The library and College Avenue remembered in fiction

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College Avenue in 1964 looking from the unniversity toward downtown

College Avenue in 1964 looking from the unniversity toward downtown

I grew up in a town where College Avenue led straight from the main business district to the university’s main gate.  I liked the sweeping hill, the brick paving, and the older homes that owned the street as it drew closer to the university’s administration building. As I wrote The Seeker, College Avenue at night looked like the perfect place for a stalker.

And I knew exactly where that stalker would come from: the university library. I worked there as a student assistant to help pay the bills. It was my favorite place on campus except for the fact somebody there was spying on young women. He pushed books out of the shelves in a signature way so he could, apparently, look up dresses and ogle legs.

We never caught him. One minute an aisle leading through the open stacks was pristine; the next minutes there were books on the floor. I often wondered what kind of a sick person was on the loose. I never knew, but my imagination supplied plenty of details for the 1960s-era College Avenue chapter of The Seeker.

Protagonist David Ward is there in the dream world because he fears the stalker is following his girl friend Anne Hill. There’s little he can do, though, but watch the night unfold. He feels as powerless as I did in the library trying to get “the library guy.”

Except from The Seeker

Kindle Version

Kindle Version

David stood at the corner of College and Monroe in Tallahassee, Florida. To the north: the primary downtown business area, including the Florida Theater, which was showing Send Me No Flowers with Rock Hudson and Doris Day. To the west: the State Theater presented Elvis Presley in Roustabout. Farther west, College Avenue grew dark as it approached the university and the night beyond.

He dreamt and he knew he was dreaming. The sounds of the city were clear and, so, too, the conversations of the people on the sidewalk between the theaters, and some of their thoughts as well, expectations of popcorn, concerns about recent exams and questions about who they would see this evening and whom they would be with. Unlike his standard dreams, David walked like a ghost, unseen and unheard among the students and family groups and scattered grandparents. Yes, he could follow Anne or Nick or even RC without their knowledge. But if danger threatened, he could shout no warnings nor take any action.

He walked north and found Anne in front of the Florida Theater with Marta and Karen. Karen and Marta wanted to go out to a hamburger place with three students in a double-parked car. Anne didn’t.

“I’m fine, just a bit of a headache,” she said.

“We should stay together,” said Marta.

Staying together is smothering me.

“The streets are crowded,” said Anne. “It’s a safe night for walking back to the dorm.”

The car pulled away and Anne walked toward College Avenue with David, though she didn’t know it. Her hair was in a ponytail and she wore a light blue sweater against the gentle chill of the evening. The rivers of people coming and going from the theaters converged at College Avenue with cars driven by dates, friends, and parents in a clamor of horns and shouted greetings.

Very few people are walking toward the campus. The hill is dark past Schwobilt’s Department Store and the Baptist Church. Not good. Somebody’s whistling off key across the street. Maybe I should see Roustabout. Afterwards, perhaps a group of students will head back toward from front gate.

David also heard the whistling, but he saw no one there, heard no thoughts to follow within the rag-tag, repetitive “Lord, I Want to be a Christian” that swirled like an ill wind around the YMCA building and several small clothing shops across the street.

Anne hovered hear the ticket booth within the safe glow of light beneath the marquee.

“Go inside, Anne,” he said. While she didn’t hear him, David heard her think of him, wishing she had invited him down for Thanksgiving. The young woman in the glass booth
looked up, smiled.

David would hate Roustabout, but at least he would be here.

“I’m thinking about it,” said Anne.

This is silly.

She looked at the movie posters in the glass cases. Glanced across the street, and then walked away, comforted—he could tell—by the elderly couple standing in front of the jewelry store. She heard them talking about wedding rings and didn’t want to intrude. The Big Bend Bookstore caught her eye. She tried the door. It was locked.

Why are they closed so early? A good night for strolling, movies, and bookstores. I could pick up a copy of Herzog even though Marta thinks it’s strange.

Except for the wedding ring couple and the two girls looking at clothes in the Schwobilt’s window, people were disappearing into the night. The lady in the ticket booth turned off her light after putting up a SOLD OUT sign. Anne stood in front of the bookstore looking at the stacked up bestsellers for ten minutes. David saw a few tempting titles, but then, he wasn’t really there.

But he who whistled that song was there.

He’s watching me.

David stared past the clothing shops toward Monroe Street. Nobody. The notes we louder now and more off key, rather like the sound from a poorly made slide whistle prize out of a cereal box.

“Anne, go inside the theater.”

In my heart, in my heart, in my heart. Damned mocking notes, it’s “Nick of Time” Nick looking for girls to pray with him and then what, a private communion?

The song unsettled her. She hurried across Adams Street and tried the locked door at Schwobilt’s as the notes of the song grew closer, then farther away; there were no polices car in sight, no wedding ring couple, and no RC.

The dorm will be safe. No men in the hall.

David walked through every shadow and looked around all the corners, but the tune was everywhere at once.

The church was locked.

No sanctuary here. Just: “ … be a Christian, to be more loving, to be more holy, to be like Jesus,” over and over like a 45 rpm record stuck on a turntable replaying until the power fails.

If I were to visit my old hometown today, I seriously doubt I’d feel comfortable walking down College Avenue at night: I’ve seen that stalker scene so many times, the street has changed.

Malcolm

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