Things American: Buffalo

Buffalo is a whale that fell asleep at the bottom of the ocean. Buffalo is a three-year-old that doesn’t cater to vegetarians. Buffalo is a new poem. It’s that weird bird that turns into fire. Buffalo is a Bowie knife run across a forearm twenty years ago. It’s an outpost of a long gone people. Buffalo is a cow’s heart perfectly preserved in a jar of formaldehyde. Buffalo is a city block of antique shops with one kick ass record store. Buffalo is the best thing ever to happen to itself.

Thing is, Buffalo has been good to my writing life. We moved to Buffalo so the lady could go to library school all day and all night. I wandered the apartment and pissed off the cat. I wrote a lot. I went from a writer who had learned things to a writer who wrote things. It was a time of application. I was surrounded by a lot of people meeting each other and loving Buffalo. I am still surrounded.

Most people here are from here.

Buffalo is history. It’s gone. It was gone. It’s coming back and it will be here soon. There is a bakery at an intersection of many streets called Five Points at which you can buy several kinds of fancy toast. It’s the avant garde.

There is a book arts center run by nice people at the corner of Mohawk and Washington. You can witness a variety of literary events there and even take classes on how to letterpress.

People’s eyes are marbles at the mention of Buffalo. They are ecstatic for Buffalo. Preservationists are doing good work here too, trying to keep Buffalo’s past deeds a part of its soul. They are often beaten up by city folk in internet comments. People tell them to just let it go but that does not seem like the right thing to do, I admit.

In Buffalo there is one of everything. This can be thought of as one of everything OR one of everything. How you feel about Buffalo will decide which word you will emphasize. In truth, Buffalo sometimes has two of one thing. People move from here to Astoria, Queens. And then move back.

The best thing to be in Buffalo is an artist. The worst thing to be is Comptroller. I’ve been here four years now, and I can’t believe it has been four years already. I’ve lived in three Buffalo apartments. The first was small with a black and white checkered kitchen floor and a little unfinished storage space that I used as a writing cave. The second was much bigger and had brown and tan walls and was filled with bed bugs. Now we live in an old Victorian that is kind of falling apart in a nice way. The hardwood floors are beaten and beautiful. Outside on the porch I shoo away wasps with diluted soap water.

There are writers in Buffalo writing with fury. Many go to the University at Buffalo’s Poetics program. Some other people run presses and journals too: sunnyoutside, Starcherone, BlazeVOX, P-Queue and many others. Also there are a lot of little art galleries that complement the big fantastic museums like the Albright Knox and Burchfield Penny.

The promise to rebuild Buffalo’s poisoned, post-industrial waterfront has been in the works for 40 years; most of the plans seemed only to be daydreams and corruption, but it actually appears to be happening now. Buffalo has giant grain elevators and silos that are spells cast from a hundred years ago. More cement and brick than seems possible for one building. One is being turned into a rock climbing facility. Some people want to turn others into restaurants and apartments and schools.

As an artist, Buffalo is a place you can plunk down your sad bank account money and purchase a giant house in a neighborhood that is not good but not too bad. You might think about it and go in on it with some friends. Buffalo, according to the Comptroller, is “in strong financial condition,” so it will not declare bankruptcy like Detroit probably. There are two Ethiopian restaurants now.

What it comes down to is Buffalo is pretty good and will get better, but it has to stop bleeding people. No city ever made it to Economic Prosperity by losing its population. You could move here and serve as a small but important tourniquet. You could buy some fancy toast and go to one of the good farmer’s markets and fantasize about staying out until 4am at the bars because they are open that late. You could go to the very good cafe called Sweetness_7 on Grant Street and then to Westside Stories, a small used book store, and then go for a run in Delaware Park, which was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, the guy who designed Central and Prospect Parks in New York City. You could go bowling at midnight behind Corpus Christi Church on the east side. You could eat wings at a place suspiciously called Just Pizza. That is a chain unlikely to have good wings so you could go to other good wings places like Gabriel’s Gate. You could curse the wind in the winter because it is harsh and then delight in it in the summer. You could do something here. Really get something done. The best thing is that if you want to play a role in Buffalo’s second coming, you are likely to.

Even though it has over 20,000 vacant houses, Buffalo is not empty. It’s just not full.

If you come to Buffalo you can go to the top of City Hall whenever it is open. From the lookout you can see the entire city, Lake Erie, towns in the distance. You might even be able to see the mist off of Niagara Falls. Some people are working very hard to make Buffalo a place to be and they will succeed, but you should come here before that. They might engrave your name on something. They might ask you donate your time. They might shake your hand and ask you what you think of Buffalo.

Brian Mihok‘s work has appeared in Hobart, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, SmokeLong Quarterly, the NY Daily News book blog, and elsewhere. His novel The Quantum Manual of Style was published by Aqueous Books in March 2013. He also edits matchbook, a journal of indeterminate prose.

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