SIXTY-TWO YEARS OF HELL IN OHIO by Devon Pitlor, M.A.

econ
I. How to compose a very boring opening.

As a professional economist, I am used to tedium. And I
love boring people because that is the way we so-called finance experts obfuscate our actual ignorance. But on the day when this story opens, all earthly boredom could be summed up in one word: Ohio. Ohio. It might as well have been Uzbekistan. In fact, I would have preferred Uzbekistan, but my boss insisted otherwise. To a 25 year resident of New York City, Ohio loomed as a strange and unknown place. An endless meadow of ennui. Somewhere to avoid. A dumping ground for hayseeds and yahoos. But the flight plans were made, and I was obliged to go. To Ohio. Somewhere "out west." Ohio. I grizzled at the thought of it. A small brokerage in Ohio had contracted with my firm, and I was being sent out for a week as a consulting foreign exchange economist. You don't want to hear more about that. You really don't. II. My flight plans are diverted.

My suitcase was packed, and I was at gate 52 of LaGuardia waiting to board. I was bound for Cleveland and from there on a connecting flight to some place called Mansfield. In Ohio. It didn't matter. For me, all of Ohio had to be the same. When the plane arrived at the airport in Cleveland, I was already half drunk. An expensive high at six dollars per shot. But to combat the bucolic visions in my head regarding Ohio, it was worth it. From this point on in my journey, everyone seemed to wear a bovine face or a pig snout. The Ohio barnyard was closing in around me lowing and oinking. I was directed to proceed with a much smaller portion of the traveling herd down a dank corridor to a boarding gate called Sub-Twenty, whatever in the hell that meant. A tiny prop plane would take me to this Mansfield place. Ohio. My god. . Arriving at gate Sub-Twenty, a mere desk at the end of a dirty hallway, an anemic, breastless girl informed me that our flight had been diverted to Mount Vernon, "seat of Knox County." Ohio. It was all the same to me. Walking up the outdoors ramp into the aircraft, I had visions of a huge milking machine to which all of us would be summarily attached. I squeezed in beside some chatteringly pimpled schoolgirls on the tiny plane and tolerated the bumpy propeller ride to Mount Vernon, where I and my ten or so fellow passengers were pointed toward a shabby bus which would, "free of further charges,” trundle us the eighty miles or so north to Mansfield. Ohio. And who cared? Ohio. III. The flood. A part of Ohio, the part containing Mansfield, was flooded. By water. That was the big news. Some of the roads were impassible, but, never fear, the driver knew other routes, and

we were assured that Mansfield was just a little over an hour away. Anticipation rippled through my fellow passengers. They were actually anxious to reach Mansfield, where, presumably, they had relations, connections, things to do and people to see. Mansfield. Ohio. Flooded roads. Detours. I longed for another whiskey. There was none on the bus. I labored to fall asleep. My head dropped onto the seat beside me for a few minutes. It smelled like old chewing tobacco and stale hairspray. I was jolted out of my sleep by a sudden stop. Another road was blocked. We were in a gas station and some excited citizen was explaining it all to the driver. Things were really bad somewhere. Garbage was floating all around along with dead livestock---somewhere up the dark road where we would not be going. The Ohio police had decided this. We were powerless. A dark, black night fell all around us, humming with the pressure of spring insects. The sticky heat was becoming unbearable. Finally a decision was made amongst some unseen yokels inside the gas station. Some of us would go here. Others there. My own fate was "there." To a motel---again free of further charges. There were not enough rooms in the region to accommodate everyone who was stranded, so we were assigned to separate places. Mine was in a nearby town called SomethingorOther. Ohio. I didn't care. I just wanted to sleep. IV. Somewheresville, Ohio. It ended in ville. That was all I gathered and all I now remember. It was down another series of black, unlit roads stretching out in the repellant darkness of Mid America. It was on "high ground." The floating garbage and livestock

could not reach us. But suddenly "us" ceased to exist. I was alone on the bus. The others had been taken elsewhere. The driver assured me that he knew the way to Somewheresville, and pushed his vehicle forward in the darkness. "You'll be in bed soon," he grunted. "You look like you need it." Soon became very soon as the bus screeched to a halt in front of a two-story red brick structure which seemed to be the only mark of civilization in what looked like a wet cow pasture. The Somethingsburg Hotel. All I remember is that ville somehow transformed into burg. The fat lady at the desk was wearing a floral nightgown as she checked me in---"free of further charges". She told me the bar was still open down the hall and that I could get another drink or two before last call. A plastic curler fell from her hair as she spoke. I threw my suitcase into the tiny, moldy room and headed for the promised tavern. V. A Mid-American bar A song I didn't recognize was playing on --- a record. On a turntable. Beside it was a stack of other records. Old 33rpm's, all bright red in color. The song was kind of a country hymn about someone who burned the last flag. I tried to follow its words for a couple of minutes in order to catch of drift of what it meant, but I eventually gave up. The male singer just couldn't enunciate. Behind the bar was a fat, jolly man with a short goatee and a shaved head. He gave me that "you're not from around

here" look and cocked his head to hear my order. Glancing around, I figured it was Budweiser country and asked for a Bud. "Bud...what?" inquired the bartender, his happy demeanor suddenly darkened. "Budweiser," I repeated. "Sounds German," he said. "All I have on tap is Cavalier. Round these parts most of us drink Cavalier." At once I noticed that neon signs for Cavalier Beer were decorating the mirrors behind the bar and that a huge stallion was charging out of the wall advertising Cavalier. The bar mat tossed in front of me read Cavalier too. And two old field hand types sitting at the nearest table were each gripping a bottle of Cavalier. I glanced behind me and saw a poster showing the same stallion on the door in a different pose but still pushing Cavalier. During my 25 years of haunting bars in the US, I had never seen, heard of or drunk a Cavalier. "Okay, make it a Cavalier," I said casually, knowing what would come next. And it did. "Where is the accent from?" asked the barman. I explained in rote form as I always do that originally I was French but that I had lived in the US in New York City for many years. I realized fully that both France and New York would be red flags to anyone in earshot, but I was too blitzed to care. The song on the turntable came to a jerky, almost tearful

finish. A little boy was crying because his daddy had burned a flag, and he would not get to wave it again. One of the ruddy, thick fieldhand types immediately jumped up and reset the same record. It began again, something about "the banner of the red oval." The bartender brought me a smudged glass of Cavalier, drawn from a tap that sported the stallion and the logo. Suddenly I felt hungry and asked if they had any hotdogs. "You mean like wieners?," snapped the bartender almost in a flash of anger. "German sausage? You ain't a spy from the colony, are ya?" The two fieldhands dropped their hands near pockets which I assumed carried revolvers. They stared at me for a minute and then went back to drinking their Cavaliers, twisting the bottles somewhat menacingly around in their mouths, as if this were a local symbol of something or other. "I have mince buns, full of ground beef and onions," said the bartender. "That's about all the food I have this late. Say, you ain't working for the California Japs, are ya?" I told him that I had no idea who the California Japs were. It sounded like some minor league baseball team. The two fieldhands, on cue, rose and each stood at opposite sides of me at the bar. One of them peered into my eyes at close range. "No, ain't a Jap," he said. That seemed to satisfy everyone, and the fieldhands sat down like bobbling twins. The bartender pointed to a heat

oven full of mince buns which looked like wounded clams spewing shit. I decided against them. The song wound on. This time I learned more of the story. The banner of the red oval stood for America or whatever. After both coasts had been lost and turned into colonies, they needed to take it off its flagpole, and someone, out of respect, needed to burn it---quickly at that for some reason or another. The little boy was crying behind the male singer all the way through this part. His sobs became annoying, but I was about to get the drift of the song's full story, when two heavyset men dressed in black and wearing red oval badges on their chests burst into the bar. "Paper check," said one of the fieldhands flipping an oilylooking folded piece of paper on the table in front of him. His companion did likewise, and the bartender pulled out some worn scraps of paper and tossed them on the bar. He stared at me, waiting, I presumed, for me to do the same. For some reason, I sensed danger, and pulled out my plane ticket in its pocket folder and tossed it in front of me. One of the field hands piped up. "Evenin' Tractor Bob. Everything okay down at the station?" Tractor Bob, the huskiest of the two black clothed men, walked over to the table and shook hands with both fieldhands. He ignored the papers on the table before them. "Nothing much," he grunted. "They shot down the mail flight so don't be expectin' any news from your lady." "Figures," said the first fieldhand. "Fucking Japs, they keep moving closer and closer to the river. Ain't never satisfied with their own borders. And the Krauts...well, don't get me

started. They keep movin' in from the other direction. Before long, we gonna have to burn our ovals too...and yours." Tractor Bob shrugged almost in hopelessness and called for a Cavalier. His companion, silent up to this point, asked for a Cavalier draft. The bartender swung into action serving them. The end of the song came again with the little boy getting louder than the male lead and crying about the flag again. Tractor Bob said to no one in particular that the song always made him cry, grown man that he was. Then every eye was on me. With fear welling up in my chest, I stammered that it made me cry too. I tried in vain to suppress my accent. But the bartender relieved me by going into a long hoot about how France had suffered more than the US because of the Germans and their colony there. "They treat you guys even worse than they treat us," he concluded. Everyone shook their head in assent. The two men in black uniforms finished their Cavaliers and left without checking any papers. The bartender bought me a beer because I was French, and said again that he felt bad for the French. I had no idea what he was talking about, but I agreed. The French had it rough. "They shoot you people down every day just like they do us in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Least the Japs in California have the decency to use swords to behead us. Fucking cabbage-heads just shoot you when they feel like it. You hear about how they killed the last Americans in Delaware last week?"

I sipped my Cavalier and said I had not heard the story. But apparently it was not going to be forthcoming. VI. Sixty-two years of hell. It was the bartender who came out from behind to put this one on the turntable. Sixty-two Years of Hell. The fieldhands grew silent and morose. The singer had a clear voice. His opening words, mouthed soulfully, said that it was 2007 now---which it was---and that made 62 years of hell....62 years of hell. America had been torn apart and ceased to exist, except in places....places like Ohio---or at least that is what the song said. The red oval only flew in a few places. Then he named them: Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia, Ontario. States of America, states of the red oval. The "invaders" had colonized nearly everything else. That made for 62 years of hell....62 years of hell. I subtracted as the song wound on. 2007 minus 62 was 1945. One verse of the song stuck in my head. "If they don't kill our children, they make them learn Jap or Kraut, then they own them forever. Only the red oval stands in their way." An inexpressible fear shot through my heart. I gulped down the last of my Cavalier and headed for the door. One of the fieldhands said "Good night, Frenchy." The bartender, apparently looking at the five dollar bill I had left on the bar, said something about "funny money," but didn't ask for any other.

As I left, the record droned the final chorus of the song. 62 years of hell…62 years of hell… VII. Conclusion I was tired, drunk, disoriented, away from New York, trapped in a mental time warp, deluded...whatever. All of these were my excuses as I fell asleep to the sound of buzzing mayflies in the tiny room between the damp, sour sheets of the hotel bed. We all must rationalize. We all must make sense out of the senseless. And when I awoke a few hours later, the bad dream was over. Because it must have been a dream...or whatever. It had to be---for my own sanity. An unmarked bus awaited me in the circular drive of the hotel. My room had been compted, "free of further charges," by the airline. A pretty woman driver welcomed me aboard. "Roads are clear now," she said. "Let's get you to Mansfield!" There was excitement in her voice as she said Mansfield, almost as if the destination was, to her, some kind of paradise. The bus contained a few familiar faces, fellow passengers from the night before. There were also a few strange faces. One was a little boy along with his attractive mother. The boy would not stop crying, even though the mother sought desperately to quiet him. I took a seat in the front, and as the bus roared off the gravel drive, drowning out most other noises, I heard the little boy whimper "Mom, I will never-ever forget the red oval. Never." She went "Shhhhh" and he cried some more. I tried to forget. But Ohio meant something new to me. _________________

Devon Pitlor, August 2008