A Paris, of an Appalachia (or How to Go to Hell)

On a hypnotherapist’s couch in Pittsburgh:

Close your eyes. Maybe a jade owl asked already, but intone it again:

“Where are you from?”

Never mind the grammarian’s lure, and move the question into the next register:

“D’où viens-tu ?”

The owl dings in assent. You’ve done it! You’ve asked Paris from Pittsburgh. It’s a promenade down the one-way street of buttery caché. When you open your eyes, all your stinks will be cheese; all your street-dwelling poor, savant et sauvage; all your sour grapes, dry with legs. Now, keep your eyes closed.

Pittsburgh is hell with its eyes closed. I mean this two ways: when Pittsburgh refuses to see the world, the city becomes unbearably precious and self-congratulating; and when Pittsburgh refuses to see itself, it takes as truth each insult it has ever received. In the first case, everything about us is unique. You can’t find an unceremonious cellar toilet, the “Pittsburgh potty,” anywhere else—certainly not anywhere else with sodden mill workers and risks of flooding. Every word we ever utter is utterly unique—wholly unlike the speech of Baltimore, Cleveland, and Wheeling. We work so hard, and have overcome so much, unlike “rustbelt” cities from here to the Rockies. Why study the Silk Road when the true nexus of commerce and culture is located between our three rivers?

Then the hypnotist’s watch slips down the curve and up to the opposite apex. We’re an old beer can along a freeway, or an iPhone 3 charging cable. We’re used up and out-of-step with the world. Coal left us. Steel left us. There’s no culture, no transit, no food, no fashion, no nothing. We’re a town that just won’t, can’t get it together. In these moments, we beg large corporations to see us: Google, Duolingo, Amazon. Strained celebration or self-slander—it’s hell to fear your own forgetting, either way you go about being afraid.

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