This part of town isn’t a town.
It’s a moment in time.
When I drive through this part of town, I don’t see the present.
I see an angry, frustrated past. A past that’s too goddamned stubborn to let the present in.
The future doesn’t really exist in this part of town, either. All there is is past.
I drive through and I see Cadillacs with leather seats- Cadillacs that look like they’d be more comfortable floating down the Ohio River than on the streets.
The people driving them, though- they’re the ones who seem like they’re drowning.
Old Italians who clutch their crucifixes with hands still de show the last vestiges of the strength of youth.
White, Black, Hispanic, Asian- in this part of town, they’re all united by distrust and a latent sense of detachment.
A comfortable distance is the name of the game in this part of town.
The 1970s still reign supreme in this part of town. The faded signs, the cars, the layout of the streets- it all feels antiquated. This part of town looks like a Bruce Springsteen lyric come to life. When I picture it in the eye of my mind, I imagine degradation. I imagine steel and hard work and a slow, agonizing descent into disrepair and obsolete oblivion.
The people who populate these streets- they don’t look angry. They’re not distrustful or disreputable, either.
They just seem…
They’ve let their homes in this part of town define them. This is where they were born, this is where they live, this is where they’ll die.
They’ll live and die in this part of town.
There will be no raging against the dying of the light.
Not in this part of town.
It will just occur.
And as I drive through this part of town, two trains of thought duel simultaneously in my mind:
My Catholic side and my coward side.
My Catholic side says:
Help these people. You can do it. I know you can. Change their lives, Dom. Change them.
My Catholic side speaks to me in whole sermons, it seems.
Then there’s the other side.
My cowardly side.
My cowardly side only repeats one phrase constantly in my head:
I want to get out of here.
…What a selfish and stupid thing to say, right?
Because, first off, I don’t even live in this part of town. People I know- people I consider friends- make jokes about this part of town. “I mean, it’s this part of town,” they say to me, eyes wide and expectant like I’m supposed to understand what they’re saying.
...Their ignorance and dispassion sometimes seep into me, I think.
Honestly, Ignorance is kind of like herpes- a helluva lot of people catch it, even though they’ve tried pretty damn hard not to.
But whenever I drive through this part of town, I’m confronted with just how ignorant I can be.
Because these people aren’t shells.
These people have brains. Talent. Hopes and dreams and fears. And to discount them would be degrading and ignorant.
I’ll bet you many of them tried to get out. They tried to live lives outside of this part of town.
But Thomas Wolfe is a damned liar. Because you can go home again. Because for the citizens of this part of town, they were cast out and thrown away by a society that either couldn’t use them anymore or just plain didn’t want them.
And so, this part of town came calling once again. And so the residents rejoined the society that this part of town seemingly represents.
And the pity of it is, this part of town doesn’t just exist where I live.
There’s thousands of them. Little pockets of gradual failure, filled with people who tried and failed. People who needed to change their plans. Limit their dreams. Accept their failures.
Now don’t get me wrong. There’s plenty of people who want to stay in this part of town.
But I’ve found that there comes a time where we want to have the luxury of trying.
And for too many of the residents of this part of town, the luxury of trying is something they’ll never be able to afford.
…You know, when I was a little kid, I used to read comics all the time. One of the titles I remember reading most was a group named the Challengers of the Unknown- adventurers that risked it all to explore the abnormal, mystical and fantastic.
Frequently, the Challengers would discover “Lands out of Time”- places that were out of step with reality. Places that seemed to just exist, without ever progressing.
…I never realized that art could imitate life so closely.
Maybe the residents of this part of town are all unwittingly Challengers of the Unknown- stuck in a seemingly endless story arc that should have reached its climax a long time ago.
…Aren’t they due for a victory sometime soon?
Bell is a contributor for The Millennial Times.