Weep for the Children of Northampton, Springfield

There have been a lot of stories lately about how, since heroin is now the drug of choice for middle-class white kids, we suddenly need a kinder, gentler War on Drugs. As long as it was just blacks and white trash using, we had no sympathy for druggies, but affluent white kids deserve a second, third, fourth, twentieth chance.

The other day my local news outlet ran a story of this ilk: How hidden heroin addiction is killing Northampton. I don’t even know where to begin with this thing.

Let me say right out the gate that I have a murky relationship with Northampton. Northampton (Noho) is a town about 25 minutes north of here, home to Smith college (and right next door to Amherst, where UMass is). It’s considered the hip, trendy, progressive capital of the area. Think Portlandia, New England style. And it’s true that this is where I used to go for my comics, for ethnic food, for fancy beers, for live music shows, and for offbeat movies. But gradually Noho kind of soured on me. It’s extremely smug and self-satisfied, far more impressed with itself than it’s really earned.

The “hill towns”, quaint little enclaves nestled in the Pioneer Valley north of Springfield, are all pretty impressed with themselves. If you’re moving to the area, it’s assumed that’s where you’ll want to live, since they’re so picturesque, quiet, and peaceful. They’re also way more expensive to live in and, as a result, are way more white than other areas.

Springfield and its “urban” counterparts, Holyoke and Chicopee, are sneered at by our northern neighbors. They all have problems…with drugs, with crime, with violence, with blight and ruin. They’re not safe. The schools aren’t any good. What’s more, even if you live in Springfield, it’s assumed that you agree with this, that you’ll find jokes about what a godforsaken hellhole you live in just as hilarious. I mean, good for you for trying to make Springfield work, but really I don’t know what can be done. The interstate between Springfield and Northampton seems to be strangely shorter in one direction than the other, where it’s no big deal for Springfield residents to come visit friends up there, but it’s just too much hassle for them to come down.

When I was hitting up bookstores in the area to promote Write More Good, I was told by one in Northampton that they “only work with local authors”. Seriously. Haven’t set foot in that shop since, and it contributed mightily to the downward slide of Northampton in my estimation. (In fairness, a different Noho book store welcomed me, and we had a great time.)

So let’s go back to this article about how heroin addiction is affecting the precious white babies of the hill towns. I know about this widespread drug problem, not because I personally know any addicts, but because I live in Springfield. Springfield is where these kids buy their smack. Heroin sales are part of why Springfield has a problem with crime and violence. When there are murders in this town, it’s not innocent folks getting shot randomly, it’s usually drug-related. We have gangs in Springfield fighting with each other over who gets to sell heroin to these kids of Northampton’s “affluent and prominent local families”. They come here, buy drugs and contribute to Springfield’s problems, and then go back to their enclaves and tsk-tsk about how awful it is down south.

This angle isn’t even mentioned in the article. Nor is the fact that the gangs aren’t only selling to North- and Easthampton kids, but to all over. Still, the real tragedy is the fact that drugs are wrecking Northampton! Our last best hope against the land of Mordor! And again, it’s assumed that this is disturbing to everyone within a 30 mile radius because we’re all pretty envious of the great lives being had by our wealthier betters. If heroin can go even to a well-heeled, progressive mecca like Northampton, small wonder that apocalyptic hellscapes like Springfield and Holyoke got hit too.

I hope things get better for the kids of quirky affluent Northampton. I hope so because addiction is awful and no one should be losing their lives to it. But I also hope things get better because then maybe we won’t also have to live with the dirty consequences of their habits, and be denigrated by them because of it.

But I ain’t bitter y’all.

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