For those readers who desire an all-too-early Halloween...
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“Life along the boulevard is not that bad.”
That’s one of the absurd lines a few singers had boasted in their lyrics many years ago. All are old men now – or six feet under. I haven’t a solitary clue where those fruitcakes had originally hailed from, but they sure weren’t singing about the same Boulevard I had come to inhabit and to despise with a vengeance and pent-up fury. To call this five-mile spit of land a nightmare on steroids, or more accurately, the crab-infested crotch of the entire universe, can’t begin to describe this toxic hellhole. Those singers should have listened to the guy who sang that only the strong survive. Damn. He knew...
For starters, the sun never shines down on us anymore. It never breaks through seasonal layers of mist and haze, fog and rain. Haze is perpetual, mist is common and the rainfalls range from an occasional sprinkle and light showers to raging, full-blown monsoons. Whenever the thick, soupy fogs come rolling in, as they frequently do, they can be killers, sucking the life force and spirit out of poor men’s souls.
Many science experts chose to consider this condition a freakish weather anomaly. Everyone else agreed the land was cursed following the nation’s collapse a few years back.
People living here, those wretched survivors who can barely grunt at their neighbors rather than utter any pleasant greetings, would bet on this phenomenon daily. These fools risked their precious money and credits for longshot odds on the big yellow ball way up high above us that continued to shine everywhere else but here. And they always lost.
Rule #1: The sun never, ever shines on the Boulevard anymore. Absolute fact of life. Period.
In case you’re wondering, the Boulevard isn’t in eternal darkness. There is natural daylight, but it exists without any warming sunshine or bright blue skies punctuated with fleecy, cottonball clouds. If you require them, you have to leave these surroundings. Grass, weeds and flowers hardly got enough of what was required to make anything living thing grow and thrive, so they all end up looking as slummy as everything else around here. No one on or near the Boulevard was ever going to win the Nobel Prize for horticulture and landscaping.
Lush botanical gardens, my ass.
If the sun ever did decide to show itself and grace us with its precious warm rays, half the residents would go blind from staring up at it, while all the rest would go stark raving nuts. Or crap out and go horizontal permanently from group coronaries produced either from total panic or from winning a serious, sizeable windfall of cash and credits.
Mist and haze, coupled with early, subdued twilights, are as good as it gets each day. Black as tar pitch, nights are starless. No moon. The faint, lonesome pinpricks of flickering lights throughout the surrounding areas try in vain to pierce the perpetual inky cloak, while over on the Boulevard itself, garish displays of neon light up the main drag.
That’s the full spectrum: from dim 15-watters to full candy-colored incandescence.
Littered with rundown houses, shacks, cabins and lean-tos for three miles or so on either side, the Boulevard itself has degenerated into a badly decaying east-to-west strip of land, depressed not only from its sea-level elevation, but also in human spirit. Nestled between increasingly high-rising hillsides, it provides a stark contrast to the more affluent still living above and apart who’ve sealed off their rear windows and luxury backyard pools to avoid being reminded of us less fortunate peasants, recklessly running about trying to scratch out a meager existence down below.
The acoustics of this place are thoroughly out of whack, too. They have a way of playing strange tricks on you. Let’s say you hear a vehicle approaching from the left. It’ll actually be coming from the right. People out walking always need to be wary and alert to remain staying above ground.
Or someone may drop a full load of loud metal pipes right on your front doorstep causing you to jump sky high. Recovering, you rush to check any damage by looking out of your window. The butter-fingered klutz who had carelessly dropped all that clangy stuff is way down the street, half a football field away or more. Go figure any of this weird shit.
Alleyways are always the worst. You’re on foot, about to attempt a crossing. You look to the left – nothing coming. Then to the right side. Again, nothing. But the very instant someone places a foot down, a monster truck will appear out of nowhere, roaring down on that hapless, unsuspecting idiot at 90 miles-per-hour. It couldn’t happen any better in one of those old Tex Avery cartoon reruns we used to watch on the tube when we were kids.
* * *
So much for all of these weather reports or culture and geography lessons. The important question is how we came to live like this. In a word? Phony wars. Lots of them, and all begun on a whim by a truth-challenged, thin-skinned bully, an outrageously incompetent “world leader” who preferred golfing, bashing enemies and allies and waging his damned asinine wars while gazing in a mirror and counting his mega-moolah like “Unca” Scrooge in that huge cartoon vault of his.
Or maybe it was government inaction – that last word being single, not separated into two – in a country severely divided into a pair of dumbass colors.
Greed? Spelled out in enormously bright, bold letters – and with a capital “G.”
Or was it terminal stupidity?
Or unbridled arrogance?
Pick one. Pick all. You wouldn’t be far off the mark.
In the final analysis, my educated guess is that every single reason played some part in our gradual, slippery-slope slide from our former enviable position of grace.
When this large country of ours started to fragment and fracture, pulling itself apart at the very seams of the fabric of organized society, I had been working as a line supervisor at a nearby governmental agency. Most folks always referred to it as a “giveaway” outfit – welfare money for babies and older kids with no fathers, for free food tickets and for abortions on demand.
Without warning, our financial plug got pulled. Every worker was pink-slipped. Shitcanned in a heartbeat. Only this time around, there weren’t insurance benefits available for us any longer. The dying economy had become so weak that we, the latest casualties of this once-great nation’s slow economic collapse and impending doom, were finally sucked dry by it.
Forced to scale down, those of us who owned homes were forced to sell, and for pitiful prices, and then to move on to much smaller quarters. And if any of our savings remained, we lived off these nest eggs intended for our retirement years as we scrambled for any type of employment, for the jobs that became harder and harder to find, many almost non-existent by the time the last of the money ran out.
I recall a young, nerdy accountant named Flick who had opened his business on the Boulevard about that time. Whether he was tight with a buck or had simply hired the wrong dumb bastard to engrave his front window and door signs, I do not know. That bozo of a letterer neither knew how to use the possessive for Flick’s name nor did he space the letters properly, so this is how it looked to people at curbside:
Seeing that minor goof, the good citizens believed it was a nasty four-letter epithet in gold leaf urging them to screw the rapidly failing government. And they did. They did it in droves. They stopped paying taxes, and none of the revenue boys ever came looking for them. Not a single one.
Most proprietors on the Boulevard still sent a little tax money to city hall and, of course, so did the mob-connected businesses and owners of the big crooked casino, but not the average Joe and Jane. Conversely, the city wrote us off as a group of total losers, just as if we had seceded, and in return provided few services. If a sewer main broke, you’d die of old age waiting for a replacement that would never arrive. Or you could likely perish as a result of the floodwaters downstream. As it was, we had to lug our potable water buckets and cans from distribution centers on a weekly basis, if that, or from one of the cold running brooks close by. If your residence had electricity, fine. If not, people made do by using old oil lamps.
Small businesses were forced to hire outside truckers to cart away refuse. Local folks often chipped in some money or credits to help defray expenses of the store owners so that their own garbage could also be loaded and hauled away. At least that cut down some on the lingering stench, as well as the proliferation of rodents, vermin and various diseases.
Flick’s business was, on one hand, a rallying cry for rebellion and revolt, and on the other, an unfortunate bust for the accountant himself.
And it’s common knowledge no one on the Boulevard ever saw Flick again.
Boulevard by James D. Young is available on Amazon.