"Hello, and welcome to the Talk of Akron on WNIR, I'm Howie Chizek, what do you want to talk about?"
"Hi, Howie. My problem is with the police."
"What exactly about the police is bothering you, caller?"
"The way they look, you know? They go walking round with their shaved heads, it's intimidating. Look like jailbooted thugs, ready to bust your head in. Got them dogs, like wolves, snarling."
"Well, this shaven headed business comes from immigrants, you know? White guys saw how successful the black guys were with the ladies, how they thought it was sexy, so they copied it."
"I don't know, they look like some damn alien, or something. Then they got tattoos, some going up their necks. They're meant to protect us, you see, but they just scare us, Howie."
"Let's not get started on tattoos. The young are crazy about their dirty tattoos, and I can't understand it. They'd rather mark themselves with horrible ink designs than get a job. Let me tell you, this country is going downhill fast. Anything more you want to add, caller?"
"No Howie, I'm done. Just wanted to talk about them ugly police, intimidating me in my neighbourhood."
"Well I think you got that across. You have a lovely weekend. Hello, and welcome to the Talk of Akron on WNIR, I'm Howie Chizek, what do you want to talk about?"
Niagara Falls leaves me empty. So much smaller in real life - like actors. Water pours over the edge, gallons of murky green plunging downwards onto rocks and spraying up, drifting over to Canada on the breeze. The Maid of the Mist bobs like a cork underneath, drenching us blue poncho wearing folks in thick drops of water. Everyone damages their cameras snapping through the drizzle. Cormorants and gulls float above, breaking through the sun refracted spectrums. It's all over in 10 minutes, like bad sex. On our magic quest we must cross the Rainbow Bridge to get to the land of maple leaves to vanquish the portly gatekeeper. Canadian immigration is friendly, we wander the other side of the gorge for a mildly different perspective on the falls, Horseshoe hidden behind a misty veil. Niagara Falls town is the same as the other side - tacky and tourist driven. Half an hour is not enough time to judge Canada, just to observe the other side, removed. Back on the steel arch span all the cars are leaving America. The US border guard questions us closely. Suspicious of anyone entering the country. No wonder everyone wants to exit.
Buffalo is collapsed industry, old factories antiquated in the way they are, faded, paint peeling on the edge of tottering down into rubble. It is impossible to tell whether they are still in operation or not. Pipes and electricity run in and out, feeding it all, like the kilo of pasta that sits on my plate rapidly cooling. That mattress factory looks doomed. Another family is fearful over the dining table. The old trades are dying. No one wants sprung mattresses any more, they want Tempa foam. No one can save the high windowed brick walls, flat roof, chimney sprouting square and tall from crumbling down, down, down.
The light doesn't shine so much now we're up in the north, past Lake Erie and the Finger Lakes and the Thousand Islands. It could be Canada. Pine trees and waterways. Darker and cooler. Quieter. The border is 30 miles away from Watertown - closer to Montreal than we are to New York City. Strange little place where the locals hate the army and the army hates the locals. The soldiers go COW (citizen of Watertown) hunting - for the fattest local girl to screw and take to the parents. The girls compete to be the fattest. It gets dark early - what more is there to do? The bars aren't friendly - framed by the everlasting conflict. In winter ice storms shut everything down and shut everybody in. All the babies are born in the fall and for years after every federal emergency hibernation lock in the kindergartens are all full.
They work in a tree shop, making the scented pine tree shaped cardboard hangers for deodorising your car. It sounds like the premise for a Palahniuk novel. First the strippers punch the pine trees out of the moulds. Then they're dried, to absorb more of the smell. Then the whirlwinds punch the holes and string the trees. When you're working the whirlwind you count to 24 for 10 hours. The banana nut (discontinued) was the worst smell - you wouldn't get it out of your nostrils for days. Some dusty lingering of scent attached to the hairs within. You seek emancipation through the internet and your pets. Work is not what defines you - hopefully. Existing or existence - where is that fine line now?
Another storm is rolling in while we play putt putt golf. The guy behind the counter is full of enthusiasm for everything - talks like the Californian surfer stereotype - awesome - depression is an attitude problem. "Are you getting a ship or a plane back to England?" The clouds are monstrous billowing up - we beat the rain through handicap 18 style putting - holing out from five feet with a satisfying rattle as it bounces into the cup. A drink and we all sing - badly - destroying the tunes with offkey hushtone warbles. None of us are street enough for Baby Got Back. It swelters in here, a weedy fan nudging us with breeze. I sleep with no covers, exposed.