The Passing Parade: Cheap Shots from a Drive By Mind

"...difficile est saturam non scribere. Nam quis iniquae tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se..." " is hard not to write Satire. For who is so tolerant of the unjust City, so steeled, that he can restrain himself... Juvenal, The Satires (1.30-32)

Thursday, August 11, 2005

MAIN STREET, MOSTLY: Regular readers will know that our happy little burg has an unusually long Main Street for a town of our size. In a city of some 4.3 square miles Main Street stretches for a mile and a half through the middle of it all, anchored by the soon to be renovated redbrick remains of the industrial past at one end and City Hall at the other. Main Street was longer once; in the nineteenth and for most of the twentieth century Main Street went all the way down to the river, but an ill-conceived urban renewal plan in the 1960’s, and were there any other kind of urban renewal plans in the 1960’s, cut Main Street off from the river and ended it at the state highway that runs through the western edge of town. The rest of Main Street, along with most of the waterfront, and all the homes, businesses, and at least one church went the way of all flesh, a poetic euphemism for demolition via bulldozer, so that senior citizen housing and City Hall itself could rise Phoneix-like from the Mesa next to the Flagstaff (you can boo now; that was terrible, I agree, but no throwing brickbats, if you please). As this area was, at the time, the oldest part of our happy little burg, the urban planners of the day leveled row after row of Victorian houses, with the unintended consequence that the surviving Victorians, which you couldn’t give away forty years ago, now cost the potential homeowner a hefty-sized chunk of the gross domestic product of a small Third World Nation to buy. And with Main Street’s abrupt bifurcation came a sudden and unfortunate loss of local identity.

The people of our happy little burg have, for as long as anyone can remember, divided themselves into three tribes, membership in such groups being a consequence of where you lived. The tribes are the mountaineers, the swamp angels, and the dock rats, or wharf rats, as people sometimes called them. The mountaineers, obviously, are those people who live either on or in the immediate shadow of the mountain (yes, we do have a mountain here, a real one, no less); the swamp angels, who comprise the bulk of the population and live on the flat land between the mountain and the river, and the dock rats, who live near the old waterfront. People ascribed various character traits to the various groups back in the day: mountaineers were bold and adventure seeking, swamp angels were middle class wannabes and hence more than a little dull, and dock rats were a gang of lying, thieving swine who’d do what you’d more or less expect lying, thieving swine to do. No one takes that sort of thing seriously anymore, and I severely doubt if more than one kid in a hundred could tell you what his tribe might be or to find our happy little burg on a map if I had the place outlined in red magic marker. But if much is taken, much abides, and while the city’s tribal designations have vanished like the mighty works of Ozymandias and his all girl klezmer band, a new group has arisen to take their place. They are the lunchers.

Now, you may remember that I started off talking about Main Street before I went off in that whole sociohistoric tangent, and again, my apologies for wandering off the subject. That really is happening way too often, I know, but back to Main Street. Main Street, if you haven’t forgotten entirely, which is that sort of thing that can happen when you aren’t paying attention and your minds starts to drift off and starts to wonder about such things as why is Coca-Cola brown when it could just as easily be blue or teal or some other non-earth tone color, is a mile and a half long, a length totally out of proportion with the city’s overall size. The reason for this is that until 1913 our happy little burg was two smaller and not quite as happy burglets, each with its own Main Street. With the passage of time, and time passed in a much smaller cabin than you’d otherwise expect—time may be money but he’s holding onto every last dollar he’s got like he thinks they won’t make more of them—and given the geographic circumstances, the two villages grew into each other, their two Main Streets running into each other like Rodgers & Hammerstein, steak and fries, Mom and Dad, and your wife and your girlfriend…well, maybe not that last one. The trouble with such a lengthy avenue is that it is difficult to generate the requisite economic activity along its entire length. While Main Street may look fairly straight and narrow to the naked eye, the fact is that economically Main Street sags in the middle in much the same way as the high school’s star quarterback does at his class’ thirtieth reunion.

On the east end of Main Street lies the antique district, the stores comprising said district not usually frequented by the native population; they are, however, endlessly popular with people from the great southern metropolis, who make day trips to shop in these places and spend outrageous sums of money for stuff most people with some small degree of common sense wouldn’t give you two nickels for, but that’s neither here nor there, I guess—to each his own as they say. On the west end of Main Street there are, in no particular order, an art museum, a train station, and City Hall. In between these two poles of upscale economic activity one half of Main Street makes its living selling lunch to the other half; this other half are the lunchers, who now form the backbone of the municipal economic base, the very people I was going to write about two paragraphs ago before I started that whole lecture on economics, a subject I really don't know very much about, although I've heard that not knowing anything about the subject is not really much of a handicap when it comes to economics. In any case, I think it must be the lack of riboflavin in my diet that’s making my mind wander as bad as it’s doing today. A little wandering now and again is a good thing, I think, but when you are staying put and your mind needs a passport, a visa, and shots against dengue fever to leave the country without you then something is clearly very wrong, especially if you have to pick up the tab for airfare.

The other thing about minds wandering is the musical aspect of it, which can get very annoying. I have had my mind wander to the point where I could hear mariachi bands singing in my head, which is odd in that I do not speak Spanish and consequently I have no idea what in the hell these people are saying, and then there is the question of just what are all of those foreigners doing in my head without a green card. I strongly suspect that I am in violation of any number of immigration laws and I would just as soon not get mixed up in a violent confrontation with the Border Patrol while these musicians catch the express train heading out my Eustachian tube for Chicago, Kansas City, and points west.

And there are all too many wandering minds in this neck of the woods, anyway. Our happy little burg is home to a number of homes for the reality challenged, many of whom use this egregious mold pit when they are not busy annoying the clerks down at the local Dunkin Donuts. You haven’t really lived until you’ve tried to figure out just what it is some of these people are asking for, assuming they know themselves. One Saturday I did get one who did know what he wanted; he wanted the postal clerk-carrier test book, which is a perennial favorite around here. As we went looking for on the shelves for the thing, he insisted, in a very loud voice, no less, on telling me that he also needed books about mature sexual relations because he had sex on the brain and he needed help because Jesus was coming in 25,000 years and there was no telling when he would get sex before then. After locating the book, I brought him and the book up to the front desk, where I hoped to finally ditch him and his inane driveling. Alas, it was not to be. The clerk and the page, both proud daughters of Puerto Rico, took one look at this guy and I could see the curtain fall. Both of them speak excellent English, but when Mr. Sex-on-Brains arrived their mouths opened and then closed, their faces reassembling themselves into the mien I still call the No Habla look; not only did they all of a sudden not speak English, no one they knew spoke it either. In fact, they had never heard English spoken in their entire lives and had no intention of learning at any time this particular dimwit was in the building. It is very disconcerting, to say the least, that your friends will not take a loony off your hands when you really need them to, but I’ll get even someday; I’m just not sure how.


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