Sunday, September 20, 2015

7182. BELOW THE WATER LINE, pt. 12

(pt. 12)
I could almost be channeling my best Mark Twain
here by saying - 'I may have seen Paradise, and the 
first Paradise I did see was (not the Mississippi) the
wide-open acreage of the Rahway State Prison Farm. 
They were truly a glorious sight, and one for which, I
declare, children  -  and especially boy children - are
made.' It was like that for me. In those first, evanescent,
early days of my being on 'my' side of Inman Avenue  -  
meaning the long side, with the long backyards, and some
trees too, that went all the way back, the 150 feet extra-lot
size anyway, to the bare woods again and then the NYC line
Pennsylvania Railroad tracks  -  there was nothing more
clearly  delineated or spectacularly wild than the area
beyond the tracks and running all the way down and into
the prison  -  eight up to its walls; guarded too with rifle'd
men in the corner towers. A exciting glimmer of the real
world for boys almost 10! Guardhouses, guards, rifles, walls,
barbed wire, prisoners! First, of course, we had to cross the
tracks  -  which was really no big deal. It was a long 
straightaway, and thereby it afforded a long sight-line to 
be able to see a train, in either direction, coming. We always
managed, in plenty of time, to clear out as needed. Each 
side bank of the tracks was a deepened gouge, heavily 
covered with undergrowth, berries, bushes, sumac and 
the rest. Perhaps a 3-foot, easy embankment on either side. 
We'd made paths and cut-throughs by all our repeated 
crossings. Oddly enough, speaking for myself, even now, 
tight up to this present day, I still have very vivid dream 
episodes which situate themselves along those tracks-
the frightening and needed run of 'eluding' a train I'd 
not seen or gotten to close to, thundering down on me, 
crossing what, in dream, seem to be tracks a half-mile wide, 
never-ending widths to be traversed in great duress, with 
noise and metal coming, people watching, crowded trains 
stopping and going, all thundering down on me, trying 
desperately to reach somehow the 'other' side, where
something else beckoned  -  a great, orderly, enriched 
place; of course, yes, one I've never reached (yet). So, I 
often ask of myself, what strange psychological barriers 
were erected around which I grew? How vivid are these 
manifestations of steel and brawn and power as they 
are seemingly set-up against my own sensitivities 
and broader views of the world and its 'promise'  -  
progress to which is always hindered, never seemingly 
'stopped', but hindered, by these tracks and trains and 
this location? Too many questions, I'm sure, about really
nothing at all. We each, after all, have our own personal
wildernesses to travel across. For me, this was wide-open
stuff : the corn field, each Fall after harvest, would be done
up in a formation of high corn stalks, bare, after the corn 
had been harvested (by prisoners, walking alongside tractors, 
real prisoners on their work details, stripping and throwing 
ears of corn into a truck traveling ever so slowly alongside
then). The corn husks would somehow be arranged in great,
long rows of what looked like bundled tee-pee rows, like an
Indian encampment. We'd hollow them out, some five or 
six anyway, and make these little tee-pee things our Saturday
and weekend headquarters  -  a great, harvested field of them,
with some ground animals about, pheasant, and other things.
These were also the great-power days of DDT, and real wildlife
was scarce  -  never a hawk or turkey vulture or wild turkey to
be seen. No deer. Everything was scarce, and everything was
foul and poisoned and dirtied up too. The great pool of cobalt-
blue water, at nearby Philadelphia Quartz  -  which we were told
made bug-spray and Raid and other things  -  was filled with who-
knew what chemicals and residues; but we never much cared, and
went sloshing through that too, Just as we rode our bicycles directly
behind and within the cloud of mosquito-spray poison as the big, 
floating blue-white cloud went blasting through our streets, it being
power-sprayed rearward by the high-pressure nozzles on the back
of township spray-Jeeps. Who cared? And anyway, no one ever 
stopped us. Breath deep, the joys of youth!

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