At the north end of Pickaxe, where Kingman Slope ends its grand, winding tour through the Slopeside Estates in a plebian turnaround for drunks and school buses, a wide expanse opens up… Graphite Corners.
This rugged scrubland, fondly dubbed “Flubug’s backyard,” got its name from the muleskinners, blacksmiths and miners who worked the graphite mine which is now a debased tourist attraction. These men forged a legacy for our city, raising their hopes and families in the punishing muck we call Graphite Corners. Many were drunk. Few could read. And an overwhelming majority were averse to civility. But these men had a vision for Flubug… and no where else to go.
In a deference to tradition, and a staunch individualism that claimed a generation of tax collectors, the streets remain unpaved. Their names, though banal, underscore the region’s ongoing battle with illiteracy: A Street, B Street, D Street….
Each street is exactly two “blocks” long, with a block being four to six plots. Each is accessible from a single direction, a throwback to the days of Prohibition when moonshiners guarded their stills with nails and muskets.
Each has a unique story.
Fact is, Graphite Corners is a town within a town. Only half the residents have homes and only half of them have electricity or running water. Some live in shacks, others in ramshackle tents. Still others huddle outside in the open grass, yanking ticks from their hair as they greet the warming dawn. Taken alone, these facts might present a depressing scene. Yet taken together, these hallmarks of economic ruin embue the region with a style all it’s own. And when seen through the prism of local business, that style becomes even more pronounced. That’s when the “true flavor” of Graphite Corners shines through.
For starters, there’s the Graphite Corners Welcome Center, a cultural magnet that’s provided guidance and information to wayward travelers for years. Though it’s since fallen on hard times, the Welcome Center stands as a reminder to all of the first Great Depression and it’s founder, the great naturalist, T. “Waterboard” Smith, who now collects unemployment in another state. Smith may be gone, but his etchings of the indigenous animal life still grace the walls of this crumbling structure. Species like the Drunken Possum, Wall-Eyed Fox, the Fartingale, Target-Tailed Doe, Bigass Dragonfly (“Gigantus Serpentbugonmi”) and the Winged Anaconda, all unique to Graphite Corners, are beautifully detailed in his artwork. So are the Darting Gopher, Three-Eyed Toad and Much Lesser Finch, which were purposefully hunted to extinction until such forms of amusement were banned by the socialists at the State Capitol. If you’re headed for Graphite Corners, this should be your first stop.
Down the road a piece is Louis’ Rogue Club, a railcar/saloon at the corner of Pickaxe and B. Louis’ has been around since 1942 when it was christened “Louis The 14th” by local inebriates for the number emblazoned on its side and number of barstools that sit at its counter. The venerable saloon was owned and operated by “Crazy” Janey Carz, matriarch of the Carz clan, until her demise in 1972 and is now run by Flag Ironing League member and longtime Graphite Corners resident, Penny Bagge. On any given day, at any given hour, all fourteen seats are filled with regulars… and walk-ins are not welcome! The bar’s tagline is: “14 Barstools, 14 Hours a Day… 14 Reasons to Call in Sick” and it’s as true today as it was in 1942.
Southwest of Louis’ stands the second tallest structure in Flubug and the only radio station in town: KRAK AM, “Meth Country.” The radio tower can be seen from as far away as Moxie’s Cup N Saucer. And on some days, though reception is poor, even on Nafta Highway. KRAK features such popular radio personalities as Chrystal Thompson of “Chrystal and Peppy in the Morning,” Glass Adams, who spins oldies on Monday nights, Weekend Jones, whose Thursday night show “amps” Flubuggers” for his gig at The Ditch where he works as a bouncer. And no list of radio personalities would be complete without everyone’s favorite depressive, Gwen, whose funereal antics kick Flubug into “low gear” every Sunday night with her “Hours of Regret” a treasure trove of “man-hatin’” country and “fetch me a kleenex” tunes like “I Was Fine ‘till Ya Shot Me,” “Stole My Heart Then The El Camino” and “Razor Makes Three.” 77.5 AM is where you want to be in Flubug!
Half mile down the road, far from the grit and hustle of day-to-day Graphite Corners, sits the sister outlet to one of the best known markets in Flubug: the Take It N Git II. “The Git,” as it’s called by the locals, offers underage beer, firearms, soft drinks, donettes, lotto tix and “gopher jerkey” through its barred windows. It also dispenses methadone to customers pre-screened through the “Big Tent” Drop-in Center’s “Methadone Mondays” Program. But check your calendar! The Git is only open the first two weeks of every month when the odds of making a sale are high and the odds of getting robbed drop to 20%. But they do supply jerkey and goat nuggets to local shut-ins through the Meals For Wheels program which trades a year’s worth of food for your car… something to think about if you or a loved one fall ill!
Then there’s the Grafite Cornerz Liberry, the only library in Down County other than the Balto College of Learning (BCOL) Library in downtown Balto and the Overmeyer Historical Society Library, accessible by appointment only. The fact that the word “Library” was misspelled proved an embarrassment of sorts to the area when it was first discovered (ten years later). But the powers-that-be in Graphite Corners (Nick Carz and his clan) left the spelling intact as a snub to what Carz termed “the monopoly of snooty eleetists (sic)” a statement that was itself misspelled. However, leaving aside the name, there remains considerable difference between the libraries. The Overmeyer Library is without doubt the most complete authoritative library in the county and houses all the important historical documents pertaining to Flubug. The BCOL Library offers a wide range of literature, periodicals, references, children’s books and CDs (including Gwen’s) and is considered by most to be well stocked. By contrast, the Grafite Cornerz Liberry, offers little more than old comics, paperback westerns and Dr. Seuss books with missing pages. Their “Reference Section” boasts such almanacs as “The History of Lotto in Down County,” “Famous Nailyard Feuds” and “Everyman’s Guide to Prehistoric Flubug.” As such, many in Graphite Corners think the spelling is apropos.
East of Tanwater Park Road and west of KRAK sits Graphite Tenting. Established during the Hoover Administration as a campsite for job seekers whose vehicles gave out, Graphite Tenting still provides transitional housing for the homeless (or at least those who’ve risen from squalor to homelessness). Yet though their mission remains the same, a festive atmosphere pervades. Nightly bonfires, visible from Disfigure, dot the landscape. Rituals meld dance and wine with “knee-slappin,'” stew and “tabbacki.” Tales of jobs, injustice and bravado spread faster than hope, which is never more than a Nailyard boxcar away. It’s where myth and culture collide in a cauldron of hobos and debt-riddled college grads, and where everyone in Down County knows you can always find a warm can of Mulligan stew.
There’s lots to love about Flubug’s backyard!