Niagara Falls is a ghost town.
i mean, it -feels- like a ghost town. which i guess is a strange thing to say about a bustling casino hotspot, except that the entire time we were there it all felt totally uncanny. the bus dropped us off . . . i have no idea where. but it was dark and quiet, and as far as we could tell, utterly abandoned. off the main strip, certainly, but where was the main strip, even? one would assume that the promised storm of light and bustle would be discernible from miles off, but all that was palpable was the summer gloam, murky and humid. it felt like the South. it felt like Mystery Train.*
it felt like Lumberton.
we scraped together some pocket change to buy from the bus station vending machine some ill-considered mix (something strawberry-kiwi that tasted like strawberry-battery) for the pints of cheap liquor we had picked up before hopping on the bus, and set off in what seemed believably to be the direction of the water, the border, and as we understood it, The Action.
for a town built around millions of gallons of rushing water, it was surprisingly quiet. it felt like we could come across an old derelict, who would with the ominous good nature of the insane tell us “Oh, casino? Yep, there used to be a casino round here, years back. Most majestic gambling house in all the land. Wasn’t a vice, pleasure or predilection that couldn’t be had, or at least sought, within those walls. Never closed, never slowed, shucks, no one ever got a wink of sleep until they collapsed of exhaustion, parties they held. But that was a long time ago, all gone now, gone since the [insert fire, locusts, murder spree, disaster].”
and we would carry on until, out of the mist, a casino would rise. or something would rise. a theme park? a tourist trap? crowds, anyway. screaming teenagers, muscle heads, loudly patterned shirts. everyone stumbling or swaggering, or the strange elliptical herky-jerk that comes of trying to subordinate one to the other. towns like this feel almost like what would happen if the carnival set up and just never left, but then instead of developing into some kind of (awesome) Lost-Boys-cum-city-of-thieves-cum-Foot-Clan-HQ-stronghold, it cleaned itself up a little, the carnies got complacent and “respectable” and started hosing down the sidewalks a little more regularly. none of it seems quite right. like it will all in the light of morning have vanished into the mist, and the town will return to being an empty centre, a ghost town haunted by a dream of Capitalism Gone Wild.**
we spent a good chunk of the night, as far as i can tell, drinking Pabst and scheming in a bar with three screens of MMA, surrounded by teenagers who looked like they must work and live here, because they certainly didn’t give a fuck about the attractions. how did we even get here? i remember having an afternoon beer somewhere in Toronto, talking comics and thinking to myself that i was the sort of hung over that were i was placed in circumstances where i had to down my pint all at once*** i would either vomit immediately or maybe just faint (i have only fainted once in my adult life, at the check-in desk of the Barcelona airport). just thinking about it made me dizzy. i had to sit down. i was already sitting down. i had to sit down on a toilet. maybe not even to defecate, just to be comforted by the atmosphere. when i returned from the bathroom, my friends had a plan.
“We’re going to Cape Canaveral.”
“Or New York. We’ll go to Cape Canaveral and stop in New York on the way. We’ll at least go to New York”
“Well I have to be in Cape Canaveral in a few weeks anyway. I’m going to see the last shuttle launch.”
i tried explained that a) they were insane, b) i didn’t have my passport with me.
“That’s fine. Okay, here’s what we do – we go to Niagara Falls, hole up there for a few days, get someone to break into your house and FedEx you your passport, and then we’ll go to New York.”
very quickly the plan became to go to Niagara Falls to quadruple our money (we heard that’s what you did there), thus funding our trip to NYC and beyond. two hours later i was sitting on the bus realizing how horrible a magazine Esquire had become, four hours later we were drunkenly trying to haggle a middle-aged woman in a Niagara Falls gift shop into giving us 3 pairs of boxer shorts at a discount because we were just planning on wearing them into the pool anyway.
beyond that, i hazily recall a lot of wax museums (wax musea?), some sort of race against time that involved doing shots in a Boston Pizza that may also have been a video arcade and collectively dropping something like fifty dollars to ride a ferris wheel that had little enclosed booths like a Zipper or gondola or i guess enclosed ferris wheel, and a lot of agitation about a Frankenburger. which upon further examination turned out to just be the excess thrills ‘n’ chills from Frankenstein’s Haunted House off-gassed onto the roof of the Burger King next door. a “Frankenburger”, for all the times that (i am told) i screamed the word aloud that night, was not actually an item available to be consumed, or a place that we could go. although i suppose if one thinks about it, pretty much all burgers are Frankenburgers to the extent that they are unholy conglomerates of this and that from various unlucky animals.
hell. we’re all Frankenburgers.
eight hours later:
Joey: “I don’t even like cocaine. The last time I did cocaine I got all stressed out and had to flush it down the toilet. I just thought that the more you guys said it was a bad idea, the funnier it would probably be if i kept going with it. I thought he was a NARC. I thought I was going to get to run from the cops. It was going to be hilarious.
He’s not coming back with my hundred dollars, is he?”
a friend of mine acquired from her mother an expression that i rather like: “close to the veil.” it could be that you are sick, or hung over, or just running low, but you begin to suspect that you are not far from that film which divides the living from the dead. or at the very least, life from non-life. if ever did 2-3 fuckers wake up close to the veil, shrinking from the blinding terrible light of the day star, we were they. no veisalgic bliss here. just the kind of hangover where you wonder “Is what the dead feel like?” “Is this what a zombie feels like?” i think of Return of the Living Dead, where the cannibalistic fervour of the zombie is explained in terms of zombies being otherwise conscious, cognate human beings who are trapped in dead, creaking, decaying bodies; they can feel all the rot, the damage, the arrested, pooling blood, the worms that feed inside, and in such a state they know that the only thing that will provide relief, however momentary, is brains.
the hungover nincompoop has no such refuge in certainty. at best we spend our day in perilous, naïve questing for the one food or drink that will compensate, will make us feel okay. we continue to stuff things into our already ravaged bodies, increasing the workload of our beleaguered digestive system, weighing us down, pulling us toward the grave.****
naturally we thought an Italian-American Eatery would be the answer. naturally it was not (you can pretty much sub in the text of When There’s No One to Blame But Yourself right here. more linguini, more bellinis, no lessons learned.). we thought back to the restaurant of the casino that we had eventually attained the night previous, sitting with two pints each of Molson Canadian in front of us because apparently even in Brigadoon they have last call. there had been a siren or alarm of some sort going off; no one had seemed especially concerned, but it didn’t sound like a “winning” alarm. having arrived at the casino we all were reminded of how sad and bleak and boring is the inside of a casino, and how none of us really know how to gamble, or for that matter, had any money. we certainly weren’t feeling very lucky. we didn’t quadruple our money, but to our (dubious) credit, we didn’t even try.
the bellini, it does nothing.
* the movie, not the song. wait, is that even possible?
** which i mean specifically in the Girls Gone sense of “wild”.
*** this is the sort of thing that is not at all outside the realm of possibility, in the given company. not in a tough-guy, chug ’em all sort of way so much as a “A thing has been done that can not be undone, and we must leave. Now.” sort of way.
**** our colossal hangovers notwithstanding, we did devise the idea of tying a string to a disposable camera and then throwing it over the falls with the timer set, just to see.