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Thursday, October 8, 2009

Portsmouth, Ohio -- My Hometown

My little Southern Ohio town of Portsmouth, a 21,000 population remnant of a once-vibrant river city of 50,000 inhabitants, is located on the northern banks of the Ohio River and east of the Scioto River.

In the early 1900's thanks to river traffic, the Ohio Canal, the N&W rail yards and the B&O junction, Portsmouth grew quickly around an industrial base. In fact, with its large number of shoe manufacturers, it became one of the "shoe capitals" of the world. It also gained fame as the home of the Portsmouth Spartans, the franchise of the current Detroit Lions.

High wages and foreign competition eventually caused most of the industry on which Portsmouth's economy was based to move out of the area. In the 1960's, a major employer, an atomic plant, changed from enriching uranium for nuclear weapons to a more commercial focus, and many jobs were lost. Another major blow came in 1980 when the steel industry suspended local operations.

The town shares many of the same problems as other small cities in the Ohio River Valley in an era of unskilled labor outsourcing and population migration to more urban areas with the subsequent loss of both skilled and unskilled labor.

Most of the older residents of Portsmouth share fond memories of better times when jobs were more plentiful, numerous department stores flourished on main streets, and public and governmental facilities were clean, attractive and fully functional. A depressed town in a depressed Appalachian environment breeds such reminisces of the glory days.

Unfortunately, the sad memories of things departed, the yet-to-be fulfilled promises of economic rebound, and the lack of energetic and imaginative planning for a bright future have caused a slow decay in shared optimism and civic cooperation. To say the least, the people of the area are skeptical of change and thoroughly convinced someone and/or some groups have caused the many pitiful existing conditions.

And, in reality, some people are at fault for the drastic change. This is a town that thrives on control where those with enough money have access to take advantage of the poor, a town with a rich heritage gone sour with in-fighting officials, greed, and corruption. This is a town where a simple comment can make powerful enemies and a simple favor can make influential friends. Political connections in Portsmouth often make strange bedfellows and stranger transactions.This is a town that often ignores public opinion in favor of allegiance to cohorts.

Full of blame and quick to point an ugly finger at those who line their pockets, many residents believe some God-sent good fortune will result from joining the ranks of those who live in total distrust. Others quietly accept the downcast environment as their miserable lot in life. And, a few still cling to hope while buying handfuls of lottery tickets with their purchases of beer and cigarettes. 

Fights and fiascos at city council meetings, name-calling by public officials, mob-like struggles over turf (including an Indian rock!?) and proposed sites of city government facilities have made scores of local and state headlines. Refrains of "only in Portsmouth" echo within the city limits. The young are born into this sad condition that teaches "me" over "us." No wonder common respect and industry take a backseat to demands and instant gratification.

A once proud attitude, apparent in the town motto -- "Portsmouth, the city where Southern hospitality begins" -- is now a laughable utterance. Today, the benefits offered to most newcomers would read more like -- "Portsmouth, cheap housing and meds within your welfare budget."

Local blogs state pointed, sarcastic identifications such as "You know you might be from Portsmouth if your car or truck probably costs as much or more than your house is worth." Or "You know you might be from Portsmouth if you hear the theme song from Deliverance playing in the background." The blogs also sizzle with accusations from those who "care" for the town. Entries often claim officials and "prominent" citizens are career criminals, drug abusers, bribe takers, whore mongers, and ignorant and unqualified human beings.

I detest this reputation built by those who hate. These people lack the initiative to unlock any positive change in Portsmouth. They bring nothing in common to share but vendettas and rank disregard. In the meantime, the infrastructure, or what's left of it, is left crumbling in common view by those in charge in vain attempts to create disturbing mumblings that will somehow miraculously raise the consciousness of those who care.

For example, in a recent visit to the city building, my friend and I were greeted with unswept carpets, filthy windows, falling plaster, slipshod repairs, unpleasant odors, and a general aura of swarthy appearance. I had to explain to my companion that this is the way to get something new or refurbished in our town -- ignore it and simply let it become an eyesore until it falls down. Then, the property can be sold for practically nothing to the right investors for huge profits.

The problem is that Portsmouth is now a town without a conscience. No collective thought exists besides "do unto him before he does it unto you." No longer is the town's major problems matters of finance and political reform. The problem is that most people just don't care any longer and many are willing to ride that attitude out until they meet Dorothy somewhere over the rainbow.

Like Diogenes, the Greek Cynic, a few still look for an honest man (or woman) amid the crowd to convince people to believe once again. But, this leader must display action with cooperation and not just spout theory and threats. So far, no one can deliver. Meanwhile, conditioned well in false promises, many inhabitants grow increasing accustomed to their long-ignored concerns. This is life in a chaotic, exist-another-day environment slowly dissolving into the dust of its own resistance to upkeep and improvement.

Just for fun, here is the latest correspondence from our mayor to a man requesting a copy of a matter of public record:

"If there is anything else that I can do for you, which is required by law, don't hesitate to call my office. If it isn't required by law then don't bother asking, because I think that you're a worthless piece of s**t and I wouldn't p**s on you if you were on fire (my opinion).

You're a poor, lonely, jealous, old man with aspirations of being a writer. You write your lies and uneducated opinions on people and issues from behind the safety of your slobber stained keyboard with the hope that somebody will read them that doesn't know you and believe that you're more than the pitiful, broke-down, lizard-looking thing that you are, in my opinion. Get a life old man. On second thought, don't bother..............

I do have a question for you. Do you have family and if so do they even like you?
Looking forward to your next Internet issue of "FORREY'S FOLLIES".....NOOOTTTTTT
With little respect for you,

Mayor James D. Kalb
Now that's freedom of speech at its best, in my opinion."
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