20 Year Member
- Apr 24, 2001
Rolling Stone said:Last November, two days before Thanksgiving, a 22-year-old named Roger Dillon posted a message on MySpace. It was meant to be understood by only his closest friends, but it would soon come to the attention of the FBI. Writing in a curiously baroque language, Roger described a fictional universe called New Acadia, a world of floating fortresses and magic-casting goddesses that shared little in common with the one outside his window: the city of Youngstown, Ohio, once a thriving industrial mecca on the Mahoning River, now a landscape of sunken porches and vacant storefronts and boarded-up windows through which televisions flicker on pirated electricity. Roger had imagined the world of New Acadia for an upcoming session of Dungeons & Dragons, the role-playing game that has long served as an outlet for creative minds that feel hemmed in by circumstance. He and his friends met twice a week to play, with Roger presiding over most sessions in the role known as the Dungeon Master. A lanky young man with short dark hair and wily hazel eyes, he was a quick thinker, mischievous and unpredictable, with an innate understanding of the game's appeal. "Of course it's fun to live this whole other life," he liked to say, "when you don't exactly like the life you're actually living."
The D&D games that Roger organized typically unspooled over months, propelled by his well-established flair for melodrama. From his MySpace page: I enjoy every moment for what it is and not what it could be. I find great amusement in consequences for my actions. I am not for this world, this world is for me. The session he was planning that day in November, however, was of a different sort: a single marathon game to be played from start to finish over 24 hours, which Roger had conceived of as a farewell gesture. Upon the game's conclusion, he told his friends, he would be leaving Youngstown for good, heading to Virginia Beach with his girlfriend, Nicole Boyd. She was 24, pale and comely, with a pierced nose and eyebrow, her auburn hair dyed an electric shade of vermilion. A massive tattoo of fairy wings fanned out across the curvature of her back. Though too shy to wear a bikini at a swimming pool, Niki, as everyone called her, had supported herself by dancing nude under the name Desiree, a job that had colored her perspective on life in ways she hoped to reverse with the move out of Youngstown. She had christened herself "Tragedy" on MySpace, and in the section where users list their heroes, she wrote, Why have heroes? They can only let you down. It was one of a number of philosophies she shared with Roger. If you aren't your own hero in at least some way, he noted on his page, you suck.
Their friends were not shocked to hear that the couple had decided to leave Youngstown. Once known as Steeltown, home for more than a century to one of the nation's most thriving industries, in recent years Youngstown has acquired a number of nicknames that better capture its present state. Struggle City. The Armpit of Ohio. Murdertown. Billboards rising along the highways encourage fathers not to abandon their children; others advertise the services of bail bondsmen. Thirty percent of Youngstown residents live below the poverty line. The unemployment rate is nearly three times the national average, and the median household income less than half. The grim statistics reflect a state of protracted desperation that first came to define the city more than 30 years ago, on September 19th, 1977, a day known locally as "Black Monday." It was then that the region's largest steel company, Youngstown Sheet and Tube, announced massive layoffs, an event that signaled the end of the steel economy and the dawn of an era marked by the disappearance of thousands of jobs and the prevalence of so much Mafia-related crime that the term "Youngstown tuneup" became common slang used to describe those assassinated by car bombs.
Today the city's current population — about 80,000 — is half what it once was, giving Youngstown the disorienting feel of an inhabited ruin, and every year, it grows a little smaller for reasons Roger and Niki understood as well as anyone. Having been medically discharged from the Marines after high school, Roger had worked a variety of menial jobs, never declaring more than $6,000 on his tax returns and relying heavily on Niki's income from stripping for survival. In their three and a half years together, they moved from home to home in the area's more dilapidated neighborhoods, living out of a tent during a particularly bleak stretch, and losing a home to foreclosure.
Still, there was something peculiar about the circumstances surrounding Roger and Niki's move. "There was a sense that they were keeping something from us," recalls Jared Mason, Roger's best friend since elementary school. Casually, as if it were an afterthought, the couple had let everyone know only a week prior that they would be leaving Youngstown.
[From Issue 1062 — October 2, 2008]