Thursday, April 28, 2016


There was a town up that way,
on the way to Elmira, named Sayre,
PA. It was a nice enough old shunt
of a town; a double-compound of
nothingness and small houses, a
settlement without means, just a
place. The 1970's up that way did
that to lots of places. It just seemed
as if money had run out, credit was
really tight, and asking for it was just
as treacherous as not having it. I was
fortunate  -  fortunate in the sense I
mean that it was never cool to be
indebted, but it kept me alive for
a while  -  in somehow getting a
bank officer at the time of mortgage
for the old farmhouse, who also
extended to us the option of
maintaining a stream of 30-day
notes or 60-day notes, for the
duration, in whatever amount we
wanted  - as long as we paid the
due-dates and debts back. It was, as
a kid of 22 or so, a really strange
introduction to the ephemeral and
magical world of banking and
finance. Nothing ever was changed
because of the situation  -  if it got
bad you could just ask for more
money on the next note so to put
a repayment for a better increment
back on the old note. All you were
really doing was rolling things over -
their money, their extension, and
your life. As long as you found a
way to repay, even if it was with
their own money back to them, you
could stay ahead of the axe. Farmers
were doing it all the time, to tide
themselves over for the Winter, or
until some crop came in, or for the
roof they needed. Rural economies
were really funny things, I found out.
Like a paper kingdom of nothingness.
And the guys at Troy Bank and Trust
were really good at it. Or they could
have been shysters, drawing me into
a lifetime of false debt in their 'employ.'
I was (fortunately) always able to make
it work, and, after a few years, was gone
from there anyway, but I knew farm
families whose entire way of life was
wrapped up in that. But they always
had decent cars, a new snowmobile
or two, food and fuel. I guess all the
bank cared was that they got their
$12 or $14 (my random numbers
here) interest out of you each
month. Troy, PA, and Sayre PA,
were pretty much the same sorts
of towns, Sayre being about 15
miles or so to the east. Along Rt.
6 in PA, or Rt. 17 (now called the
'Southern Tier Expressway'), which
ran the border east to west between
Pennsylvania and New York State
lines, most people lived like that.
Depressed area, really down on its
luck, especially in the 70's, and
then brutally flooded in '72 with
Hurricane Agnes on June 23. It
was all like Paradise, but Paradise
with a drawbridge that had gotten
washed away. The moat was open,
and lots of people fell in and drowned.
These bank lines of open credit were 
all many people had, and I begrudged 
no one their chance at surviving.
I only knew three or four people 
in Sayre. I did a screen-door 
installation job or two there. 
That town, for whatever it was, 
always seemed like the perfect
setting for The Music Man  -  
an old-line Americana play 
about some snake-oil type of 
guy who blows into town 
ostensibly to raise cash for the
town to have a band and 
instruments  -  it's a long 
story. But, right in the
middle of the town there 
was this great bandstand. 
Sayre was, right there, 
perfect for the 1880's, a 
veritable still-life of frozen 
town. I would sometimes go 
there and just sit for hours, 
mesmerized by my own thoughts.
Under the wooden rooftop of 
that bandstand, unused as it was, 
I could swear my mind flew, 
just traveled far away. Things 
still lived, all that old brass and 
drum corps music was yet hanging 
in the air, the corny optimism of 
little flags and stars and stripes 
banners still fluttered. People 
parked their wagons on the dirt 
and grass, leaving the horses 
behind, gathering excitedly, 
pleased to see one another
once more. Coy girls glanced
at nervous boys across the lawn.
Bloviators talked on, speaking
aloud, at length, to the assembled
town crowds, in the open air. Once
I got started, there was pretty much 
no way I could be stopped  -  all 
this painting of fantasy-times with 
my mind just went on. I think 
that's how the crazy-people 
maybe do eventually get lost, 
just frayed out into their 
own imaginings, to the point 
that they begin talking and 
interacting with them and 
not the real world  -  if that's 
what it is. 'Real' being, at
this juncture, just really 
pretty subjective.
Sayre had a neighboring town too,
Athens. Stephen Foster attended a
music a music conservatory there,
Athens Music Conservatory, or
something like that, and there are 
a few plaques around the site. The
rest of both these towns is pretty
shot  -  old-line tired and beat, no
real money. There's a big hospital
complex in Sayre, right at the town
square and bandstand area, called,
as I recall Robt. Packer Hospital.
It's large, and probably employs
many of the townsfolk and keeps 
them from going under  -  the
usual food-service and attendant
jobs. It's a teaching hospital, which
is why I got familiar with it. My 
wife needed an operation, in those
early 70's, some internal stuff, and
they would properly do it for free,
and give you the needed care, if
you agreed to become the person 
in the operating arena whose 
operation all the medical students
and interns and such, watched.
Some people would never do it, 
but my wife, with my assent too,
had no problems with that, and the
price couldn't be beat. So that's how
I became a Sayre steady for a 
period of time while she was there.
Just more to the east yet, is Towanda,
 on Rt. 6  -  which is a beautiful road, (was 
then anyway), that  cuts right thru this 
midriff of PA, as the 'Grand Army of the 
Republic Highway'. There are  markers 
all over it along the way. More on 
that later. Towanda is a town
with the right of way of this Rt. 6
coursing through it, all twisty and old.
Large old Victorian homes, in certain
spots, hugging the streets. In the 1970's,
yes, it still belonged, as well, to another
time and place  -  heavily tree'd, nicely
shrubbed and covered. That's all gone 
now, like the rest  -  tress have been 
hacked down, people want light and
space around them, not shelter. When
you begin doing that stuff it doesn't take 
long for things to change downward. 
Nowadays, all the good old stuff is gone.

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