Raccoon Town (a photo story)

Last Thursday night I got a text that read “MIKE’S PICKS OF THE DAY” and forty or so photos of old signs and novelty plastic cups. I didn’t understand the subtext til later – Mike had gotten the key to the abandoned building next to the shop where we all work in Holyoke.

My understanding is that a breakage in the water system condemned the building pretty quickly. The most recent dated thing I could find in the building was dated 2008. Very fire-level in The Incredibles video game for Gamecube, if you’re familiar with the art form.

It’s hard to distinguish what was once functional spaces where people lived and worked – home – from makeshift encampments and squatter setups.

The urban island these buildings are on – our building, this abandoned one, and the folkloric “Harry’s Building” on the other side of the overgrown parking lot – have been a part of my consciousness long before meeting Mike and getting a space at Brick. My mom worked at a business that had a space underneath my current office. When I told her we had gotten in, she immediately warned of raccoons. She knew what was up.

The deeper you go in the building, it goes from cool music video set to SVU set. The basement is half lit, half dark. I’ll spare you the dark part – the “catacombs” – built half on old wood and half thick wooden beams. Think underbelly of a trade ship, 24601 meets Saw. This area is definitely run by raccoons.

I think Mike is the closest person to the Main Character that I’ve ever met. He is involved in all things – spread thin without sign of wear. Generally void of arrogance and first to get his hands dirty. A very unfamiliar balance of someone I think is very cool and someone I recognize to be a consciously good influence, trespassing aside.

Half of one of the floors was at one point a functioning print shop. Think the place you’d get t-shirts made for a high school sports team or key chains for the local insurance agent or bank. That area was the most frozen in time – obviously picked over and trashed a handful of times, but with computers and notepads and pictures drawn by the kids of employees still hanging at their desks. Machines left open and proofs left unproven.

This isn’t unique, but I’m obsessed with these spaces. It would be fair to poke fun at me in the same way I poke at people whose personalities are liking The Office or the national parks.

I have always loved history – but there’s something about the tangible reality of the things we’ve outgrown or chosen to abandon that give a clearer impression of who we are. To feel like an observing alien in your own world (and in your own backyard) is a cool way to kill an afternoon.

It’s a reminder of your own impermanence. I will not be here forever.

I don’t want raccoons to inhabit my legacy, but they might. That would be cool, too.

A few more, for the road, until next time. Thanks for looking.

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