If you go over the river three miles from the upper-middle class suburban neighborhood where I grew up, you enter a blighted inner city. Just off the main drag downtown is a house that once belonged to my Great-Grandfather, Ebenezer Patterson. The house is old; peeling paint and rotting wood adorn a three story turn-of-the-century tenement. Along the almost-dead waters of the Passaic River in northern New Jersey lies the United States' first "planned" industrial city, Paterson. Alexander Hamilton feared the agrarian Jeffersonians would create a decentralized, agrarian state so he created Paterson to fight them off. It was Hamilton's fault my family was lured to America.
Like most cities at the turn-of-the-century, Paterson contained a highly concentrated ethnic population that did not mix racially even if they lived only a block away from each other. The more poor and underprivileged the group, the closer they lived to the city's decaying center. Ebenezer's place as a Scottish immigrant was pretty low, but better than most. Before the advent of movies, Ebenezer spent many evenings at the rail station with hundreds of others. They all waited for the infamous "immigrant train" to roll in. The city's newest residents arrived at night, still garbed in their wacky native costumes. These gibberish-speaking bumbling foreigners were funnier than any Tim Allen sitcom! Besides drinking, the only other entertainment option in town was to attend the frequent public hangings. Bets would be placed on how long it took the condemned to die. Paterson was a kindly hamlet.
During the 1920's, Ebenezer became a factory machinist, earning his very own machine shed. Unfortunately, the shed was not in prime real estate. Every day at noon, a whistle blew signaling lunch hour. This sound terrorized Ebenezer. Seedy immigrant laborers from the factory would file down the alleyway next to his machine shed to the outer yard. Lacking nearby sanitation facilities, these rapscallions would piss on Eb's shed. Not happy about the defilement of everything he had ever worked for, Eb continually tried to chase them off, but to no avail. He even asked the factory foreman to help stop this heinous routine. The foreman just laughed at the fuming Scotsman. Eb decided he would have to stop this nonsense himself once and for all.
An accomplished electrician, it was a simple matter for Eb to lead a set of cables from his DC generator to outside to the metal gutter that ran the length of the shed. Eb simply waited inside his shed for the workers to pass by at the dreaded drenching-hour. He waited until he heard the unmistakable pitter-pat of urine splashing against corrugated tin and pulled a lever. The unsuspecting workers were quite shocked-- literally. A few hundred volts of electricity ran from the shop to the gutters and up the offending streams of urine. Howling like wounded coyotes, the smoldering workers scurried away never to pee on Eb's shed again.
Ebenezer's disdain wasn't always so violent. In the late 1950s, my father fondly remembers sitting on Eb's front stoop on Sundays after church. The old man would ramble on about the days before TV, talking about guns, hunting, and lost family fortunes. He'd offer my seven year-old father "worldly" advice. Unfortunately, every time anyone would walk by his house, Eb would stop mid-sentence to hurl an insensitive insult (based on the race, sex, or religion) of the offending passerby.
"Watch where you're goin', you damn Papist Wops!" " Go back to Africa, you Porch Monkey Spearchuckers!" " Hey, here's a penny for ya, ya money-grubbing Kike Hebe!" Chinks, Micks, Spics, and even the all-inclusive 'bastard-sons-of-bitches' would not escape unscathed. After delivering this verbal assault, Eb would turn around and continue with the conversation like nothing had happened.
Once, a man walked by and Ebenezer called him a kilt-wearin', bag-pipe throated Scotsman. My young father pointed out politely that Ebenezer himself was of Scottish descent. Ebenezer screamed, "They're all bastards!" and left it at that. Apparently, in his old age, Ebenezer became less racist and developed a healthier, more mildly misanthropic attitude.
Sure, life in a decaying urban center can be rough, but if you extend some common courtesy and show a little compassion every once in a while, you might not end up like Ebenezer Patterson. Of course, then you wouldn't get an article about electrocuting people through their urine streams written about you either.
Matt Patterson (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a professional whore and will do anything for money.
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The Journal of Substance, Wit,and Dangerous Masturbatory Habits