political satirist Barry Crimmins
Hoods in the 'hood
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
The stretch of road I traveled in Pennsylvania on Sunday was State Route 49 (west to east) through the towns of Westfield, Knoxville, Elkland and Lawrenceville. Lawrenceville isn't far from Corning, NY where there are still some jobs. It's on Rte 15, which is slowly being turned into an interstate (I-99) so it isn't so bad but there are still plenty of empty storefronts and ramshackle dwellings. The other three towns are spiraling into oblivion. The downtown districts are largely abandoned and the stores still in business carry very limited selections of goods -- with the exception of Ackley and Sons in Westfield, where there is a fine array of hardware, clothing and sporting goods available. The downtown areas of these towns look like a lot of other Main Streets in America, with shuttered stores and unkempt buildings except when you get to the edge of these burgs there is no Wal-Mart or even so much as a Burger King. If you want to eat out, there are still some old-fashioned diners but more and more people consume the limited and lousy fast food sold at gas station/mini-marts. It sure as hell isn't zoning laws keeping the chains out. It's not unusual to see half-assed building projects of every description in various stages of incompletion. Debris is commonplace -- jagged, rusty and precariously close to where kids can get at it. In fact it isn't unusual to see such detritus mixed in with children's playthings. The signs of emotional and economic depression are prevalent. People who have given up tend towards untidiness so slowly but surely the area is becoming an un-salvageable salvage yard. There are still many nice homes but fewer and fewer of their occupants are spared a view of neighbors living in pretty damned squalid conditions.
Call me an elitist but hell yes there is ignorance. A few years ago Karen and I were renting an old farmhouse situated on a beautiful piece of land just a few miles from the Pa. line. This is why I know that stretch of Rte 49 pretty well. We had neighbors across the street who listened to bluegrass music with lyrics that Little Hazel Dickens never sang. It was what I'd describe as "Klangrass." They listened to a musical grand dragon known as Johnny Rebel who performed such chartbusters as Nigger, Nigger and Niggers Suck! before changing pace with In Coontown. There was generally a lynching or shooting in the last verse of these songs. Our neighbors were people who celebrated the last day of hunting season by preparing for the first day of poaching season. The state police, county sheriffs and game wardens were frequent visitors. These folks drank a lot and argued among themselves and with their visitors. The disputes sometimes culminated in physical assaults, including the male on female kind, judging by the occasional shiners the young woman sported. These assaults never happened in open view nor was it obvious to the ear or we'd have acted. We did make this clear to the police when they came asking about other activities across the street.
These folks didn't have their trash picked up and they didn't take it to the landfill. They burned everything from plastic milk containers to disposable diapers. Although I brought Lloyd in and closed the windows as soon they lit their rubbish, I sometimes wonder if the carcinogens they put in the air contributed to Lloyd's cancer.
One night around dusk I heard some clanking and then several excited voices from their property. Soon I kept hearing variations on the phrase "Ow! This thing don't work!" And then someone else would try whatever they were doing and a then another "Ow! This thing don't work!" The next morning I peeked across the way to see what they had been up to and a trampoline had been set up.... at a serious slant on the side of the hill. I can't say they weren't good for a few laughs.
These people lived to disturb the peace and quiet that we prized above all else. They owned a fleet of motorized vehicles in various stages of disrepair but nary a one with a muffler on it. They took what wasn't nailed down and believed that so long as their booty was in the backyard, no one would ever notice. They often bragged that they'd shoot any cop stupid enough to step on their property. Fortunately this was mostly meant to scare us because I guess they thought we'd somehow missed the fact that they were bull goose gun looneys. They had an arsenal of indeterminate size and a predilection for firing weapons at 5 a.m. It's mildly disconcerting to be awakened at that hour by a moron discharging a firearm.
Awful as they were, we tried to get along with them because we wanted access to their dogs -- an array of Labs and Golden Retrievers that spent their lives on short chains and with grossly inadequate shelter from savage winter weather and brutal heat of summer. No one could remember a dog surviving so much as five years in their care. If Karen and I didn't bring the dogs water, they were more often than not left to pray for rain. We called the dog warden and he immediately told these animal abusers that we had dropped a dime on them. Ah,country life! This made for some tense times but through the grace of Karen, relations thawed. Finally she found a higher dog authority and a really good county animal officer showed up and read them the riot act. They were forced to get care for one of their dogs but the next winter when another was suffering from serious frostbite, an early morning shot was heard and that poor sweetie was never seen again. Eventually that dog's brother was left on some sort of wire leash that he pulled on until he had opened a a large wound in his neck, very close to his throat. We called the good dog cop again and this time Karen somehow insinuated herself in the process and she ended up in charge of getting medical care for the hound. His wound was full of maggots. It was touch and go but the vet did great work and the pooch pulled through. He stayed with us during his recovery. Lloyd the Dog was patient but not amenable to an outright adoption so Karen found him a great home. To this day our former foster dog has to wear booties in the winter because of his frostbite.
Worst of all they had kids. At one point, we were asked by a grandmother to support her in an attempt to wrest them away from these people. We did and the grandmother prevailed. We moved into our new home right around this time. It took us forever to find a place without neighbors who appeared likely to make our lives a living hell. I still feel badly that we couldn't reach our old neighbors to convince them that there are better ways to live than in fear, ignorance and bigotry. At least we salvaged a dog and helped give a couple kids a slightly better chance.
Anyway, these people are at the low end of those Hllary Clinton is speaking to with her campaign to color Barack Obama as a snob. They would respond to her suggestion that Obama was looking down his nose at them with the same sort of talk they reserve for cops coming on their land. And when you factor in race, these folks get mighty ugly, mighty fast. It's bad enough I have to work with them people but now one of 'em runs for president and he thinks he's better 'n me? Fortunately there aren't a lot of humans as
So Hillary is no better than a dope who walks in a hick bar on a Friday night and says-- See that guy over there who looks different than us? He says we's all ignorant! Let's get 'em!
I'd say she should be ashamed of herself but it's way too late to believe the woman is capable of feeling embarrassment. Her last hope are those the village never bothered to raise.