NEW! The Noir-inspired MURDER IN MONTAGUE FALLS, now available on Amazon for Kindle and print, features my occult teen novella THE DEVIL'S DELINQUENTS, as well as stories by Russ Colchamiro and Patrick Thomas.

And check out my "twisted" Dark Fiction short story collection EVERYONE IS A MOON, my Dark Comedy novel DEAD SIZE ("a fantastic blend of detective story, dark comedy, and waking daydream”), and my "fascinating" and "riveting" True Crime-inspired Young Adult novella UGLYVILLE.  

Also available, Dark Park Publishing’s “amazing” Sci-Fi Horror anthology WHAT HAS TWO HEADS, TEN EYES, AND TERRIFYING TABLE MANNERS?, edited by yours truly.

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Revisiting “VENT!: The Online Magazine for Disgruntled Filmmakers” (Part 2)

Posted By on July 3, 2016

A significant element of VENT!’s raison d’être (see previous post) was demonstrating that even the most lauded filmmakers had difficult, even doubtful beginnings. Below are a few true origin stories I had shared on the website about some famous auteurs. Whether you’re a filmmaker, author, musician, or other artist, there’s always hope if you’re resourceful and persistent. (Being talented probably helps too.)

  • Francis Ford Coppola, the genius behind such cinema classics as The Godfather and Apocalypse Now, began his filmmaking career a little less illustriously. In 1961, as a UCLA film student, 22-year-old Coppola wrote, produced and directed a nudie short called “The Peeper” (inspired by Russ Meyer’s The Immoral Mr. Teas). He combined it with a nudie western (made by others), plus some additional footage. The result was the 66-minute Tonight For Sure (original title: Wide Open Spaces). Coppola also shot new scenes for the nudie feature Playgirls and the Bellboy before going on to work for B-movie mogul Roger Corman.
  • Controversy monger and hyperkinetic filmmaker Oliver Stone began his auspicious career in the industry working for schlockmeisters Troma Entertainment (The Toxic Avenger, Surf Nazis Must Die, Class of Nuke ‘Em High), first as an actor in the G-rated(!) The Battle of Love’s Return (1971), and then as associate producer a year later on the initially X-rated erotic thriller Sugar Cookies.
  • Guerilla moviemaker turned Hollywood mover-shaker Robert Rodriguez partially financed his early films, including El Mariachi, by volunteering as a “lab rat” for medical experiments. One week-long session to test a speed healing drug required he endure biopsies in which small chunks of flesh were removed from both his arms.
  • Before moving to Austin, Texas to make his hit debut feature Slacker, Richard Linklater left school to work hard labor on an offshore oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico.
  • In lieu of film school, punch-happy film geek Quentin Tarantino learned his craft through working at a video store. His first job, providing him with an education of a somewhat different sort, was at a porno theater called the Pussycat Lounge.
  • Alan Rudolph, protégé of auteur Robert Altman and later director of such cryptically giddy films as Choose Me and Trouble in Mind, started off as assistant director on The Brady Bunch TV series. Among the very first projects on which he had honed his filmmaking talents (under a pseudonym) was the twisted 1973 horror feature Barn of the Naked Dead. The “plot” includes kidnapped women in chains, a psycho dressed as a ringmaster with a whip, a long-haired mutant from an H-bomb test site, as well as ridiculous dialogue, terrible sound, and bad editing.
  • Celebrated filmmaker/humorist Woody Allen was not quite the exemplary student. Before he was bounced out of New York University after having been enrolled for a total of only two semesters, he had never earned more than a grade of C- in motion picture production and an F in English. He admits to having skipped half of his classes (although he did attend the film screenings regularly). One dean told Woody he was “not good college material” and a professor of his declared he had no future in film. Years later, in lieu of academic honors and a college diploma, Allen has won major critical acclaim and three Academy Awards (and many nominations) for his work.

Revisiting “VENT!: The Online Magazine for Disgruntled Filmmakers” (Part 1)

Posted By on May 1, 2016

Way back in 1997, after I had completed producing my one and so far only feature film on a $60,000 budget, I launched a semi-popular website called VENT! It focused on the flourishing world of indie filmmaking at a time when regular folks were maxing out multiple credit cards (à la Kevin Smith’s CLERKS) or enrolling themselves in paid scientific research studies (à la Richard Linklater’s SLACKER) to finance their own films. VENT! was a venue for indie filmmakers to share and bitch about how hard it was to make and make money from a film on your own.


Now here I am, almost 20 years later, and I still have the film bug. I still write screenplays between my prose work. And I still want to direct another film. (Ideally one more successful than my first opus.) I believe I still boast the visual storytelling chops, and desire to demonstrate them… as soon as I can get somebody to give me the funds to do so. (Major lesson I learned from my first opus: use other people’s money.)

I recently came across the content of VENT! on my computer and thought it would be an interesting, inspiring, perhaps painful reminder of what true independent filmmaking entails. Turns out much of it is as relevant today as it was in ’97.

To start this series of posts off, below is the homepage introduction to the site:

“I’m shocked when I read things calling the new generation slackers or Generation X. This is a great, great generation. They are totally passionate about the cinema, the law, cooking. And there is no place for them.” -Francis Ford Coppola

Independent filmmaking is booming, and the explosion has left many an indie filmmaker writhing in its aftermath. More independent films (especially low and no budgets) have been made in the past five years than have been produced in the previous twenty-five years.

Here is a no-punches pulled (excepting slanderous allegations), no-bullshit (okay, maybe a little bullshit) place to vent all your frustrations about the medium you, as a filmmaker, so passionately embrace. This is the online magazine to bitch and moan about everything in this biz that vexes you, and to educate fellow film and video makers on what to do and what to avoid. Here we can benefit from each other’s experiences, or inexperience, with major studios, production companies, distributors, exhibitors, producers’ reps, film festivals, attorneys, agents and critics. It is not meant to discourage or bum out struggling filmmakers. Rather, it is a reality check for us, composed of doses of venom, advice and humor. It is to show all indie filmmakers that we’re not alone in our efforts to get our films made and seen, and that, in this ever-morphing industry, there often are no hard and fast rules to succeed. It might not make us feel any better to learn there are so many of us striving to get noticed, but hopefully it will rouse support and spark ideas among the independent film community.

VENT is group therapy for down-but-not-yet-out movie makers.

VENT will also have interviews with established indie filmmakers who tell how they got where they are, as well as with suicidally-in-debt filmmakers who are still waiting to be discovered and just trying to survive. If you are an indie filmmaker who has produced a film and can’t get it sold or screened, or if you’re an aspiring filmmaker who can’t get your film financed, or if you’re just someone who wants to “let ’em have it” in the motion picture business, write to VENT about all your trials, troubles and tribulations.

Remember, every filmmaker, whether you have made a film or not, is alike in one respect: We all share a dream. VENT will wake us up.


Posted By on August 29, 2015

photo 1986 William McConnell

photo 1986 William McConnell

The Butthole Surfers were the most important band I listened to during my formative teen years. They were my Beatles, my Grateful Dead, my One Direction(?). From the first time I heard frontman Gibby Haynes bellow ‘SATAN! SATAN! SATAN!’ at the beginning of “Sweat Loaf” on their 1987 album Locust Abortion Technician to my first BHS concert at the Ritz in New York City—featuring fog machines, strobe lights, flaming cymbals, penis surgery movies, and a nearly bald, entirely naked go-go dancer—I was hooked. The Butthole Surfers spoke to me, and I haven’t been the same since.

An old friend of mine, James Burns, has written the definitive, long-overdue Butthole Surfers book, LET’S GO TO HELL: SCATTERED MEMORIES OF THE BUTTHOLE SURFERS. Also capturing the socio-political climate under the Reagan regime, it features scores of rare photos and anecdotes from many punk rock luminaries.

Jim was kind enough to answer a few questions about the book and his memories of BHS close encounters:

Q: What makes the Butthole Surfers worthy of a biographical book?

A think a lot of people have forgotten just how important the Butthole Surfers were in the evolution of alternative rock, and of rock music in general.

photo 1987 Ken Salerno

photo 1987 Ken Salerno

They were one of the first bands to fully incorporate the complete history of rock music into the context of punk rock, and certainly one of the most successful bands to do so, in the 80s especially.

After most of punk rock was becoming unmotivated, around 1986-87, the Buttholes were there to remind folks the reasons we were drawn to punk rock in the first place. The fact that they could do that while playing 10-minute long improv jams remains a pretty amazing feat.

By 1989 or so, after they became a quartet, they were writing serious rock songs. The thing is, they weren’t putting out records. Their 4-song ep Widowermaker only alluded to what they were doing live. They had dozens of tunes that didn’t get released until later on. If you want to know who built the bridge between punk rock and grunge, I would argue the Buttholes were THE band to do it.

I also think they are an amazing study of how to run a band, and that any band can make it, no matter the name or style of music, providing you are committed (or committable) enough. They were real troubadours.

Q: What musicians influenced the Buttholes? How have the Buttholes influenced other musicians?

I don’t think the band was limited to any particular influence, per se. They’ll perhaps mention their love of The Fall, Television, or the Jam, Black Sabbath of course, or Grand Funk Railroad, or even Walter Brennan. And you can hear all those influences and a million more in their sound, which changed remarkably from record to record. I think it was their willingness to incorporate all music, regardless of the so-called ‘genre’, that made them so great.

As far as musicians they influenced, that list is too long to mention. Let’s just say that Nirvana, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Green River were all opening for THEM in the 1980s. Jane’s Addiction and Dinosaur Jr are among those they’ve influenced as well. There are very few bands of any importance in the 80s who were not anxiously awaiting the next Butthole Surfers record. Pretty much any band that was incorporating the freak power mentality of the 1960s into the realm of punk rock owes their debt, in part or in full, to the Butthole Surfers. Period.

Q: The Butthole Surfers live shows were legendary. What made them so remarkable?

photo 1982 Dixon Edge Coulbourn

photo 1982 Dixon Edge Coulbourn

Butthole Surfers concerts were completely lawless. People forget what it was like in the 1980s. Edwin Meese, the PMRC, Jerry Falwell; the FCC overreach into content; the Mapplethorpe/National Endowment of the Arts debate. The whole Reagan administration had been bent on suppressing any views that didn’t fit into the conservative Christian values he prescribed to. Let’s not forget, Reagan sent troops into People’s Park to shoot protesters BEFORE Kent State—this was not a man to be trifled with. I think the song “U.S.S.A” really strikes at the heart of what was going on at the time so eloquently.

The Butthole Surfers’ shows sort of held up a mirror to society, without being overtly political. True freedom in a time of repression is dangerous to the powers that be, but no one would touch them. I don’t think Tipper Gore would want the Butthole Surfers dragged before Congress to debate whether their records were dangerous, which is what made the band that much more dangerous to their bogus family values.

Q: How did their notorious name originate? How did their name affect their marketability?

In that same vein, the band name prevented them from being mentioned in many newspapers and magazines, even on college radio. The FCC was fining college and commercial stations for indecency, and program directors were scared. I mean, even in 1996 they released a “clean” version of Electriclarryland with their name blocked out on the cover. Their name was probably the biggest obstacle to their success, early on. It wasn’t until grunge became popular that the majors would even THINK about being able to promote them.

The legend goes that they settled on the name after having a different name every day. They finally got a paid gig as the Butthole Surfers and figured it was a good omen. Not sure if they realized at the time how much grief it would cause them later on.

Q: How were you introduced to the Buttholes?

My pal Dafydd was buying records like mad, and he bought most everything on the Alternative Tentacles label. He brought over A Brown Reason to Live to my house in 1984 or so. I dug it, but it took a while for me to get fully into them. When their song “Moving to Florida” came out, my other pal Kevin and I used to crack up to it. But it wasn’t until I heard an interview on WNYU in 1987 that I was finally intrigued enough to go see them live. I did, and that was it. My 16-year-old straight-edge mind was completely blown. I was converted.

Q: Why did you decide to write the book? What was it like writing it? What kind of challenges did you face?

I was running the Anal Obsession, and just accumulating recordings and talking to a lot of former band members and their friends, mostly just looking to score more shows. Through that, a narrative started to develop. I started writing it about 5 years ago, and after about a year or so, started seriously seeking out interviews.

I knew that Chuck Young was trying to write a book about them and he was unable to pull it off, even though he was close friends with them! We had even chatted once about it long before I’d started writing. God bless Chuck… there is a special wing in heaven for him.

Anywho, Chuck’s inability to get it done makes my attempt even that much more presumptuous, but I think my LACK of attachments to the band actually HELPED. I didn’t get led on all the wild goose chases the band used to like to lead serious journalists on. Chuck had more fun in the process, but I got the information I needed to finish a book.

The biggest challenge was just that. The band was constantly goofing around and rarely gave a serious interview. I must have read hundreds of articles, piecing together stories and comparing show dates to time frames to come up with some semblance of the ‘truth’ and then, later on, interviewing folks to get the best recollections/corroborations. It took me five solid years of writing, and honestly about 25 years of collecting and research to complete. It was not a job for a sane and rational person.

Q: What was your most surprising discovery about BHS when researching the book?

I guess it was surprising that I actually got denied a couple of interviews because of the whole Touch & Go lawsuit thing. I’m kind of surprised that folks are still so hung up about it they wouldn’t even talk to me about the band.

I really feel that the band got short-changed in that whole thing, in more ways than just that they weren’t getting paid properly. It’s a real shame that the lawsuit remains their legacy in many ways.

Things are much different now. Bands rarely stay on the same indie record label for as long as the Buttholes did, but the precedent the lawsuit set was actually good for bands and their art. No label should own a band’s music hostage in perpetuity. Corey was making more per record than the members in the group. How is that fair?

So there’s that, and also just how dern<sic> nice and supportive so many people have been to me, and supportive of the project. A lot of folks have shown the love. I feel blessed to have met so many great artists and people over the course of writing it. It really is humbling.

Q: What is your favorite BHS anecdote? Your personal fondest BHS memory?

My fondest Butthole memory is still that 12/12/87 Ritz show, the one that got us onto the cover of Double Live. What a show that was, huh?!

Butthole Surfers Double Live, 1989

Butthole Surfers Double Live, 1989

Seriously, though, there is one thing that Teresa said to me which really stands out.

She says that the band had an unspoken code to not discuss what things “meant.” So many interviewers were asking them what their name meant, what their stage shows meant and what their songs were about. They would lead journalists on wild goose chases and such just to avoid having to place meaning behind everything they were doing.

That said, she mentioned that the song “Perry” is about everyone trying to find meaning behind it all. (”It’s about licking the shit off the floor…”)

Where and when will the book be sold?

The book just came out on August 27, and right now is available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I’ll also be selling it direct through the CHEAP DRUGS RECORDS Facebook page within the next month or two.

Let’s Go To Hell by James Burns

Let’s Go To Hell by James Burns




Posted By on July 8, 2015

Ah, memories! Here’s a personal anecdote about some small town sordidness:


I remember when I first saw it. I was coming home on the Long Island Railroad after visiting a friend at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. It was a newly opened business, the first storefront returning commuters saw when pulling up to the Merrick train station. Other passengers pointed it out with widened eyes and gaping mouths. The store stuck out like a bad tattoo on perfect skin.

Merrick was, and still is, a conservative town. Located on the south shore of Long Island, it is primarily home to middle to upper middle class nuclear families. Its Jewish and Christian houses of worship are well attended. Its PTAs carry a good deal of clout. At the time (the late 80s), the county executive, a Republican, lived there. The town’s roads and utilities were well maintained year round, its police and firefighter departments well funded.

Merrick was for the most part the ideal idyllic suburbia. Which was why it was such a shock when the adult video store opened on Sunrise Highway.

It wasn’t even one of those classier erotic boutiques one might expect for such a neighborhood. Its front windows were covered with silver aluminum foil, its entrance door curtained by long strands of gold tinsel. Its sign simply read ADULT VIDEO in blocky red letters over a stark white background.

I didn’t know what to feel about it. Such a place appearing in my hometown was surprising, but I wasn’t in any way appalled. Then again, I was a rebellious, anti-censorship, morality-flouting teenager who wasn’t especially worried about the negative effect on property values. But I knew many who feared the store would attract a “bad element,” presumably those who would rob us, assault us, vandalize us, then rent a dirty movie before heading home.

This was not the first instance of a porno establishment popping up here and outraging our largely unsuspecting residents. Several years prior, the town’s single-screen movie theater, located on Merrick Avenue, changed management and started showing exclusively X-rated fare. (Caligula and Jack and Jill are two titles I recall playing there.) The venue abruptly shut down about a month later, meriting a front-page article in the Merrick Life community newspaper featuring a prominent photo of the theater’s offending marquee.

Fascinated even then with all things decadent, depraved, and debauched, I naturally paid a visit to ADULT VIDEO — that was the business’s licensed name — to see what all the fuss was about. Its selection consisted of more than two hundred VHS tapes spread out across several white plywood shelves. In fact, aside from the video boxes, everything in the store was white, from the tiled floor to the fluorescent lighting. I speculated this was to make the space look more antiseptic, i.e. less dirty, to browsing customers. It only succeeded in accentuating the full-color images of exposed and manipulated private parts.

I met the store’s proprietor. He was the only one who worked there. His name eludes me, but his face does not. It was covered in small bulbous growths, like warts or polyps. His hair was jet black and greasy-looking. His smile was crooked, as were his nicotine-stained teeth. But he was astonishingly articulate and passionate about what he believed to be a constitutional, if not fundamental, human right: the freedom of expression. He had the right to sell/rent adult material, and adults had the right to view it. And, according to him, many Merrick residents shared this sentiment; within two weeks of the shop’s opening more than one hundred of them had signed up for memberships.

But many others were less than thrilled with the vendor of vice.

A priest from Sacred Heart Catholic Church and a rabbi from Temple Israel had each dropped by to convince the owner that Merrick was no place for his place. He begged to differ. He felt he was, in a way, performing a public service, was contributing to the town’s economy, and he wasn’t hurting anyone, morality excluded. I myself signed up for a membership, more out of tacit support than prurient interest. (I never rented anything from him. Really. I swear.)

A few days later somebody drove by the store in the middle of the night and threw a brick through its window. The next morning the owner, unfazed, boarded it up, reported it to the police, and still opened his door at the usual time. I got the impression ours wasn’t the first town he had tried to plant stakes in. (I later found out he had previously opened the same kind of business in at least three other respectable Long Island communities.)

I learned about an “emergency meeting” town officials had called together at Old Mill Road elementary school. I managed to finagle my way in under the pretense I was writing an article for the local paper. Most of Merrick’s municipal leaders were there, including the aforementioned priest and rabbi, every representative of the Chamber of Commerce, and the property owner who — allegedly — had unwittingly leased the space to ADULT VIDEO.

It was a rather surreal experience for me, by far the youngest person in the room. They first tackled legalities. No laws had yet been enacted in Merrick banning adults-only establishments, only those specifying the distance they may operate from schools and churches (500 feet). The following topic of discussion was just how pornographic was the store’s pornography. It amused me to hear these dignified town officials, both men and women, utter such terms as “full penetration” and “bestiality.” One attendee even corrected my pronunciation of the latter word after I’d chimed in on the matter. All of course agreed ADULT VIDEO had to go. Not one conservative voice there spoke up for this small business.

How to get rid of it was still undetermined at the meeting’s adjournment, but I sensed an ominous, conspiratorial vibe in the air. I suspected there would soon be another, more clandestine dialogue between the town’s bureaucrats.

Just one week later ADULT VIDEO had shuttered up overnight, the proprietor taking all his wicked wares and minimalist vinyl sign with him. I didn’t have his contact info, so to get the scoop I drove over to the computer repair store I knew to be operated by the property’s lessor. He was a short, sweaty man wearing a yarmulke that didn’t sit on his head quite right.

He remembered me from the emergency meeting and promptly expressed his triumph at running the “smut peddler” out of our decent town.

I asked him if the town had paid the guy off.

“No comment,” he said and gave me a sly grin.

Indeed, no one talked about ADULT VIDEO after its welcome departure. The closure wasn’t even mentioned in Merrick Life. It was as if it never happened, a nasty pimple completely healed. The space was next rented by a popular yogurt shop where folks, both righteous and reprobate, could fatten themselves up to their heart’s content. I’ve wondered ever since which posed the more harmful temptation.

Centralia: The Black Diamond of Columbia County!

Posted By on June 8, 2015


The Hottest Tourist Spot in Central Pennsylvania

There are no welcome signs (excepting the town line markers) greeting visitors today to Centralia, PA, but there needn’t be any. Upon entering the historic coal mining borough, you can’t help feeling like you’ve stepped back into a bygone era, one that received all folks with a winsome smile, a fresh glass of sun tea, and one of those little American flags on a stick. Everywhere you look you see signs of what once was and what in many ways still is. It’s a place evoking a simpler time, the classic “small town” character that, by stubbornly clinging to its homespun roots, refuses to go extinct.

Indeed, many claim Centralia is on the brink of death, its slide to becoming a modern-day ghost town begun when its once-booming anthracite industry shut down in the 1960s. Yet adventurous visitors of all ages are treated to an abundance of hobbyist opportunities and captivating attractions there.

Nestled in the wooded hills of the Appalachian Mountains, Centralia (est. 1866) is centrally located in Columbia County, accessible via PA Route 61 where it intersects with Route 42. When I arrived there that sunshiny day, I didn’t even realize I was in the town, or any town. I must have driven through it three or four times before I found my bearings.

Church_resized_IMAG0255The first point of interest I visited—primarily because it’s the highest point of interest in the town, hence the easiest to spot—was the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church. Still operating after more than a century, the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic house of worship is a towering white edifice topped with three Byzantine crosses set on azure blue domes.

The interior features an ornate, early 20th century, Italian-painted Iconostasis, gilded almost to excess, that will surely take your breath away. The grizzled groundskeeper I spoke with said it was like “somethin’ from a Roman art museum.” I couldn’t agree more.

Tombstone_resized_IMAG0268A short amble behind the church led me to its well-maintained cemetery, one of four in Centralia. The grounds exhibit magnificent sculpted tombstones, some dating as far back as the 1920s, with others far more recent. One cannot miss the irony: in a town whose population has dwindled dramatically (from more than 1,400 residents in 1960 to just 10 as of the 2010 U.S. Census), Centralia’s graveyards remain its lone parts that are still growing.

I pondered this while reclined on the final resting place of Helena Liptak (b. 1904 – d. 1927), smoking the Drew Estates Java cigar I had purchased from a Cigars International superstore (1635 Mountain Rd, Hamburg, PA) on the way there. I haven’t felt so peaceful in ages!

Next I explored random streets throughout the town. Even with Google Maps I was still quite lost, as most of Centralia’s roads no longer have their names posted. The majority of the homes once lining these streets had been leveled after they were vacated, replaced over the years by lush green flora. I imagine the land now makes for ideal camping areas, and I spied a few hiking trails heading deep into the verdure. Those who enjoy restoring old furniture may find a treasure trove of household décor discarded on the roadsides, or even an animal skull to add an outdoorsy touch to their den or office. There’s ample parking everywhere.

The hotbed of activity in Centralia centers around St. Ignatius Cemetery (which I had passed twice, mistakenly thinking the cars parked on the street in front belonged to mourners). The area serves as a prime location for offroad ATV and motorbike riding, offering many fun hilly trails for recreational motorists. Walking up the slope to the right of the cemetery, I was treated to spectacular tree- and windmill-lined vistas of the town, great for photographers of all stripes.


I asked one high school student and plucky shutterbug, Courtney, what she thought most striking about Centralia. “It’s awesome,” she answered. “There are so many great pictures to take here!” If you’re fortunate, you can snap a shot of one of the scattered plumes of smoke occasionally billowing from the kindled rock beneath the town. (I was warned not to get too close to them should I encounter any, as they are very hot and unbreathable.) It was too windy to see any such vaporous displays the day I visited, though I could smell the sulfuric tang on the breeze. It reminded me of the cookouts I had as a child with my family and friends at my favorite park on Long Island.

I asked one high school student and plucky shutterbug, Courtney, what she thought most striking about Centralia. “It’s awesome,” she answered. “There are so many great pictures to take here!” If you’re fortunate, you can snap a shot of one of the scattered plumes of smoke occasionally billowing from the kindled rock beneath the town. (I was warned not to get too close to them should I encounter any, as they are very hot and unbreathable.) It was too windy to see any such vaporous displays the day I visited, though I could smell the sulfuric tang on the breeze. It reminded me of the cookouts I had as a child with my family and friends at my favorite park on Long Island.

crack_resized_IMAG0371The highlight of my Centralia experience was strolling along the attraction the town is famed for: its Graffiti Highway. Once part of Route 61, the mile-long stretch was permanently closed in 1994 due to severe fracturing. Since then, people have used the paved roadway as an artist’s canvas, spray-painting colorful pop culture homages, words of wisdom, and phantasmagorical designs across the length of it. (I noted skulls and phalluses to be recurring motifs.) It’s a remarkable communal project, showcasing the array of talent the region produces.

alien_resized_IMAG0373 “There’s a lot of funny, weirdass stuff on here,” said Mike, 22, a resident of nearby Pottsville “just hanging out” that day in Centralia. He pointed to an illustration of a smiling (or screaming) alien creature. “I did this one like two years ago,” Mike declared. Asking him why he had wanted to put his artwork on the road, he answered pithily, “It’s cool.” I contemplated someday returning here with paints to add my own cool image to the repurposed straightaway, perhaps of a clown puffing on a cigar, the tattoo I never had the courage to get. Graffiti Highway is an appealing and equally enduring alternative for it.

Centralia-related things to do don’t end at Centralia’s city limits. The neighboring town of Ashland presents the Pioneer Tunnel Coal Mine (2001 Walnut Street, Ashland, PA), a dark and dank trip in an authentic mine car that transports passengers a third of a mile into the side of Mahanoy Mountain. Not only are you able to experience what it was like to extract coal as they once had in Centralia’s abandoned mines, you also learn about Centralia’s mining history in vivid detail, courtesy of the knowledgeable tour guides, as well as a bulletin board outside the mine entrance (for those who choose not to pay the tour admission fee). For a ride of a different sort, drive over to Knoebels Amusement Park in Elysburg (391 Knoebels Blvd, Elysburg, PA) and hop on the Black Diamond, a steel roller coaster that plunges you inside a three-story haunted coal mine complete with a road sign reading “Centralia.” It’s a spooky tribute to a place where one still senses the spirit of its past in the air, a spirit that still says to every visitor: