This is another piece
of writing that will be in the next issue of my zine
. I think I'm going to try to put it together on E2
as well as on paper
Highways provide us with a convenient trajectory past the dumping grounds of the stinking wrecks of towns that don't quite fit into the suburban format, are too crapped out with strip malls to be rural, and wouldn't survive the diversity of population that urbanization would bring. The only visible sign of life from the highway for most of these dry spots in the mud is the water tower. In a creepy way they're like tombstones for the restless graves of the blue-collar lower class doomed forever to wander the earth in search of an opening at the same factory they were laid off from a few years back.
My father is a career fuck up who does construction work when he isn't busy racking up DUIs or one of his other hobbies. Given the fact that he is prone to completely blow any good opportunity that he finds digging in the dirt, I spent a lot of my childhood in these little dead end towns, at play in the construction sites, the demolition sites, and the rubble of past and present. My dad's inherent ability to burn all of his bridges in any place that we stayed for too long kept the landscape constantly changing but the futility firmly in place. I lived in a lot of towns that commuters whizzed past on their way to somewhere better, where there was a little hope left over. Water towers are trail markers for me - the only thing that remains of a lot of stubborn little jerkwater towns that languish away for years producing unemployment files an inch thick and alcoholics by the muscle car full.
A sick and perpetually dying mining town full of seedy bars and bored, poor high school kids who sneak around twelve packs of 3/2 beer and talk a lot about what they're going to do when they leave here. There is only one exit from the highway into Taconite making the unofficial town slogan: "don't blink or you'll miss it." unlike the classical ideal of the small town coziness ala Mayberry, this town is small but not close knit. The unemployed locals spend their afternoons drinking cheap draft beer in cheerless little bars that line the main streets. They spend most of their time with the people they used to work with and the main topic of conversation when the subject of the weather wears thin is endless, repetitious ranting about Japanese steel. When the sun goes down the people who are employed will empty out of the mills and head to the same bars, which is when the fights start, and reservations at the drunk tank are made in groups of three or four.
Actually, there isn't really a drunk tank in this town but there is a little combination courthouse/town jail that looks a little like a strip mall. If you go in to the building and downstairs the clerk will be more than happy to show you the cell with bent up bars that some insane fucker all wigged out on angel dust tried to dismantle bare handed.
Back upstairs and outside, it's brighter and the wind is blowing but the silence and despair is still thick. How anyone summons up the energy or spirit to fight here is beyond me. This town isn't being ripped apart by labor unrest or mass emigration - it's more like slow, steady erosion. People don't seem to notice that they've gradually moved from the barstool to their graves until the last windfall of dust finally seals them in and their already eroding memory is entrusted to a few friends raising a few cans at the elks club.
Winter starts in mid-November and slowly ends sometime in late April here. The coming of spring is dreaded almost as much as the start of winter, though. In the spring time the frozen ground softens into mud and what little pavement there is quickly covered in a slow motion mudslide. Construction work became plentiful for whatever reason and all the loser caravans like ours flocked here to build schools and hospitals for the pending prosperous home buyers and business owners. Some construction and other industrial outfits even have barracks-like assemblies of trailers they call "man camps" for the fuck ups who can't even make rent on a mobile home. Local folklore is filled with stories of people who were decapitated by aluminum trailer siding whipped up by wind. At least one of these stories was true enough to make it into the weekly paper.
I saw my first dead body in this town. Some drunken redneck stabbed to death in front of a bar, outlined in chalk, still oozing blood. A friend of my dad's started a business moving trailers with a helicopter. He is hailed as a visionary and the man to emulate by locals.
Endless trailer park. Another trailer park stands empty behind the one I live and is referred to as the "gypsy trailer park." local legend says that they were part of some kind of cult and after their leader shot himself, jumped ship. Being nosey little middle schoolers, we explored as many of the trailers as we could break into. It didn't look like people fled the scene; it looked like people had evaporated. There were tables with dinner dishes still on them and coffee tables with full ashtrays and magazines. Toys were still spread out in what must have been children's rooms and their folded clothes sat stacked on top of the dryer. The trailer that had been the site of the alleged suicide was the only trailer that we never managed to see inside of.
All these places aren't ones that I managed to just pass by. Unfortunately, at one time or another I was part of them albeit in a passive sense since I was really too young to do anything other than observe. I’ve probably spent more time than I’d like to admit avoiding the circumstances that create places like these. Small towns scare the hell out of me; they're a closed environment where all the little differences and quirks of individual people stick out and that, unintentional as it may be, the scrutiny is more than I can take. People who find small towns romantic confuse me and I always wonder if they just spent some time taking in the quaintness or really lived in that reality of smothered dreams and futility. Little towns always make me think of sighs of resignation and gradual erosion of individuality under the stresses of scrutiny. There is something sad but not romantic about crappy little towns. Maybe it's an inevitability that everyone will eventually have to face, regardless of where they live, of eventually being overpowered and consumed by the environment that they exist in. Maybe we're kidding ourselves with museums and boutiques into thinking that we're immune to that leeching of spirit by our surroundings. When I look towards downtown and it's ridiculous high rises I wonder how different the city really is.