There has been talk about Main Street for some time now. A while back in the great recession/collapse/thingy, we heard that “Wall Street got bailed out, and Main Street got sold out,” and before then we heard about dying downtowns via human flight as apparently more ghosts moved into town and people didn’t want to live next to them, superhighways systems either going around the small village or city and otherwise strangulating it or creating a turn off no one was willing to take since the parking at the Mallgasstationtruckstop was free and small town America had yet to remove its many parking meters or those keystone kops hired and provisioned with so many tools to manage a population of such-and-such now winnowed down to a meager few and hapless parkers who did not feed the meter were perhaps the only car on the street, easy pray for the hundred of so cops on duty bored out of their minds and sick of arresting the same friggen drunk dude. The other version of the highway was to blast it through the Main Street, removing buildings and replacing them with their more suburban brethren, Motel Flip-N-Fucks, KenTacoHuts, Kwalmartgets, and sundry other outgrowths of the New American Landscape, the Colonial town of pied niors who are from everywhere, belong nowhere, and have allegiance to nothing but their constant and immediate childish desires. The small towns that once themselves had some similarity. Theaters and opera houses in the larger ones, banks and unions, and churches in all, and some had markets or commons or arcades. All had the Carnegie Library and memorial hospital and St. Oneofthem schools. These now ruined towns, either ignored or flattened by the New American City, flattened by Urban Renewal or bombed out by decay and human flight and not turned into museum destinations of overly-restored jewels that are completely vacant of actual daily life as they house but high-end stores, precise concept eateries, and quaint B&Bs with well-kept reserved parking spaces, are again taking on a similarity to one another, no matter which end of this Great Nation you travel.
The small town, the “mom-and-pop” stores, small (non-franchise) businesses, and unique shopes have distilled into a set of archetypes. From recent and very unscientific travels, and having lived in Fort Mudge for a number of years, I have made note of certain impressions and been struck by a number of ways these Main Streets have been reduced to having similar components and expectations for any visitor so that they can put down the guide book and have a set of expectations as what they will find.
The Gift Store of Broken Relationships
The Main Street gift store is named Charming Cuntry, Milly’s Gifts N’Wasted Life, Flowers and More [except the last flood took out the more so we now only have flowers], and Milly’s Charming Wasted Flowers. These shops all sell things that come from the way back of the catalogs people used to use to pack up grandmothers nick-nacks after she died so they could give it to Goodwill the Salvation Army. These items all are the dregs of charming “country living” Cracker Barrel floor sweepings, the mistaken still-born impulse buy ideas too shitty for Sharper Image and yet too high concept for the Dollar Store, the grandchildren of that fucking I Love You This Much statue, weeping, peeing, farting, wind-chimes, clever signs on wood best burned as if read out loud may raise the Candyman, Freddie, or grandmother from the dead, and you know how much tacky old-lady shit she collected. These things are poured out of some fake cast stone, glued together wood, stuffed animals with big eyes, or handmade by children in hot sticky countries with everything smells like rancid poo. Most of these things I assume if given to a friend would be an immediate de-frending on Frendster or whatever the kids are using these days for social media. If a gift to one’s self, then there needs to be an intervention, a raising of the self-esteem since, girl, you need to think of yourself better than that, honnie, you deserve more, you go to Job Lots and get yourself something nice. Here’s a dollar. Freak out in Value Plus or Kum N Go. In all, at least the dying Main Street has one storefront that bothers to wash its windows and arrange the sad clutter of shit to correspond with the seasons, even though three pedestrians and the same drunk may not appreciate it as much as they should, so bonus points to Bonnie, Peggy, or Tonya for giving it a try.
The Game Store of the Unlaid
Key in the dying Main Street economy is the game store. This may also be swapped out with the hobby shop, as basically they are the same thing. Fiddling about with small plastic parts and seeing how many star ship control panel bits you can glue to your fingers or casting dice so you green timebomb elf may jump the tipped cow of doom are about the same thing on the scale of zero to kill yourself. The posters on the windows are all the same, provided by the Zounds!(tm) card game, or Kewl Krazy Kards, or Titties, Sci-Fi Sophomoric Game of Female Objectification n’ Unrealistic Boobadge Ninja Game of Chance. In all, the posters act as a shield to the outer-world, us Muggles, the non-14 year old ones, who don’t groom our bangs to hang in our face. There is a sign, perhaps also handed out, but always printed in marker on cardboard, NO FOOD OR DRINKS ALLOWED. Inside the chamber of zits, tables may be arranged or a long glass counter with fantasy knives (this is where hobby shop elements may be added without changing the grand arch of the narrative) games stacked, and either the owner gives or doesn’t give a shit in how cluttered and dirty things are, and the patrons either allow the casual visitor unfettered access, or all at once look up from their gaming and drool, “One of us, one of us,” pointing with blackened fingers and pudgy cheeks. At least establishments such as these give the Main Street some non-drug-related traffic. They do, even if we divide those nerds, offer a safe house, a sanctuary once provided by Mother Church and all are welcome, and indeed, after you recite the Elvin curse, one of them.
The Deli of the Forgotten
As with the game shope, the Deli has what few windows that may exist plastered with advertisements, old gum, posters, the WIC sign, spatter and spit stains so that it is more like entering a dumpster than a store that sells things you are meant to place in your mouth. And speaking of oral fixation, these places have everything you need. Tobacco products of all sorts, especially strange flavors all of them wrapped in packages with butts or tits or butts and tits. Blunts are sold here. Now, for those who know what this is, I ask, has anyone ever smoked a Blunt just by taking it out of the package and smoking the Allah-Damn thing as-is, or, as I believe, no one has ever smoked a Blunt and 99.9999999% of the contents of said Blunt is strewn in alleys and parking lots, seat cushions, and Party House floors (see my rant on party houses). There are also the glass pipes, FOR TABACCO USE ONLY, who are you kidding sir, that sign madame, you must jest, I mean who smokes Drum of Old Grandad out of a glass pipe? Next to the glass pipes is the selection of REAL MAN STACKER Raaaaaaa! Pills in the event that your erection tips over in the wrong direction. I believe that between that, the beer, the condoms, and chew that a deli is nothing but a gay bar for straight men – do women ever go in there? I mean…. apart from that older lady… the one with the huge deformed breasts, the one who asks for money all the time…. In the back are the cans and sundries covered in a thin layer of dust. The items with the labels that say “not for resell” and those strange “unbreakable combs” and other displays that I think you should buy since, I believe, they sell for way much more on Ebay considering they’re antiques – I mean, 59 cents for an unbreakable comb! Shitsake, we’re rich! If you can’t get rich reselling the antique version 1, run 1, autographed Chef Boyardee, you can play the Lottery. Buy your best ticket, or play a $20 “scratch off.” I’ve misspent a lot of money in my life, but have yet to get a $20 scratch off. The dude in front of me is buying a stack of scratch offs. And beer. And paying for the beer with a benefits card. And the card has the name and face of some lady. I don’t have a benefits card, so I go to the cash machine which is either 1) covered in some strange goo or b) out of service. I am depressed, which is great because the overly loud refrigeration units have tepid beer, malt liqueurs, and some sparkling gateway drinks designed for teens to lure them into drinking 99 Bananas or some such shit later in life. Another dude comes in. Benefit card in hand. The card clearly says “Yolanda.”
The Eatery from Everyman
Mel’s hotdogs, Bilbos Taco Hut, [name here]’s Country Kitchen, Jose’s House of Burn Twice. These eateries are often open at strange hours, closed early, and altogether are not structured around what most in the food service trade understand as “business hours.” This may be because Lenny, or Laurie have to work at the Pay Less at 2, so they’re open for breakfast and an abreviated lunch or they are meeting a spouse who gets off of work at a certain time and they must close their doors, promptly. Menus at the Eatery are printed from an ink jet, full of clip art and often have misprintes, typeos, and unusual grammar, often corrected in pen, as specials are legislated by the hands of propriotors of patrons. Some of these places serve a very good one thing that they do well, and everything else assumes the more drastic curve of the bell down into uneatable fried clotted, muck splattered onto a paper plate, Dixie bowl or Solo cup with the plastic holder for the very thin disposable plastic cone that slightly melts to meld with your coffee that was clearly brewed from non-export quality beans. It doesn’t matter if the cook has been doing this for years or is googling the directions as he flips the slop on the pan. Most of this muck is fried anyway. “Ah Siouxzy, I love how you just left that in the fri-o-later for an additional 10 seconds.” Never go behind an Eatery… The back of the establishment has an elderly system of pipes spewing smoke and dripping oils of the juices of whatever wild life had taken up redisence in the night only to be baked early in the morning. Some of them have an infestation of bears in the trash cans, not that you will be on the menu, but seeing wht the food did to the blind and arthritic bears is never a pleasant sight. Return at once to the inside, and “Seat Yourself – Bad attitudes are extra” décor. The setting is decorated with a lot of things you may find in the gift shop down the street, perhaps they are a relation so one must suffer the slings and arrows of funny or inspirational statements, way too many wooden farm animals, and in rare cases, stuffed animals stapled to the walls… actually observed. This blogger cannot un-see that image. In all, while the garden furnature from Lowes may be uncomfortable, the atmosphere unusual, the food basic or Anthony Bordain freakout fucking crickets in a taco terrible, the Eaterly does provide some social sustanance and inexpensive kibble in walking distance from the rest of town.
The Antique Shope That Time Remembered
You can be sure that for every antique shop you see on Main Street, several others are lurking close by if not flanking the street daring little children and impoverished adults to come inside, yes, do come in, and break something, yet, smash it by letting your coat brush up against my precarious display of glass 1930s slag lumps, they’re valuable, and now, as the sign says, you brake it your bought it. The Main Street Antique store comes in a full spectrum from gay to gay and crazy, to just crazy. Gay is more than often fastitiously kept, one-of-a-kind, open by appointment or otherwise aloof, in the best building in town they can and out of love the have restored every heroic detail. These folks are at first very stony, most continue to only give a sidelong glance, pretend to futz with their schmuck cabnets as they obviously follow you knowing that in a moment you will steal the brass horse, the black block, the tin dog with the price tag tastefully turned down like fucking just tell me it’s 40 bucks rather than dancing around the whole “Maker Unknown: c. 1910 Iron or plastic or glass or lead or murcery or celseum 14, perhaps used for plugging bung holes by early ranchers, blueberry pickers, or bootlegers,” you always have to toss in the bootleger or pirate thing these days. That or, “Queen Anne Style, documented, made in Austria in the Royal Art School and signed by A.H. 1927 and inscription “Morter Allen Judden” believed to be motto of Fencing Club of Nuremburg.” To this, there is no price, since, bitch, you can’t afford it and if you have to ask girlfriend, you can’t afford it. On the other end is crazy. Crazy can either be crazy interesting or crazy boring. Crazy interesting is an old man or woman, usually they are missing a tooth and smoke a pipe, they are sited in a Firefox book or two as an original source and are older… far older… Tuck Everlasting older and more leatherly than anything in the heaps you are invited to sift through. Often called a junk store, the higher end has a subtile organization that allows yuppies to believe they “found” something… Come on! The old bastard has eBay on his iThingy…. The worse examples are heaps, wet piles, stacks that spill out of the building onto the lot of another site, perhaps a condemed place, perhaps the resting place for all those archetectural details that hid there escaping Urban Renewal. The propriator is often too friendly. Too chatty. Knows a little too much about local history. At first the conversation is fun You are learning a lot about Willbert Alley (shhhh… don’t tell him/her you don’t know where the hell this is/on the cusp of don’t care). Then, the details keep coming, the facts, the relationships throughout history, the grand tapastry of man unfilds and yet, the more you learn, the less you give a shit. And then it happens. You at first feel a little dampness. Just a hint. Oh, no, that’s just an expression. You ignore the senstation. You listen. The dampness grows and you are sure that a drop, just one, is making it’s way down. You are laughing at some something that is supposedly funny, and in this movement, you tap your finger up to your skin and examine it. To your horror you see the sanguine evidence. Blood. Your ears are bleeding. Mel has talked to you about the olden days until your ears are bleeding and now you must factor your escape. Knocking over a display case of vintage Melname usually causes enough of a distraction that you can make good your escape without inacting the “you break it you bought it clause.” Whatever the version of antique store, at least offer something unique, driven by the character of the owner, and there is indeed, lots of interesting shit to paw through for those weekenders.
The Theater From Outer Space
No Dilapidated, dying, and dead Main Street could be complete without a theater of soe kind. In for more formerly grand villages this would be an opera house. As an opera house it is either gutted and a prop in a small town village-wide revival of “Robo Cob,” or the structure has been long divided up into smaller spaces with lawyers, antique stores, and some vague office that can’t be working for the forces of light inside. In the rare occasion, the opera house is still active as a theater, at least to offer something slightly above the production value of the local high school’s version of Rent and somewhat below the droll yearly production of the Nutcracker: Now With 20% More Nuts up at the capital city opera house. Those villages not blesscursed with an opera house have a village theater of the orpheum variety. Again, many of these may be abandonded. A scant few (strangely more so in the 1970s) are porno theaters of closed down porno theaters will be found in certain villages, a rare bird that all Dead and Dying Main Street watchers will want to make note of (good to use a film of above 800 ASA to capture their high speed cunning stunts). Also rare, strangely, is the use of Main Street theaters by churches or congragations as found in their more urban brethern. Again, a rare site in Anytown. What is not a rare site in those small-town structures still standing, there is the split between ative film cinima, and “venue.” Venues usually can be identified by ample vacant parking lots that all carry the same loud warning of “Citizen. You have 30 Seconds to Move Your Car” or Danny’s of Pouja’s or Smittz towing will rain down some financial hurt and force you to take the local taxi to some strange location in the middle of the night, just as the snowstorm ends and you need to drive three hours in the middle of the night…. Not that anything like that has ever happened to this blogger. What is strange about this overly territorial stance by the venue is that outside of the off-night there is otherwise no reason to be on that part of Main Street. There should better be signs such as “Don’t dump bodies here” or “No, you can’t kick the family dog out here to get rid of her here, you live a fucking block away and she will be pooping on your doorstep before you park the car” or “If you’re going to pay $75 for a ‘classy’ blow job why don’t you pay an extra $45 and get a room?” After all, who needs to park there, the closest business is that creepy office with the blinds that are always shut and the continually half-dead plant in the window…. they can’t be up to anything good. Legal activity or meth lab, they have their own reserved parking. As theaters, it is a rare, 1000:1 chance they are art houses. Very rare. Unicorn rare. Art houses are [generally] found only in those rare villages that are otherwise populated with well-off vacationing people from The City who have “cabins” upstate and go to see Cha Cha’s latest Fra Fra Fra so they can blah blah blah with Antie Faux Paux Law. In most towns with working theaters, these places pump the same shit into our eyes as the Multicinaboscoplexathon at the Mall or out by the highway next to Mellon Shakers, the gentlemen’s club, they just do it with faded wall paper, dusty crystal chandelers, and preneum arches and curtains that desteratly need a Kickstarter to bring them back to their former luster, but are run by slow lane thinking propriators who lack so much imagination, it is hard to believe ever imagined they’d become owners of a theater in a dying Main Street.
To Be Continued….