Bradley walked into his hotel room at precisely 11 a.m. and started his search. He peered into the wooden closet that smelled of fresh paint and found no forgotten items. The drawer to the modern desk made a scraping sound when he pulled it open. In the desk, there was a box of matches with the hotel logo printed on it. He pushed away the white shower curtain, disappointed to find no left over shampoo bottles or unique smelling soaps like vanilla bean or citrus punch. He tugged open the short bedside table drawer to find a crisp Bible with no annotations that would give Bradley any information about the type of person who read it last. He bent down onto his knees and the green scratchy Berber carpet prickled his bare, white skin leaving a dotted rash pattern. Quickly, with hope and anticipation, he pushed away the bed skirt and peered under the dark chestnut frame. And that’s when he found something.
Bradley was ready to become someone. He was sick and tired of having no friends and having no personality. He was sick of being alone. But, as much has he hated being lonely, he didn’t know how to be anything else. All of his life his parents were his only friends. They were the only people he could talk to, the only people that thought he had a personality. But they were gone now. They moved out of Garland, Utah and out of the country when Bradley found a job at the post office and moved into his own apartment. That was three years ago, and he was 26 at that time. So, Bradley’s parents left their 29-year-old son behind on his own, hoping he’d be able to find his way.
For the past three years, Bradley has not spoken a word to his co-worker in the mail sorting office, has not smiled at one person in his apartment building, and has not left his room unless it was absolutely necessary. So, this trip he took cross country to Philadelphia must have been absolutely necessary for him as it forced him to talk to strangers in order to get his plane ticket and get out of the isolated, stony little country town of Garland. All of this made Bradley very antsy and uncomfortable, but he knew he had to do it. He decided it was time to get away when his mother arranged a get together for him.
“Bradley, it’s important for you to get out a little,” his mom told him over the phone. “My old friend’s daughter, Steph, is very kind and I’ve set up a time for you to meet with her over dinner next weekend about a half hour from the center of Garland at the Brick Star Restaurant.”
Upon hearing this, Bradley’s first thought was whether he should tell Steph that his name was Bradley or Brad. So, Bradley left on the next flight out of Garland to find his name. He left to find a personality, to be interesting for Steph. Steph could potentially be his first friend and he wanted a friend. But, he knew no one would like him if he didn’t have any spunk. So, he left to find some spunk.
Bradley grabbed the old, black striped slipper with white fur inside from under the hotel bed. He decided that since he didn’t know who he was, he would try to be somebody else. He kicked off his left gray sneaker and slipped his foot into the slipper. Without unpacking his boxy suitcase with his drab, cheap T-shirts, he headed out to the social city of Philadelphia walking in someone else’s shoe, and letting it lead him.
South Street was the first place the slipper took him. His feet told him that he was hungry, so he walked right into a pizza shop with some newfound, surprising confidence and ordered two slices of the largest pizza in the world. The creamy mozzarella stuck to his throat and the crust coated the inside of his stomach making him feel comfy and secure. Right then and there he decided that his most favorite food in the world is that particular pizza. Tomato sauce never tasted so sweet.
Across the gum-bathed street, Bradley noticed a short green building with black bubbly letters. It was a record store. Bradley’s feet led him there and guided him right to the punk section where he stood next to a shapely girl with short, hot pink hair and tall black lace-up boots. She must have been about 20.
“Hey, man,” she spat through chewing bubblegum, “nice shoe.”
Bradley gulped for a second but was soon able to spit that gulp out into words.
“Yeah, ya know. We all have days like this.”
“I don’t,” she said and kicked her heel up, bending her leg and showing off her rebel attributes.
Crap, Bradley thought. Here I go again. Not fitting in. Being the weirdo.
“But, I know what you mean,” she added obviously sensing she hurt him a little.
“Here, try this.”
The pink punk handed him a CD entitled American Idiot by a band called Green Day, and Bradley couldn’t help but think she gave it to him to send him a message. Well, he wasn’t going to stand for that. He was about to let his slipper talk. It was time for him to speak up.
“Hey. That’s not very nice.”
“Haha, dude chill. Just listen to it. Ya know, put in a player. You seem like a pretty chill guy. You need a little spice in your life. This will put spice in your life,” she answered.
Pink punk grabbed the CD from Bradley and took it up to the register and paid the ninety- nine cents for it.
“On me,” she said and handed it back to him. “Just promise me you’ll listen to it.”
“I promise,” Bradley answered, and his awkward mind-body connection told him to walk away, before he made more of a fool out of himself.
And his feet kept leading him. He went from the record shop to the hippie incense store. This shop smelled like cinnamon and licorice mixed with lavender and rose. There were lots of dangling wind chimes and miniature Buddha statues.
“Would you like a new set of slippers, sir?” A woman with long braids and a tie-dyed headband composed of browns and creams asked him. “You seem to be missing one and that can’t be very peaceful and enjoyable at night.”
“Oh, no,” Bradley mumbled. He eyed the “Zen Scents” section of the store and shuffled away from the woman. She followed him.
“Looking for anything particular?”
“No,” he faintly replied.
“You seem like you could use an energy boosting scent. You know you can never be too ‘Zen’ but it is possible to be like a walking zombie. There is a difference you know,” she proposed pronouncing the word energy as it was some mystical gift from heaven above. “Try this one.”
The scent was called Uplift and it smelled like PB&J sandwich jelly mixed with a pine tree. It was a unique combination. However, all Bradley could think about was the fact that he had bored yet another person with his “dead” personality. He suddenly questioned the slipper’s power.
“Twenty-five cents a stick or five for a dollar,” she informed him.
Bradley scooped up four sticks and went to the counter to pay. The woman grabbed another one as she could tell he obviously wasn’t listening. Bradley just wanted to get away so he wouldn’t feel like he was wasting her time anymore.
After buying a dollar’s worth of incense and leaving with barely a goodbye to the hippie woman, his feet brought him to the sneaker store. Now, he had some trouble there. Peppy workers kept shoving new kicks in his face telling him he definitely needed them. Somehow, Bradley got out of the sneaker store without saying a word, but with a fresh pair of blue and yellow sneakers, a matching windbreaker, and a lighter wallet.
As the day turned into night and the sky started to look musty and dingy, Bradley didn’t have much time left for his expedition. His second to last stop brought him back in the punk scene to an edgy, rock star fashion store. A man sat behind the counter and he briefly looked up to acknowledge Bradley when he entered through the glass door covered with showy posters advertising upcoming events. Bradley was the only customer in the store at the time. Inside the clear counter, there was an orderly arrangement of multiple colors of hair dye that only a unique, secure person could pull off. There was Poppin’ Pink matching the record store girl’s hair and her bubblegum. There was Rock ‘n Roll Red like pizza sauce. There was Pasty Purple matching the lavender incense sticks at the hippie store. There was Breathtaking Blue and Yummy Yellow, which matched Bradley’s new color scheme. Grasshopper Green stood out to Bradley as well because of its tie to the band the pink-haired punk told him about. He was mesmerized by all the colors but then started to question the sanity of some peoples’ desires to look a certain way. He redirected his thoughts though, remembering that he was the boring one with no friends and therefore telling himself that he had no right to judge.
Haha, he thought. As if I would know what’s cool. As if I would know anything about the pleasure of standing out and being an individual.
“Can I help you?” the man behind the hair dye display asked, obviously a little freaked out by Bradley’s bipolar facial contortions.
Bradley glanced up and noticed an array of T-Shirts plastered to the wall behind the man. They resembled posters. He didn’t know what they all meant. One said Sonic Youth and another spelled out No Doubt.
No doubt about what? Bradley wondered.
Another shirt read The Cure and had a picture of a boy with untamed hair. Bradley thought that the boy looked like a mad scientist but instead of holding a beaker, the boy held an electric guitar.
The cure for what? Cancer? Diabetes? Bradley questioned again. He decided to ask the man. He figured it could be a good conversation starter.
So, out loud, Bradley asked, “The cure for what?” and pointed at the mad scientist.
The man looked over his shoulder and crunched his eyebrows. He laughed, thinking Bradley was joking. When he could tell Bradley was absolutely serious, the man said, “Oh, no son…”
Quickly and spasmodically, Bradley looked down at the floor, embarrassed. Stupid, get with the program, Bradley thought, calling himself names inside of his head. When he lifted his head back up, his eyes landed on a Green Day T-Shirt and then he suddenly realized what all these shirts were representing. “Oh…”
His slipper gave him the confidence to try to regain himself in front of the man. Bradley put on his “cool” and said, “I’ll take the Green Day one.”
“Size?” the man asked.
“Uhh…um…what? Oh… large,” Bradley finally decided on.
The man stood up with reluctance, obviously interrupting his relaxation. He searched through the tags and found a large. He unfolded it and held it out, modeling it for Bradley. When Bradley didn’t nod or say anything the man asked, “Good?” and Bradley rapidly nodded as if it were routine.
“Twenty-five,” the man told him with a demanding edge.
Bradley counted out his money and gave him exactly $25. He grabbed his shirt and left the store walking as fast as humanly possible without running.
The bookstore in Old City his feet took him to last was unlike any other bookstore he has ever been in, not like he has been in many at all. Its shelves were looming high above, and he could not stop sneezing. There was an odd silence that filled the bookstore though, and Bradley kind of liked that. All day he had been going back and forth between people talking at him, him trying to reply, and trying to be somewhat entertaining for all the city folks. It was nice to just be able to think for a moment. He traced the shelves with his finger and collected a thin layer of a gray mix. It reminded him of himself. He was as gray and dull as dust. And dust was useless. Bradley thought he was useless. He wrote his name in the dust and put three dots next to it.
“BRADLEY…” it read, and he let the other books finish his story.
From this journey on South Street in Philadelphia, Bradley learned that pizza is tasty, pink haired girls know what’s best, hippie women can change your entire outlook on life, sneaker store workers love to make people look cool, mad scientists now make up bands, T-Shirts are too expensive, and a bookstore can tell you a story in itself.
But, he ultimately learned nothing about the person whose slipper he was wearing, except that they had many different interests. The slipper took him and all his new stuff back to the hotel but not without stopping at his favorite pizza shop to buy two more monster slices for dinner. When he got to the room he took off all his clothes and lay on the bed, bare and naked. The hot summer day wore him out and he needed to cool off.
After a few minutes of just breathing, he got back up. He put back on his jeans and tried on his new T-Shirt. Cool, he thought, spicy. Next he put on his windbreaker. He tied his new sneakers onto his feet and smiled at his obnoxious appearance. In a way, he kind of liked it, though. He was interesting looking. He had never seen such a bright blue and yellow on him before. Bradley hopped back on the bed and started looking through the lyric book that came with the American Idiot CD. He liked the lyrics. They were catchy and straightforward. He liked that they were such an exclamation. Since he was trying out all his new items, he lit the incense with the box of matches he got from the desk drawer and stuck them in a flowerpot. Feeling that he needed more than just energy from the Uplift scent, he dug into his pizza. Now that he had enough energy, he put on the Green Day CD and started singing along, lyrics in hand.
“Don’t wanna be an American idiot. Don’t wanna nation under the new media. And can you hear the sound of hysteria?”
For this second, Bradley felt unique. Who else gets to sit in a punky, but at the same time, flashy outfit while getting energy from hippie spirits and rocking out to Green Day while swallowing large globs of mozzarella cheese? And suddenly, Bradley realized that he was in his own shoes. Right now, he was no one but himself. He told himself, I am different, as he smiled at himself.
Bradley grabbed the Bible from the bedside table and began annotating it, learning more about the story behind life. Bradley believed in the gift of life. He believed that God will always be his friend, even when he is drab, even when he feels boring and uninteresting.
It only took one day for Bradley to feel like he found something in Philadelphia and he headed back to Garland the next day. He felt ready to embrace his job and his neighbors. He felt ready to walk down the streets of Garland just because he wanted to get out. He felt ready to pet strangers’ dogs and smile just because he could. Bradley was ready to meet Steph and he promised himself that he was good enough.
The next weekend, Bradley put on his Green Day top and blue and yellow getup and blasted “American Idiot” while he got ready to meet Steph. Unfortunately, he had already used up all of his incense. When he arrived at the “five-star” restaurant right on time, he was annoyed to find that he was underdressed.
I can’t do anything right. I’m so strange, he told himself. But Steph walked into the waiting area before he could even think about going home to change.
“Hi,” she said to the hostess. “There are two of us. Under the name Steph, I think.”
“Alright, looks like you are the only one here right now. I can seat you while you wait for the other to arrive,” the hostess explained.
Bradley knew he needed to stand up and introduce himself to Steph. He admired her beauty from the second she walked in. The way her long blue dress flowed as she rushed in. The way her knuckles turned pale as she grasped her fat black pocketbook. She’s perfect, he thought. And couldn’t help but think that she was going to be much more interesting than him. But, Bradley now had the ability to smile at himself. So, Bradley smiled at himself, stood up, and smiled at Steph. Steph smiled back.
“Hi,” he said, “I’m Br…”
Hannah is a junior at Central Bucks West High School and is part of the science research club and the school literary magazine club. She works at Doylestown Hospital. She loves to sing, and has been writing song lyrics and stories ever since she was really young. Her interests include psychology, surfing, and forensic science. Her favorite book is Skate by Michael Harmon, and she and her mother enjoy Rachel Field’s “Something Told the Wild Geese” poem. She admires Dorothy Parker’s writing, and has a collection of her poems and stories. Hannah and her father love visiting Philadelphia together so that is why she decided to write a story about the city!