The Frozen North: Where the Wildlings Are

That’s what they called me in high school

October 17, 2017. Pittston, Pennsylvania.

In preparation for my punctuated WanderjahrI swung up to the derelict smokestacks of my youth to drop off what remained of my worldly possessions. Everything fit in my subcompact car, with room to spare. The next step is cramming it all onto a bindle and riding the rails out Californee way. Full disclosure, I did forget my insulated lunchbox full of preserved animal skulls, but that’s remarkably low on my priority list.

The Frozen North was ranked unhappiest place in the U.S. by a combined Harvard/British Columbia study, as determined by reviewing phone polls from 2005 to 2009. There’s a potential confound in this self-report, obviously. All this proves is that people from the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area are most likely to tell strangers on the telephone that they’re miserable, and that isn’t exactly a revelation to anyone who’s ever heard the local news’s Talkback segment.

After delivering the payload, I called up some friends and a sibling to see if they wanted to grab a beer. Also, to ask where I should go to get a beer. Last time I was in the Frozen North, there was a delightful little hole in the wall called The Rattler that shared interior design plans with the inside of my aforementioned lunchbox, but I knew that had shut down a while ago.

They brought me out to Saints and Sinners, an equally charming little dive that recently received media attention for a pistol murder resulting from a botched handshake. Be it ever so humble!

The bartender was a sprightly little manic (as the best bartenders often are) wearing Muppet skin boots that she, sadly, did not kill with her own hands. She introduced herself as Peter Goesinya, clarifying that it was Italian. I said it certainly sounds it. When I asked if they had Black and Tans, she reeled.

“Did you just ask if I had black tits?”

“No, this would be a terrible time to ask that. Do you have Black and Tans?”

“Oh! Like, Yuengling? No, we don’t have them.”

“Okay. Lager then. But since you brought it up, do you?”

She did not.

The girls on the other side of the bar were much, much drunker than I could hope to become, especially on individual lagers. They spent what had to be a week’s paycheck on Touchtunes and were belting their way through a Celine Dion song that they knew the majority of the words to, if not the key.

When they stumbled out to drunk drive home, the mood turned dour, owing only in part to Tom Waits on the space-jukebox.

There was another room with a whole different bar, and it was filled with people my age, most of whom I probably went to school with / wrestled on coal banks full of broken glass and needles. It was quiet at this bar. They drank in silence, most scowling.

I waxed sociological on the way back to my stool. Was angry drinking the local custom? Did economic grad students from Harvard corroborate their study results by poking through recent NEPA crime scenes? Wouldn’t that sort of skew the data?

It was as I finished my third glass that I realized, wait.

It’s Tuesday.

Nobody’s heading out to the hate crime murder bar on a Tuesday to celebrate how well things are going.

I returned to the storage room at my dad’s and slept on a mattress covered in phantom dog hair, since dogs don’t have thumbs and can’t enter that room. The next day we went to Bobby-O’s, a 50’s themed diner maintained by kind, lovable grannies (sort of like the old Waffle Crisp commercials only without the clandestine agenda), whereupon I ate three feet of corned beef hoagie before making the return trek northward.

3 more days, and then all the way to Dublin. Whack fol-la-de-dah.






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