Boston institution for many years, Brigham’s was the lone surviving retro ice cream and soda jerk mecca in the area. A local chain that still exports fine ice cream (including teh best peppermint stick around according to my grandfather), the last outposts in Arlington, Hingham, Quincy, and North Andover have been closed for years. When my local Waltham location closed down in the early 2000’s that was the second domino to fall in the ever changing landscape of what I knew as my hometown. Never again could I stop by for a grilled cheese and an other worldly raspberry lime rickey. No more double brownie sundaes being scarfed down while plopped on top of a stationary bar stool. For no other reason than being such a cornerstone in so many Boston area youths Brigham’s should most notably be remembered as the bastion of “jimmies”. An incorrectly polarizing figure “jimmies” is what chocolate sprinkles were called at Brigham’s, and unlike dairy dishing counterparts, were free on every single ice cream. The term has long been held as a racial epithet, propagating the racist stereotype of Bostonian’s, when in reality they were named after the man who ran the machine who made them. Racist sprinkles aside, Brigham’s was that safe haven on a rainy day or cooling respite in the dog days of summer. Once that closed a part of my hometown landscape was forever changed.
3. Lifestyles Adult Boutique sells its last riding crop
The final blow occurred when I came home recently and was traveling down the busiest street in town, nicknamed Restaurant Row. Hidden to unsuspecting visitors or those not in the know in a nondescript group of stores is a stairwell. Down that stairwell is the measuring stick for the gumption of every high schooler in my town, Lifestyles Adult Boutique. There was no bigger challenge of bravery than taking those 20 or so steps down into the adult dungeon that brought such pride if you had made it passed the door as an underage kid looking to see some unrated sexploytation. In actuality it wasn’t anything all that special, a normal dingy basement with weird green walls and tons of adult gadgets, outfits, and videos that none of us had a clue about. When it comes down to it though, can you ever go home again when the porn store every 15 years old kid giggles about when they pass goes out of business. I don’t think so.