Friday, May 20, 2016


By contrast to all that, everything
about Elmira tried to 'pride' itself
on Mark Twain. Not a tenuous
connection by any means, but still
not quite the prideful connection
they tried to make. Bragging rights,
yes, I guess, for family burial and
the plots  -  'possession being 9/10's
of the law' as they say. When you've
got the body, ownership sort of goes
with the territory. He was buried there,
after all, as part of the larger Langdon
brood. Which worked very well. The
big house, Quarry Farm, the writing
studio, all that, they were all gifts from
the Langdon family (a big, monied,
Elmira family), into which he'd married
(Olivia). There was just about a 'Mark
Twain' everything in the town  -  Mark
Twain Diner, laundromat, chili dogs,
theater, shopping plaza, bookstore, and
there probably even was a bowling alley.
The biggest draw in town was 'The Mark
Twain Hotel'. It was like the Plaza Hotel
of Elmira  -  rich, hoity-toity service,
with every casual need taken care of  -
from shoeshines to tea, expensive
chocolates and fine foods and dining.
When they did finally close up, about
1976, they had a spectacular closing
sale of the hotel-wide stuff, running
the gamut: linens, dinner service,
platters, sets, plates and cups and
dishes. Things were exactly 'cheap'
but I was able to get a creamer and
a cup, as I recall, for like ten bucks.
They're still around here somewhere.
The sale ran for two solid weeks, an
open house of sorts, with all these old
people bemoaning the passing of their
day. 'Nobody stays in town anymore,
they all want highway motels.' Stuff
like that  -  problem really was their
old days were gone. All that inner-city
manufacturing had gone away, dried up,
no more salesmen passing in and out,
no more local theaters, no more
conventions and confabs. I don't
really know what they expected  -
when was the last time they stayed
themselves? Plus, it was their own
people and generation that plopped
Route 17 and other interstates right
at the fringe of town, draining all the
lifeblood out to the highways. That
was a nationwide epidemic; all
people then wanted was and speed
and, egads, 'free' parking. What'd they
expect, these old-timers? (I hate it
when people complain about something
they themselves did). There just wasn't
much there anymore that wasn't tacky,
cheap, or seedy. Ten years later, it was
all over, with every place left being
only some national name, a chain or
a franchise'd name. Even Iszard's, the
fancy-assed department store which
once was the epitome of Elmira chic,
was dead and buried; and that was right
next door to the Hotel itself. One fed off
off the other, and both went down. I'd
gotten to know a few of the locals
who'd been around, in business,
forever. One guy, last name Brown,
I forget the first name, he was about
65 or 70 then and still hanging on to
his  Brown's Men's Shop'  -  fancy
clothing and men's accessories and
stuff. He took up the cudgel when
there started to be plans afoot to
'revitalize' and urban renew portions
of the old downtown, his area, actually.
Letters to the Editor, council meetings,
petitions, the whole thing. He was way
into the organizing of opposition. I got
a little involved, but with the flood and
stuff eventually doing most of the work
for the authorities anyway. The whole
area had gotten leveled, bridges taken
down, and there were even coffins
floating down Water Street, which
was under some nine feet of water
(Hurricane Agnes, June 22, 1972)  -
a real mess was made of that then
then. Mud was everywhere. It took
like two years to get the river-crossing
bridges back up (there were three of
them) fully, and running, and by that
time the Army Corp. of Engineers had
had their way with Elmira  -  new
plans for everything. Just like a Robert
Moses trick. A central bypass highway
(Mark Twain Expressway, of course!),
and a brand new performance and arts
concert space, big time  -  Mark Twain
Performing Arts Center (and parking
garage!). Who'd a'thunk? I do think
maybe old Sam Clemens rolled over
at least once in that grave of his. I
guess old Mr. Brown is long, long dead
now  -  he was a nice, crusty guy, and
I was real glad to be in his graces. But,
alas, we all lost. One really curious
thing from those days, and I carry
this with me always. Working for
Mr. Brown, back then, was a young
guy, about my age, a little younger.
He soon enough left an opened his
own little shop, much younger style
of clothing, absolutely nothing to do
with the traditional and sedate attire
of Brown's Men's Shop. This kid was
a blondish, California type, light and
airy. He was from Elmira; it was home
to him. He opened his store, and called 
it 'People's Place.' We went in a few times,
and one time he gave my son a full-sized
People's Place tee shirt, regular size, for
sleeping in. It had a fairly horrible, hippie-
looking, screen-printed logo, and I recall
is as being yellow. A couple of like human
heads, and hippie-lettered 'People's Place'. 
Anyway, we lost touch, moved on, etc.
That kid's name was, and is, Tommy
Hilfilger. Yeah, that Tommy Hilfilger.
You could look it up.

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