Eccentrics of
Latham Park

Public grounds along Buffalo Creek
entertain a cast of characters

By Cynthia Adams

Living in sight of Latham Park affords premium viewing (for free!) of 24-hour reality programming.

At the onset of coronavirus-fueled frustration, park going surged.

Lots of posing occurred in the park, with professional photographers forced out of studios. Women and men leaned into gnarly trees as pros and amateurs snapped away. A girls’ sports team pirouetted on a small rise, one long favored by golfers who perpetually have ignored the “No Golfing” signs. They air hugged, bumping elbows, posing while socially distanced.

Romance, too, played out on grass-stained quilts. Couples lugged cold drinks and takeout to make-out exhibitions putting Love Island to shame.

For some reason, Latham Park, among Greensboro’s first, has never been funded at the level of the city’s other parks, despite its age and popularity. No lovely plantings nor gazebos, no special features whatever except for a trail and rusting old exercise stations.

Beyond that, nothing but a few old benches.

Occasionally, gang members tag the park signs. Pranksters even lugged away two bolted-down benches. We were stunned one morning to find one abandoned near Elm Street and Buffalo Creek.

This bench had a pervy history. A flasher once stationed himself there. Now, only the concrete pads remain. Kudzu, another local pest and natural predator, further menaces the trail.

After lockdown, the surge receded as suddenly as it began. The park returned to its usual tempo and a rotating cast of walkers, joggers and occasional eccentrics.

A couple of tuba players rehearsed on a remaining bench, bleating and booming on their unwieldy instruments. Tubas are the manatees of the music world, seldom glimpsed in the wild.

An agreeable cyclist we call Beep repeatedly shouts “Beep!” as he often bikes with orange peel covering his teeth like an orthodontic retainer.

Beep began hailing us as “Sarah and Abraham!” when my husband avoided haircuts during lockdown.

Miata Man chugs cautiously around the park perimeter on area streets before securing his car in a parking lot, carefully storing the tag in the trunk.

We don’t know Miata Man, but we would like to.

Butch recently moved away. He cut through the park on forays to the service station for snacks. Like us, Butch walked in all weather — even in moonlight. He kept an eye out for suspicious behavior, frowning on drugs and littering. He regaled us with stories about the mayor, whom he phoned to keep apprised of such things. We miss Butch.

Mysterious Patchouli Girl walks past with an instrument on her back, wearing folk costumes. The scent lingers in the air, once she has passed us.

Sometimes, the truly weird happens in the park. One dawn, a yellow tent appeared near Buffalo Creek. The camper’s breakfast bacon smells drifted through the air. The park floods, mind you, and we were alarmed by their perilous campsite. It happened more recently when an orange tent pitched up.

But this year, a doozie.

As I tugged at a weed in our courtyard, hubby appeared, eyes wide, furtively motioning. He hissed, “Big, fat man in sheet!”

I could only stare back.

“Golfing! Hurry!” he urged, motioning toward the park. “You can see his skimpies!” (Skimpies are unmentionables where he grew up.)

As I crept to look, a very large man was negotiating his body into a sedan.

Was he wearing a sheet?

He sped off. Was it, perhaps, clothing? Tie-dyed? Nope, hubby said.

“Like he cut a hole in a white sheet and — wore it like a caftan!”

Had he ever seen him before from his park-facing office?

Apparently, yes, but — normally the man wore nothing.

“I mean, no shirt. He usually comes to the park with a club in hand, wearing skimpies. Undershorts.”

But golfing in a sheet? I spluttered. 

“I was on a work Zoom, or I would have been able to get your attention before he was leaving,” he retorted. “It was a sheet.”

Puzzled, I tugged at the weed, whose roots extended to Middle Earth.

What to call him? Toga Man? Sheet Man?

The root would not surrender: It whispered, “Just a park goer, you fool. A weed in the garden of life.”  OH

Cynthia Adams is a contributing editor to O.Henry.

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