Dorris: Part 1
“Do you really want to go to this school?” my mom asked.
“Well…yeah. I think so.” I picked at my scalp as we passed a bunch of plump cornfields on our way through northern New York. The humidity stuck itself to the windshield and beaded up as we talked. I was about to start school at St. Lawrence University in a small, county seat town called Canton.
“You’re not gonna have any hair left before you know it. Is there anything else you might need before we leave on Sunday? Like clothes?” She said the word clothes emphatically.
“I kinda need a new pair of pants.”
“I’m so glad to hear you admit that. What kind?”
We were told by a human pimple selling ice cream at Stewart’s that Dorris’ Fashion Nook was the place to go for those kinds of clothes: work clothes. He also said that the twenty-minute drive on route 68 would be a pleasant drive. With this description it didn’t shock me to see Amish buggies and Mennonite farms on the roadside or stands selling outlandishly priced wicker, wood, and other crafted items. I wasn’t surprised to see swamps, marshes, fields and farms. Honestly, I expected boredom. And at first, boredom I got.
I pulled into the lot after missing Dorris’ sign twice. My parents and I looked around the doublewide to make sure we were in the right spot. The sign wasn’t on, but the door was open. We stepped inside the vinyl paneled trailer, only greeted by more brown vinyl paneling, and were greeted by the smell of Kilz primer. There were racks stuffed full of Carhart pants, flannel shirts, neon roadwork jackets, and those cheap, thick, gray socks with the double red stripe. It smelled like someone Fabrezed over the smell of smoke for years. I saw a paunchy old man with a toothpick watching soap operas behind a desk
“Hi, is this Dorris’?”
“It is, but Dorris passed away two years ago now.” His casualness surprised me. “I’m her cousin Ed. I’ve been runnin her place since then. Where’re you folks coming from?”
“Well… Canton, by way of Michigan, I’m going to school there this fall.”
“At St. Lawrence? Yawl look like St. Lawrence folk.”
I told him yes, and that someone in Canton had recommended Dorris’ for Carharts.
“Yessir, we have about every size of Carhart pants, even got underwear in sizes up to 8x.” He ashed a cigarette and pointed his crusty finger toward a shelf stacked with the enormous shrink-wrapped whitey tighties. Weirdly, I immediately imagined myself in them: gasping for air; choking on elastic and cotton, my nose stuffed with a Fruit of the Loom label, my last vision on earth a polyester tag picturing apples and bananas and reading “hand-wash with like colors.”
“I’ve been special-ordering those for a guy that lives up the road. He probably weighs about five or six hundred pounds, doesn’t walk, uses a little cart. Hell of a gardener,” Ed said while licking his lips and putting his hands in front of his belly. He looked like he was going to catch a basketball and continued talking while he squeezed his face.
“He rolls out of his electric cart ‘n crawls around doin’ his work. The most beautiful flowers you’ve ever seen.” He put his hands down and tucked the tip of his tongue back in his mouth.
As that seemed to be the end of the soliloquy, I went about my business and eventually, solemnly, found a pair of pants. We checked out with Ed. He made sure to wish me success and invited us to the volunteer fire department dinner that Saturday. We said we’d join.
I stared out the window as we drove back to campus. The passing landscape wrenched itself into a visage, a vibrantly layered composite of greens, punctuated by shadows. My hands felt clammy when I pulled them apart to roll up the window. Back in Canton we parked next to a young, purposefully planted row of beech trees as a piquant little sunset slice shoved its way through an oak. It dipped away before I could finish the other half of my double take.
Tomorrow, somewhere in the little town of St. Regis Falls not far from Dorris’s, a huge man with wobbly triceps might crawl on his hands and knees in a thick, green, well fertilized lawn, clippers snipping, carefully prodding, and tending to a bed of dainty petunias, chrysanthemums, and hyacinths, all of them crisp and fragrant, and perhaps he’s wondering if he has to go into town sometime this week and pick up a new pair of underwear.
But Dorris is dead, and in reality, I highly doubt her, or Ed’s, sense of fashion. I never did find out the big man’s name either.
- Hanzi Deschermeier