It is August in Miami. That means hot humid weather. It’s in the low 80s when you wake up and still in the 90s when you’re ready to call it a day. It also rains every day. August is right in the middle of hurricane season, but our luck has held; the Caribbean has been mighty calm so far this year. But we get rain and when it rains, it comes down thick and hard with plenty of lighting and thunder to make sure it gets your attention. It rolls in fast on the wings of a western wind that drops the temperature ten degrees in sixty seconds, dumps rain by the buckets for 10 minutes, then bang, its gone; the sky clears and the sun quickly turns the wetness into a miserable outdoor sauna. It happens every afternoon. Sometimes twice.
Joe Meyers ran a paint store across the street from where I then had studio. He sold house paint, the Sherwood Williams kind. He also sold all the accoutrements you’d need to paint a room or a house: brushes, rollers, ladders – stuff like that. If you ever wondered where painters get their nifty white painters outfits, they get them at places like Joe’s. Pants and coveralls made from a heavy white canvas material, T-shirts with the ‘Sherwood Williams’ logo on the back in bright green ink, and white hats that looked like baseball caps someone squared in right angles with a pair of scissors. I asked him why painters wore white outfits since you figured anybody worth their salt in spreading pain around was bound to get some on their head or legs or arms. Joe didn’t know. What he did know was that your pro painters wore clean white clothes every day which meant their stuff got washed a lot which, in turn, meant they wore out fairly quickly. Joe said his biggest selling item was the white pants.
The store was called Meyers and Sons Paint. Joe was the one and only son. His father, also named Joe, started the business when Joe was a toddler. That was right after WWII ended in 1945. North Miami was still mostly sand and swamp then but Miami developers had started building north in the early 1940s. The war stopped things for three years but by 1946, subdivisions were exploding all over Miami’s northern suburbs. Joe senior built his store in what was then a tiny little strip mall and waited for suburbia to catch up to him. It didn’t take long. When it did, he was ready to sell them some paint. The sign went up when Joe was born. Joe’s dad must have figured he would have a brother or two before it was all over but it didn’t happen. Joe had a sister, who was born two years after he was; after that, no more little Meyers.
There was never a question in either of the Joes’ minds on what Joe Jr. would do when he graduated from High School. He would work in the store and eventually take it over from daddy. He did too. His father formally turned the store over to him in the late 80s. Joe senior was in his late 60s by then and thought he wanted to finally take some time off and travel around the country with Joe’s mother. The travelling bug didn’t bite too long. Whether his dad tired of the travel or his mother tired of his dad, Joe wasn’t sure. But Joe senior was back in the store within six months helping at the cash register, dusting shelves, and sitting in the back office drinking coffee with some of the old painters. He was there every day the store was open up until the week before he died in 1993. He loved the store; he loved his son cared about it as much as he did. His only disappointment was he had no grandson – Joe junior and his wife, Thelma, had no children.
I moved into the area in 1991. Joe was in his early fifties; daddy in seventies. I never bought a lot of paint there; maybe a half a dozen quarts over the twenty years I knew him. In fact the first time I met him was when I was walking back from the corner deli with a sandwich and one of those August downpours hit and I high tailed it to the closest shelter which was the awning the covered the front of Meyers and Sons Paint store. Joe had also been out there people watching when the storm blew through. He said then what I was to hear again at least a thousand times – “Your skin is waterproof you know. People don’t seem to understand that.” Standing under the awning, I could see what he meant. There were people completely soaked zigzagging up the street as if running in angles would somehow make them a smaller target for the rain drops. There were mothers under giant umbrellas walking up the sidewalk with a clutch of kids clinging to their waists. And then the little old Jewish couples in long sleeve slickers that hung below their knees walking patiently though rain with the same cadence they would when the weather was clear and dry. They dressed like that no matter the weather. I had learned long ago that old people in Miami – and there are a lot of them – somehow lost their ability to absorb warmth from the sun as they aged. They walk around on the hottest days in long sleeves and a jacket. When the evening temperature dropped into the 80s, they usually don a sweater too.
Mr. Butterfield On His Evening Walk Yesterday – It Was 92° Outside.
Joe and I got to be good friends. He always had a pot of bad coffee on the hot plate in the back room office and most mornings, I’d stop by after he opened to sip a cup with him before the morning started. By the time I knew him, there was a Sears store a couple of miles west in Opa-locka that sold pain a lot cheaper than Joe did so most of his business was with pro guys who bought paint by the five gallon bucket and had been buying from Joe or his daddy for years and years. These guys were dying out but there still were enough of them to keep the place going. And that was nice. Joe might not have sold a lot of paint in the neighborhood but it was convenient to be able to buy a paint brush or roller refills right around where you lived instead of having to trek all the way to Opa-locka. Plus the store had turpentine and for whatever reason, Joe sold a lot of that in the neighborhood. Joe said it was a good cockroach killer. He might have been right; lord knows we had tons and tons of cockroaches.
Joe closed the shop eight years ago in 2010. He was seventy two. I never met Thelma. They had a two bedroom bungalow down in Miami Shores. Joe and Thelma had been married for 26 years when the shop closed. They tried to have a kids Joe told me, but they couldn’t. He didn’t say why.
A carry-out open up in the store’s space in 2012. It last three years but lost their beer license for selling to minors. It has been empty ever since. The awning still covers the store front. The deli is still on the corner and I go there almost every day for coffee or a snack. Yesterday I was walking back when the skies opened up with drenching rain. I made it under the awnings without hardly a drop hitting me. Then I heard “Your skin is waterproof you know.” And walked across the street.