Sunday, September 19, 2004

Weird Memories of Huntington, West Virginia

I spent the spring and summer of 2000 working in Huntington, West Virginia. There's nothing inherently wrong with the town itself, but something occurred this morning during my desk shift that reminded me just how eerie the place was: an employee here at the university, who comes from West Virginia, walked by.

Huntington is situated near the tri-state border of West Virginia, Ohio, and Kentucky; it's a few miles east of the confluence of the westward-flowing Ohio and the northward-flowing Big Sandy rivers. It's a former coal and train town, and Marshall University is there. But even with a university and its inevitable import of culture, when Amazon.com opened a "customer call center" there in the spring of 2000, we were literally welcomed as saviors.

Two things struck me about Huntington. First, it was a town in which hard livin' was and always had been the norm; evidence of its poverty and hard-scrabble past is everywhere. Floorboards were lumpy and creaked, and paint peeled in quite literally every house I visited.

Second, a lot of the people looked alike.

I was there for maybe a week before I realized that some of the population had the exact same facial structure: a round face with wide-set eyes that seemed to bug out a little. I'm not kidding when I write that they looked like the banjo virtuoso kid in "Deliverance." Now, at this point, Appalachian stereotypes have pretty much saturated our culture. But I'm here to tell you: something screwy (HA! "Screwy"... get it?) happened in West Virginia.

(And from what I could tell, it didn't happen in Kentucky. The only curious thing I noticed there was that everyone over the age of 6 smoked.)

And to be completely honest, every person I met who looked like that, with one exception, was a completely normal person otherwise. Normal intelligence, normal personality, normal. They just looked like they had Down's Syndrome.

So this morning, when the entirely normal employee walked by, it brought back clear memories of Huntington and how glad I was to get the righteous fuck out of there for reasons completely unrelated to anything I've written about here. Weird. Sometimes these memories - Illinois, Phoenix, Seattle, Amazon.com - don't really feel like mine. Hard to explain.

Eh. Back to Crawford's "Developing English Literature" and how his critical theory might apply to Robert Burns. Wish me luck.

1 Comments:

Blogger david said...

man, that is a rough and tumble part of the country. all my family in the world are on the ohio side of the "tri-state area", about 15 minutes from huntington. my parents are the only ones to get out. we used to take my ailing grandfather to the huntington mall so that he could eat at the cafeteria and then sit and watch the pretty girls go by. that was in the late 80s/early 90s, when big hair was de rigueur. and believe me when i say that huntington girls were particularly adept at piling big hair on top of their pretty little round faces.

2:02 PM  

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