In the mid 60s, the ladies bathroom in the Allentown bar, Laughlin's, was gag-inducing disgusting.  You needed a buzz-on to gather the courage to enter. Dim lighting. Wet floors. Vomit. Overflowing sanitary bins, useless empty toilet paper holders and cruddy sinks that trickled cold water. I half expected to find men in there. The stalls, however, had stop-and-read memorable graffiti. Amidst the usual phone numbers offering sex with women like Rhonda and Candy was felt-tipped scrawled poetry. Some I remember to this day: "No need to stand on the seat. The crabs in here jump 50 feet,” complete with illustration; and this existentialist scribble: 

  God is dead 

                                           - Nietzsche

  Nietzsche is dead 

                                          - God

That was Laughlin's.  A mix of weird and wonderful. The sweet smell of pot on the sidewalk. The jukebox repetitively playing “If I had the Wings of a Dove.” A police cruiser habitually parked out front. It cemented the notion that there was a world beyond Buffalo. I felt at home amidst its signature blend of hippies, artists, musicians and cosmopolitan folks and yes, druggies, in Buffalo’s answer to Greenwich Village. No one gave a damn who you were. Go in one night in ripped jeans and the next night in a gown and get the same reaction.  Blasé to the point of cool. A place to remake yourself—recognized by those who floated between the reality of graduating from a private Catholic high school and wanting to break free of the constraints that privilege bestowed. Trying to describe the atmosphere at Laughlin's is the definition of “You had to be there.”

I’ve recently returned to Buffalo after working close to 20 years in New York City in the world of network TV.  Home to focus on my writing. I could talk about the renaissance that is happening downtown today: the medical corridor, the thriving waterfront—all indications that Buffalo is on the upswing. Skirts swishing, face scrubbed, ready to go. The carnival barker shouts, "Loft living! Arts on the waterfront.  Professional sports.  Elmwood Village!" 


But all I can say is, “Buffalo. I’ve come home. Ya got anything like Laughlin's happening? God, I hope so."
 

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God is Dead: What About Laughlin's ?