That one thing is this: that little corner of the world, one that I've come to know intimately and even love, has been just crushed by the economic downturn. They have a big stretch of US Route 422 - they call it "the Strip" - that for as long as I've known it (and decades before, according to Toots) has been a bustling commerce mecca throughout its entire length. Strip mall, plaza, restaurant, every other conceivable commercial enterprise was to be found there by the dozen; if I decided, for example, that I needed a dozen of the guitar picks that I use (Jim Dunlop USA nylon .88's), I had my choice of perhaps three different stores in a two-mile length of road.
But that kind of prosperity is gone. Storefronts stand empty and sad; whole strip malls are un-rented except for a Goodwill donation center; and the only shiny new businesses are payday loan and check-cashing joints, the twin bottom feeders of an economy in free-fall.
I know this is happening to an extent everywhere in the country but Youngstown has been in the shitter for thirty years, not having recovered from when big Steel left, in the '80s. Besides, this patch of dirt holds people that I've known and loved for decades, and it tugs a bit at the ol' heartstrings to see such widespread ill-fortune to an area who has barely held its head above water for so long.
Two very funny things happened during my time away. The first thing is...well, a little background first: I have this thing I do, it's the perfect combination of funny and creepy that defines me so well to those who know me. When anyone has anything removed from their bodies, I offer them comically small amounts of money for whatever it is. For example, I offered Josie eight bucks for her gall bladder, and a buck for each gallstone contained therein. My usual line after the offer is "Don't ask me what I want it for - that's MY business."
Well, for the first time, it happened: on Christmas Eve, as we were making merry, my nephew Jacob lost a primary tooth. I told him that if I could snag that tooth, Mr. Washington (a dollar bill) would find its way to Jake's piggy bank. He thought a while...
...and handed that bad boy right over. And after I recoiled in horror and told him to wash it off first, I happily took possession of another human being's tooth. As you can imagine, it was a huge source of comedy throughout the entire week. Me and Toothy (I named him Toothy) had a swell time.
|Oh Toothy, you and I are gonna be pals...|
The second thing funny that happened was, within 10 seconds of our scheduled departure, I received a phone call from...Lightning! What are the odds!! Of course, he's the only person with a blog I got a call from, but that's probably just me being petulant. Anyway, after a few Yuletide pleasantries, he came to his point: he actually wanted to test me in Beatles trivia. Oh, sure, he knows I'm good, but I don't think he realized that I was great, that I work in Beatles trivia like Da Vinci worked in oils. The subject of the day was B-sides of 45's (kids, look it up). Lightning heard Paul's ode to prostitution, Lady Madonna, on the radio, and asked me if I knew what song was the B-side to the single. I did in fact know, not only that L.M. was the last single released on Capitol Records, the Beatles' own label Apple taking over after that point, but that the B-side was in fact the last of the George sitar trilogy, a song called The Inner Light, which approximately nobody knows. I told him that, and sang him a few bars, and he was impressed. He actually threw one more at me: What was the B-side to Paperback Writer? I could barely contain my smugness as I told him it was Rain ("When the rain comes, they run and hide their heads...") and he finally acknowledged that I was The Master Of All Things Beatles. It was a good feeling.
The ride home was 11 hours and 32 minutes of misery. It pissed down rain over 550 miles; all the ham I'd eaten over the week came home to haunt me and I needed to stop and piss every 40 miles; it actually snowed at the higher elevations of Interstate 80, including this ironically-named town:
It's good to be home.