Not dead yet, but dying



July 16, 1982


For Louise, Passaic is the big city –ten dozen stores strung together like rosary beads connected to other strings that extend from downtown Paterson to the heart of Newark, historic snap shots of a past that Scranton has also lost: Woolworth, Grants, C.H. Martin and other names that have ceased to exist in the ghost town of downtown Scranton.

My walk through downtown Scranton was like walking through something dead and waiting to be reborn, while Passaic and its environs linger perpetually on the edge of death. There are rumors about things changing in Scranton such as some kind of mall that the city fathers have made plans for, but I saw only the closed stores, windows sealed with cardboard like English pennies on the eyes of the dead.

The crowds keep Passaic alive, the flood of immigrants and others who flood through its streets in consistent flow of blood, pumped in my promises of jobs the factories near the river still provide.

In Scranton, I saw no crowds, except outside the strip clubs and other bars where grimy men grimly stoke on cigarettes and grumble about life as they eye the few expensive cars they see driving up the hill towards the rich parts of city near the park.

Louise comes to this place and seems to see glitter where there is none, mistaken the broken glass that litters these gutters for diamonds after coming from a place in which nearly all the glass has been swept away.

She is a country girl coming to the most dismal city and seeing something better than she has where she is.

But Passaic is falling slowly into the same state, through fire and abandonment, housing new immigrants of Latino and blacks in shacks as bad as some of what the south once offered when still entrenched with slavery.

Desperate business owns slap paint over their crumbling store fronts to give them a façade of life, but after so many coats of paint over paint, it gives off the same impression an old woman might give with too many layers of makeup. The wrinkles are still there, perhaps made more obvious by the effort.

The theaters I grew up with our all gone – except for the Capital and the Montauk, one serving music and classic strip tease, the other straight ahead porno. I used to sneak into the striptease shows as a kid – the stage guard getting his kicks at the idea that I might be getting off the aging stripers the Capital retained. I’ve not gone into the Montauk since its marquee went triple X, though I remember what it looks like from when I saw James Bond movies there as a kid.

Scranton has its go go bars like Passaic, but from the outside they seem tamer than the ones here in Passaic, with few violent characters lingering near the doors, and women too over dressed to seem tempting.

Louise complains about the men of Scranton, claiming they have only one thing on their minds. But that’s men everywhere. We live in a media world that says men should be men of a certain kind, and mocks those who aren’t.

We crave most what most of us can’t have or are too scared to get or are disappointed when we get it, and so crave for what we think is out there and isn’t.

All this includes me, too.

And I wonder, what Louise is thinking now that she has finally come to my part of the planet and seen where and how I live, and I wonder what thoughts she will take back to Scranton with her after our being so long apart.


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