I tore through this book, it really captures my hometown. Here’s the first page:
GLORY ZYDEL, small business owner
When twenty-six psychiatric hospitals in New York City were “depopulated”—meaning completely shut down, everybody out!—sometime in the early 1980s, I can’t remember the exact year, the released patients were handed one-way bus tickets out of town. The last stop on each ticket was Buffalo. Thousands of mental patients left Manhattan in the middle of the night. They could have gotten off anywhere along the way. In any of those dead upstate towns. They were probably confused, though, and terrified and all doped up. So they just rode for nine hours, staring out the windows, until the drivers parked at the Seneca Street Station and kicked their asses out. “Last stop. Buffalo.”
Almost all of them ended up right here on Elmwood Avenue and joined our indigenous population of kooks. In those days, you know, the Reagan years, the insane were out in full force. I don’t know if you remember this, James—maybe this was before your time—but they were like a traveling theater troupe. We began to watch for our favorite routines. The Thorazine Lean. The Hermaphrodite’s Striptease. . . . Who else? The black-toothed Walking Man. Remember that guy? He wore dirty wool trousers and a dirty sport coat, but he was weirdly handsome when he kept his mouth closed, Native American–looking, strong face, great hair, glossy black hair. He would just stop suddenly on a corner and pose like a runway model, one hand on his jutting hip, grinning his crazy I’m-not-taking-my-meds grin. Sometimes he would flip his sport coat over his shoulder and prance back and forth, his chin held high. I loved watching them. They seemed to know how absurd everything was. They were trying to show us.
I opened this shop twenty-six—no, twenty-eight years ago now. I have sold everything here: animal hides, jewelry, records and tapes, CDs, drug paraphernalia, vintage clothing, you name it. I used to be on the corner of Elmwood and West Utica, but I moved here back in 1986 and I’ve been here ever since. Maybe it was 1985. . . .
Well but anyway, I remember there was a major shift in the aesthetic around that time. All the artists, the true artists, were moving out of town. Some of them landed in Allentown, and that’s when Allen Street started to get hip again, but many of them just split. They all went down to the City. All my friends. Jobs were scarce around here, you know? There’s a true Buffalo story for you. We basically traded our best young artists for New York’s most hopeless rejects. That’s pretty sad. But I guess that’s more or less every small city’s story